What Does It Mean to Stay Sober?

When people enter a drug addiction treatment program, their focus is mostly on stopping use of drugs and alcohol, managing whatever physical and emotional detox symptoms that result, and then getting back home. But is that all there is to staying sober?

Unfortunately, no. Though stopping all use of substances is a critical first step and getting through the detox process is no simple task, it is the work that is done in the weeks and months following that helps each person to create a new life in recovery that is sustainably drug-free.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • “White knuckling it” will not work. Addiction is not just a physical issue. Though it has a physiological component that is manifested in detox symptoms when without the drug of choice, simply stopping all use of substances is not enough. Intensive and comprehensive therapy is absolutely essential and arguably where the real work is done. It is through therapies and treatments that are chosen based on the individual’s unique experience and needs that a true understanding of the “why” underlying addiction and the “how” of day-to-day life in recovery is learned. The more you take an active role in the development of your treatment plan and goals, the more effective your treatment will be.
  • You need people. Though isolation in addiction is the norm, recovery occurs in the context of a vibrant sober community that offers support, guidance, and consistency. You can meet new people in drug rehab, 12-Step meetings, and out in the community when you are taking part in healthy activities, like working out, volunteering, or participating in a spiritual organization. Getting to know people, exchanging phone numbers, and building new friendships can help you to build a strong support system that will keep you going for the long-term.
  • Time matters. Every day that you stay sober adds to a sense of strength and normalcy to your life. Building up “sober time” and counting your “sober birthdays” can improve your self-confidence and empower you to keep going. It means something to stay sober, and with more sober days under your belt, it’s proof that you can continue to do so.
  • Honesty is key. Being honest with yourself and others is essential in recovery. Keeping secrets or lying for any reason, even if it seems innocent, can lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety that can, in turn, trigger cravings for drugs and alcohol. This not only means avoiding actively lying to other people; it also means checking in with yourself regularly throughout the day to make sure you are acting like yourself and feeling comfortable.
  • Dealing with the basics is essential. Getting a copy of your birth certificate, renewing your driver’s license, and getting a copy of your social security card may be on your to-do list in early recovery. Learning how to build and maintain a basic budget as you move to living independently may be an important step. Addressing your living situation if you are planning on moving back to where you were living during active addiction may be a necessity as well, especially if there are often drugs or alcohol in the home or ongoing conflicts and tension that may be stressful.
  • Positive selfcare is a must. With such a strong focus on staying sober, many people forget that making a bunch of little, easy decisions throughout the day about how they take care of themselves can have a huge impact on their stress levels, energy levels, and whether or not they feel capable of staying sober. This means getting restorative sleep every night, eating healthy foods, getting enough exercise, and spending time with positive people.
  • Staying actively engaged in treatment is critical. Long after you complete your initial stay in intensive outpatient or inpatient rehab, it is important for you to continue attending therapy sessions, continue getting treatment for underlying medical ailments and co-occurring mental health disorders, and stay actively focused on your recovery. This means watching for stagnation and boredom, creating treatment goals, and measuring your progress so you are always moving forward in recovery.
  • Your sobriety matters. Every day you stay sober is important. Your sobriety matters to you and your quality of life, and it matters to the people who love you, the people you come into contact with every day, and the people with whom you share your community. You are doing a service to yourself and to the world around you with every moment you continue to live actively in recovery.

How do you find meaning in staying sober? What do you see as the most important part of your new life in recovery?

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