Updated: Jun 17
So many of us have this idea that when we get sober, we get better.
Better at what? Everything.
Better how? In all of the ways.
But this just isn’t true and to say otherwise is setting you up for some seriously difficult moments of feeling cheated, or worse, feeling like you're still failing yourself even though you’re sober now.
The truth is, when you get sober, sometimes things get worse before they get better. You wouldn't believe how many people say it's like when they finally got sober things really started falling apart. Some view this as being tested in their conviction to stay sober and others view it as a slap in the face. Some say it was inevitable or that things just finally caught up with them. None of us are invisible from the effects of alcohol or drug use.
But part of the problem we face here is the expectation that stopping a substance means recovering from the reason we were using in the first place.
So here’s the truth: Sobriety doesn’t fix your problems. It does, however, provide you with the clarity, confidence, and courage to do the real work necessary to create lasting change in your life.
That’s right: Getting sober isn’t the end all to be all. It’s a first step to changing what may have been a lifelong reaction to cope with big feelings, past traumas, unhealthy relationships, and more by using drugs or alcohol to escape (however temporarily).
When I first got sober from alcohol, it’s true that my moods improved, but it wasn’t immediate. In fact, getting sober from alcohol was one of the most challenging times of my life, and I did it alone. I had moments of crying in public, thinking about driving my car off the mountainside, thinking about filling my pockets with stones and walking into the Shuswap lake. This doesn’t sound like any pink cloud of sobriety I was promised, I thought to myself while gasping for air in the fetal position.
Waiting for the pink cloud was the brutal wake-up call I needed: This is not going to be some easy move where one day you're a user and the next you're happily sober. I had to tell myself that I may never be happy "sober" and that would have to be okay. So long as I stayed sober, there was that.
All you have to do today is stay sober, I'd say.
But what about one? You aren't happy now. You were happier before, weren't you? Everyone uses something, don't they? Everyone is having fun without you. You'd want to go out and do things if you drank, you know. When was the last time you laughed? Why are you doing this when life is already so hard?
Your body and brain and broken spirit are going to want you to drink or smoke or puff or use again. This is what they know. This is what they understand. When you change this, there will be resistance. Expect this.
Expect to be uncomfortable. To be unsure of yourself. To have to learn who you are without alcohol inflating your ego and sense of importance. To confront the demons, over and over again.
I wish someone had told me sobriety won’t cure mental illness or bring a brand new shiny life. I had to learn the hard way that sobriety is the door you walk through when you’re ready to go to war with everything holding you back from seeing your truth.
The truth is, drinking and puffing made it easy to fall into and participate in toxic and abusive relationships and to compromise myself every step of the way. It made it easy to ignore the signs that I was in a really dangerous place emotionally. It made it easy to go from one day to the next without seeing the life I was creating wasn't the one where I was safe. I was trapped.
Stepping through the door, memories return, things you drank to forget. Nightmares may begin, things you suppressed so long ago. You will start unravelling the web of protective mechanisms and it will feel like coming undone.
Because that’s what sobriety is: It’s a coming undone of everything you’ve learned about yourself, your ability to cope, and your ability to love.
It’s a rebirth and entering a new world is terrifying, scary, off putting, but oh so much better than living in the darkness of your own addiction.