by Daniel D. Maurer
The first time I tried to get sober, I didn’t really want it. My parents, my wife, and my job demanded that I go to treatment. So I did. For about a week-and-a-half I left early because of all the ‘drama.’ I also thought Twelve Step recovery was a cult.
You can probably guess how long my sobriety lasted.
The second time around, I really wanted to end the misery I was experiencing. Alcohol and opiate withdrawal had begun and every morning I woke up shaking and miserable. (It was the birds! Those damn early-morning birds! They’d sing and wake me up from the nirvana of sleep.) I completed the thirty-day stint and tried to put an effort into attending meetings for about two months. Then, the little tugs from the back of my mind began to encourage me to return to the craziness I had left.
The third time, I not only wanted to finally ‘get it,’ but the law also demanded it. I was arrested twice. First, for a DUI, and then for a felony trespassing charge. I had wandered into people’s homes in a blackout, ostensibly looking for drugs.
All of this happened while I was serving as a Lutheran pastor. I mention my chosen career not to shock you somehow. (Pastors are caught for far worse things nowadays it seems.) I mention it because it’s important to realize that addiction affects all types of people, and that it’s not an issue of lack of morals or a weak character. It is a disease of the mind and body.
Today, I’ve been given the gift of recovery. Today, I have to work at staying sober. Why? Because I have a chronic illness, an addiction to drugs and alcohol. And there is a constant barrage of messages’ both from society and from my own, twisted mind telling me to go back into the cave from whence I emerged nearly six years ago.
How to Stay Sober: The ‘Program’
Staying sober is hard even after all of the time I have put behind me I still need to work at it.‘The statistics for long-term recovery aren’t good most studies show that, in general, 70 to 80 percent of people undergoing treatment from addiction will relapse within 3-6 months.
However, what the initial statistics don’t tell you is that, similar to my own experience, some people need several attempts at treatment before it begins to stick. And even after it does stick, a person needs to continue to manage their condition just to realize how to stay sober, just as they would need to manage another health concern, such as diabetes.
Personally, I belong to a Twelve Step program. Today, I average making one to two meetings per week. However, in the first year of my recovery, I averaged 4-5 meetings per week, especially when I was living apart from my family the first eight months in a sober-living environment.
I need to continue attending these meetings, because I find the ever-creeping messages to return to my old behaviors all around me. What a great game of golf, and it’s a beautiful day. I should be able to have a beer.
‘ I could go to the doctor to get some sleep meds; it’d make this month so much easier with all the worries I have.
My wife didn’t take all her pain meds. I could nab a couple ‘for fun’ and then lie to her saying I flushed them all down the toilet because they were bothering me.
In fact, there is sufficient evidence to show that a person’s brain changes after prolonged use of addictive drugs or abuse of alcohol. I don’t doubt mine has changed as well, because the messages whether from a sign at a liquor store I see, or an idea to ‘cheat’ at my recovery that just pops in my head never fail to appear. And no matter how hard I work at it and read about, and get advice on hot to stay sober, these messages keep coming at me as strong as ever. It’s a battle.
Although there are many modalities by which people attain a lasting sobriety, I continue to use the Twelve Step method, because I believe in it. Plus, I love to attend meetings all my friends are there, after all.
How to Stay Sober: Eye on the Prize, One Day at a Time
The best foundation I can continue to lay for myself is by attending the meetings that: 1) Remind me that I will remain an addict the rest of my life; 2) Give me an outlet to help others by sharing my story, and; 3) Realize that all that matters is not using, just for today.
I don’t kid myself, either the messages and the whispers won’t suddenly disappear one day. I’ve heard too many stories of guys in extended, long-term recovery (+20 years) suddenly relapsing. Most of the time, it isn’t pretty. Some have even died.
Keeping the eye on the prize, just for today, somehow works. I don’t know the process by which it works, and frankly, I don’t care. It just does.
How to Stay Sober: Purpose and Meaning
Although the three points I’ve described in this blog post probably are interconnected, I wanted to also set this one aside, because it’s a biggie.
Finding a purpose and a meaning to your life might sound like a herculean task-like it’s something you’ll never figure out. Maybe it is. Or maybe ‘purpose’ and ‘meaning’ change for you throughout the years. I’m not sure.
Here’s the deal . . . I have discovered that if I wake in the morning and look forward to the day with the tasks I have been provided, I seem to be a much happier guy. Even if the work is hard, if I can find meaning in what I’m doing, I’m much more satisfied when my head hits the pillow in the evening.
For me, that purpose must be grounded in how I can help others as a caring, loving, authentic human being. It sustains me to this day. For me, that is how to stay sober.
Viktor Frankl, the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as holocaust survivor, wrote as much in his magnum opus’Man‘s Search for Meaning: ‘[F]or the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which [a human being] can aspire.
If I continue in my search for purpose and meaning, I believe no message to return to drugs and alcohol can break through, no matter how tempting.
If you or a loved one are struggling with an addiction and need treatment, we would love to talk with you and see how we can help you.PLEASE CALL 855-816-8826. Our counselors are available to answer your questions.
Daniel D. Maurer is a freelance writer openly living in long-term recovery. He is the author of Sobriety: A Graphic Novel, a Hazelden Publishing, youth and young adult recovery resource. He lives with his family in Saint Paul, Minnesota. For more information on Dan and his work, see: https://transformation-is-real.com.
Source: The National Center for Addiction and Substance Abuse (http://www.centeronaddiction.org/addiction/disease-model-addiction)
Frankl, Viktor. Man Search for Meaning: Part One, ‘Experiences in a Concentration Camp’. Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-02337-9 pp. 56 – 57