The First Year of Sobriety | 4 Tips for Success
It took two relapses after 6 months sober and a host of other negative consequences to finally get me serious about sobriety. And by negative consequences, I mean multiple arrests, a high-speed police chase, job loss and devastated family. But hey, it takes what it takes, right?
I know some people don’t lose much, if anything, before deciding to get clean (unless you count internal health). Most, however, endure some form of personal loss prior to finding recovery for good. It just happened I lost a lot.
I Took the 1st Step... After a Couple Months Sober
Somewhere in my first few months sober, I decided to do everything asked of me. Some other notable factors excluded, this decision made the difference between sobriety and relapse. To this day. however, I try to remember I’m only one bad decision away from substance abuse. I also remind myself that my track record now demonstrates, without question, that if I continue to stay involved in a program of recovery, I’ll stay sober. No matter what.
That’s reassuring for a guy like me who reentered the rooms with a lot of doubt and misconceptions. I remember asking my guide while in the 30-day program at Discovery Place, “How can I believe the 12 steps will work for me?”
Truth is, I entered a residential recovery program for the third time thinking I’d tried 12 step recovery to the best of my ability. A rigorous analysis proved otherwise. Here are 4 things I suggest if you want to get through your first year sober. And stay that way.
1. Don’t get a sponsor… Actively work with a sponsor.
I heard get a sponsor many times during my first and second go around in recovery. I’d get a sponsor and do exactly what they told me to do. My old sponsors told me to check-in every day. So I did. They told me to go to 90 meetings in 90 days. So I did. Then I got wasted.
I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. Others seemed to have little difficulty staying sober and enjoying life. Well-intentioned sober friends told me to simply do what my sponsor said. I did and ended up in relapse.
Some survive for a period of time on the go-to-meetings-call-your-sponsor formula. I usually lasted 6 months. I knew what the steps were and heard about them, but I thought sponsors put you through a trial period where you demonstrated worthiness before they actually walked you through the 12 steps.
When my guide at Discovery Place asked me how much step work I had completed with a sponsor, the answer was none. He told me that the health of a sponsor-sponsee relationship depends on step work. If a sponsor is actively guiding a newcomer through the 12 steps as directed in the literature, the relationship is healthy. If a sponsor does not, it’s time to get a new sponsor or have a frank discussion with him/her.
So active work with a sponsor involves 12 step work on a consistent basis, plain and simple. This vital component made the difference between recovery and relapse for me. It brought about personal growth I couldn’t possibly have imagined, and it is, in my mind, the most important element in a program of recovery.
2. Get a home group.
What’s a home group, you say? A home group is composed of the following features:
- A meeting you attend on a regular basis
- A meeting you usually enjoy
- A meeting where you become active in service for the good of the group (making coffee, greeting newcomers and group members, etc)
A home group allows you to develop relationships with sober people. Many alcoholics and drug addicts develop a multitude of unhealthy relationships over years of substance abuse. This venue allows you an opportunity to begin cultivating healthy new relationships.
The business meeting is usually held once a month. It’s a great way to meet core group members and get involved in service work. Just ask a regular or group chairperson when the business meeting occurs.
3. Make morning meditation part of your daily routine.
The time I set aside in the morning to pray and meditate sets the tone for my entire day. While at Discovery Place, I met Dave Smith, founder of Against the Stream in Nashville, TN. He volunteered at the facility and taught me how to constructively tackle high anxiety in early sobriety.
I started to make 15-30min+ of mindfulness meditation a daily practice. It enabled me to not only approach situations more comfortably; it also opened up a connection to the world I’d lost during years of active addiction.
In the chapter on step 11, The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous states that, “…meditation is in reality intensely practical. One of its first fruits is emotional balance.” (pg. 101-102) But you don't have to wait until step 11 to start meditating.
The sense of smooth I felt when first introduced to meditation was so foreign, I thought something might be wrong with me. In stressful circumstances and situations apt to make me angry, I stopped responding with a crazy range of whacky emotions. I’d never experienced authentic internal peace. Meditation was the key that unlocked the door to emotionally healthy me.
4. Get involved socially with sober people. I guarantee that you’ll have fun.
A common misconception amongst the newly sober is that nothing will be fun in the absence of booze and drugs. A lot of us feel like a comedian told to go on stage and make people laugh without telling any jokes.
It was incredible when members of sober fellowships first asked me to go out for a night on the town. Prior to getting clean, no one asked me for anything except party favors. We played trampoline dodgeball, watched 3D movies at the IMAX theater, walked through haunted houses on Halloween and just had a blast. All I had to do was hang around the rooms of recovery and demonstrate that I wanted to be a part of something different.
So raise your hand and identify yourself as a newcomer. Let the community know you need to learn to have fun sober. Then one day, when you watch as someone beaten by substances walks into the rooms, you can have the privilege of paying it forward.