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Two Tips for those in Early Sobriety

Men taking shots at a bar.

Most alcoholics don’t get sober because we want to. Rarely do we tackle the new task of sobriety as an exciting adventure that we choose to embark on. We don’t think to ourselves about how lucky we are to take a new path in life, or about the exciting new people we could meet as we walk the road of sobriety. These were not the thoughts swimming in my head when I had 24 hours of sobriety. The questions in my mind went more like this. Will my husband ever interact with me again outside of handing me divorce papers? When will my immediate family talk to me? Where am I going to work? How will I get money to live? Can I survive not drinking for the rest of my life? Hell, can I survive not drinking today? These questions on top of crippling anxiety and sometimes physical withdrawal of alcohol are not an inviting scenario that any of us want to be a part of.

As terrifying as early sobriety is as the hours, days and weeks go on, some of these questions are resolved and if not resolved at least we are able to look at them from a slightly different perspective. I started attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings because the beautiful souls that sat in the rooms of AA were the only ones that wanted to talk to me and enjoyed being around me. I kept going back to AA because these people were nice to me. They told me to come back while everyone else in my life was angry and wanted nothing to do with me. To some extent I was being selfish attending AA day in and day out. As much as I didn’t want to be in the predicament I was in, I also wanted people to speak to me and treat me like a human being.

A few months into sobriety I was feeling slightly better and some of the relationships in my life were starting to heal. I attended AA regularly and had a sponsor who was working the steps with me. Even though my life was changing for the better I still didn’t fully understand what I was up against when it came to fighting my disease. Luckily, I had other alcoholics around me that knew more than I did from being in the program longer and from being sober longer. If it weren’t for the knowledge that they gave me, I wouldn’t be sober today. Therefore, I’m going to share these little nuggets of wisdom in hopes that they help you as much as they helped me.

Below are two of the most life changing items that I learned from my first sponsor and many other angels within the rooms of AA. I hope that these will help shine light on what the disease of Alcoholism is and how mysteriously it works to kill us every day that we are alive.

Tip number one: When you start to think “Maybe I can have just one” it’s the disease talking to you.

This is the most important item I learned in early recovery. Alcoholism is both a physical and mental disease. Meaning that as an alcoholic my body reacts to alcohol differently than the non-alcoholic. I get drunk quicker and stay drunk longer, I can not stop drinking once I start even if it means drinking to the point of blacking out or vomiting. This part of the disease I pretty much had figured out on my own through a lot of trial and error. As well as talking to my friends who weren’t alcoholics. How were they able to stop drinking after a few beers when I was not? The short answer is that alcohol doesn’t affect them physically the same way it does me.

Faceless man wearing hoodie covered in fog.
You can't always trust your thoughts.

If the physical part doesn’t make the disease bad enough there is also the second and, in my opinion, deadlier part of the disease. Alcoholism is also a mental disorder. This is the part that I never knew until that fateful day in the car when my sponsor explained it to me. We were on our way to a meeting, and she asked me how I was doing. I was very honest, and I told her that I was doing pretty well but that every once in a while, I felt like maybe I could have just one drink and stop. She kind of chuckled, smiled and said, “that’s the disease talking to you”. The light switch suddenly flipped in my brain. As an alcoholic I have a mental obsession and drive within my brain to drink. It doesn’t matter what terrible things happen from my drinking, when I’m living in active alcoholism my mind obsessively thinks about drinking and my thoughts try to deceive me, hence the “maybe I can have just one” thought. That was the day I learned that I cannot trust my own thoughts.

The alcoholic cannot have just one or learn to drink like other people. There is no amount of willpower we can exert to stop after one. First the mental obsession starts, we forget the past, we obsess about the drink, and we drink it vowing that we will stop after one. Once the poison of alcohol is physically in our system the physical changes or addiction kicks in and we are off to the races. We cannot stop once we start.

Next time you think to yourself that you can have just one or that you have things under control, know that your thoughts are your disease talking to you and it’s lying to you. Talk over the thoughts with someone in your life, run your idea to have “just one” by them and see what they think about it.

Tip number two: Powerless does not equal weakness.

For as long as I can remember I’ve been a bit of a rebel. I like the idea of doing my own thing, being different and going against the grain. Hell, you can argue that’s one of the reasons I started drinking in the first place. I was trying to be different. What 15-year-old sneaks into nightclubs, dances and gets drunk? Perhaps some yes, but it’s not the typical path for most. As I got older and further along in my drinking career, I changed from the classic rebel into a sell employed rebel. I went to college and accomplished a lot of traditional goals, but I moved into a niche career field, starting my own boxing business.

I was able to grow a business where I not only made my own rules, allowing my alcoholism to grow but I remained a bit of a rebel in society. I thoroughly enjoyed telling people what I did for a living when I met them. There I was in a commercial garage, hanging out with a bunch of boxers, working as a personal trainer. Not many women choose this path after college, and I reveled in it.

Years later when I got sober, I had to admit to myself that I was truly powerless over alcohol. I could not control it in any way. Admitting defeat against a substance you used to love is a hard thing to do. Somewhat because admitting that you have no power in a situation takes away the thing that you enjoyed for so long. This admission also takes away the idea that you control anything in your life. If I couldn’t control my drinking, what could I control?

As I worked the steps of AA, I learned that although uncomfortable at times giving up control and admitting powerlessness is not a sign of failure or weakness but in fact a sign of strength. It takes a strong person to give up control, to say they have had enough, that they are been beaten. Especially by a substance. It was easy for me to admit that I was an alcoholic, I knew enough about the disease being genetic and running in families that I was pretty sure that I had it, but once I was able to see that I was truly powerless against it I was able to start the process of recovery. With recovery comes strength, with strength comes perseverance and knowledge, with knowledge comes power. I now have the power to give myself a fighting chance against my disease. I have the knowledge to know how much I can help myself and when I need to hand the reigns to something greater than myself else. Let me tell you most of the time handing the reigns over is better for me and everyone involved.

I hope that these two items are beneficial to those of you in early sobriety and those who are struggling. Know that sometimes what you think is true could be your disease talking to you and if you are feeling defeated or that you are weak because you can’t control your drinking, try to admit your powerlessness. You might just be surprised how light you feel afterwards. It is incredibly freeing to know that you have an active disease that you can seek treatment for instead of believing that you lack willpower.

Looking for more tips on hot to stay sober? Check out another blog post here:


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Image by Tim Mossholder


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