When Does Sobriety Get Better? It Depends.
I have heard (and felt) this question a lot along my sobriety journey. When does sobriety get better? Why do I feel so miserable all the time? Sobriety sucks. I hate it!
That’s the old me talking, by the way. So if you find yourself nodding your head and saying, “Yeah, I know the feeling,” you are certainly not alone.
So let’s talk about when sobriety gets easier and what you can do to manage the rough patches ahead. But first, we should also reflect on how we got here.
Drinking causes A LOT of problems.
It screws with our ability to make sound decisions, leading to risky and often embarrassing behavior. Occasionally, those bad decisions veer into the realm of irreparable damage to our relationships, health, or life.
The people in our lives have a limited threshold for bad behavior, even when we’re truly sorry. Eventually, people don’t want to hear our apologies anymore. They want to see behavioral change, and if we don’t provide that, they start to disappear.
Eventually, the stable people in our lives move on and are replaced by people just as dysfunctional as us. This brings more drama and chaos.
Many of these problems enter our lives because of our drinking. It is natural to think that by quitting drinking, these problems will finally go away.
But you’re only half right.
Sobriety doesn’t solve your problems.
Not completely, anyway.
It will instantly solve the problem of crippling hangovers, alcohol-induced anxiety spikes, and regrettable calls or texts made five drinks into your evening.
Once your body adjusts, you’ll notice you have more energy and the ability to think clearly. You forget things less often. Hell, you’ll probably smell better, too.
But what sobriety cannot do is take away your pain.
We usually start drinking alcoholically because we are trying to hide from something.
Maybe we feel lonely or lost an important relationship. Or perhaps our life isn’t going the way we planned. We’re stuck in a miserable job and have lost hope that anything can change.
So we drink.
And when we self-medicate with alcohol, we enter into a vicious cycle of drinking to avoid our problems and then causing new ones because, well, we drink. Before you know it, you’re drinking to avoid the fact that you have a drinking problem.
It’s a twisted, horrible place to be.
Sobriety gets better when you do.
When I was a teenager, I struggled with terrible acne. Every time I went to the doctor, I’d get told a version of the same thing: “Here’s a treatment plan. Expect that it is likely to get worse before it gets better.”
Sobriety is kind of like that.
The actual recovery process of sobriety starts to get better around the 3-6 month mark, but the psychological recovery can take even longer.
The early days of sobriety are challenging. The physical and psychological withdrawals are one thing, but learning how to live as a sober person with problems that can’t be masked in alcohol is quite another.
It’s hard to face that stuff when you’re newly sober and it has hurled a lot of strong, well-intending people back into relapse. But if you know it’s coming, you can plan for it and increase your odds of getting through it.
Sobriety gets better when you take responsibility.
Hi, my name is Alicia, and I used to host pity parties.
I used to crumble under the weight of any problem. In fact, I’m fairly certain that my propensity for making mountains out of molehills was due, in part, to my wanting an excuse to get loaded.
That led to a pretty terrible habit of feeling sorry for myself every chance I got (and I got many).
It’s normal to feel like the absolute worst person in the early days when you’re forced to deal with big emotions like guilt, shame, and regret.
Those are heavy things to lug around, and most people do not know how to tackle them alone (myself included).
That’s why having support systems in place is so critical to your success. You can’t grit your teeth and bear this sort of thing.
Are you in a recovery program like AA or a similar support group? Have you considered getting counseling?
If you want sobriety to start getting better, you have to ask yourself, “What am I doing to ensure that it does?”
Let’s talk about what that looks like. You can also enjoy this interview with Steve-O discussing what the process of taking responsibility for his sobriety looked like:
How do you get better in sobriety if you have no idea where to start?
First, find a support system.
Give AA or other recovery programs a chance. If there is an alternative program to those that interest you, go for it. For those who aren’t into AA, I recommend Annie Grace’s support programs.
She is a phenomenal talent and voice in the recovery world. So many people have attributed their sobriety to her work after failing to succeed with more traditional approaches.
Whatever recovery path you take (and there are MANY), the main thing is to acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers and could use some help. That step alone will lighten the emotional load significantly.
If meetings and group programs aren’t your things right now, try counseling with someone who specializes in alcoholism.
Additionally, there are online support networks that can help steer you in the right direction. We’ve got a fabulous private Facebook group for Soberish that you are welcome to join.
There are SO MANY OPTIONS available to you. It’s just a matter of picking one.
I’d also like to take this time to emphasize just how important a sense of community is in sobriety, no matter what that looks like. This Ted Talk discusses the value of community in recovery further and is worth having a listen.
Beware of Analysis Paralysis
Don’t let the fact that you don’t know what to do paralyze you into doing nothing at all.
That’s no good.
Try something and give it your honest, 100% best effort.
That means no eye-rolling and thinking something won’t work for you before you genuinely try it. This process can be really weird and uncomfortable, but hey, what if it works?
And let’s be honest here. If we knew what works, we wouldn’t be in this situation to begin with, would we?
To get better, you have to change.
Baked into a lot of these programs and therapy sessions are things that will push you to accept full responsibility for your past and then provide you with the tools you need to move forward from them.
Sobriety comes with a lot of negative dwelling. I still struggle with this one.
It is easy to get swept up in regrets and negative thinking, sometimes before you’re even aware you’re doing it!
One minute you’re cooking dinner, and the next, you’ve lost five minutes to daydreaming about that one time you threw up on your mother-in-law’s new rug.
Shame is sneaky. And normal.
Sobriety can’t vanquish all shameful memories from your brain, but it can teach you how to handle them. Negative emotions are part of the human experience, my friend.
You have to forgive yourself.
Change the narrative in your brain.
I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating. If the story in your head is that you are a terrible, good-for-nothing person of no value: 1. that’s not true. Stop it! and 2. Prove that you’re not.
Building resilience and training the voice inside your head to be less negative is a lifelong process. It takes time to get good at it. Hell, it takes time to get just sort of okay at it.
If you’re starting from zero and struggling to find something positive about yourself to genuinely believe, I recommend forgetting about yourself for a minute and think of others.
How can you be of service to someone else right now?
Go, volunteer. Help serve meals at a homeless shelter. Volunteer to work with animals at the Humane Society.
Hop on Google and find something to do in your area. And then show up!
There are so many emotional benefits to volunteer work that you could use right now. Let’s also acknowledge that most of us who drink alcoholically are self-absorbed. We are obsessed with our own pain and shortcomings but rarely think of others.
Learning to help people without expecting anything in return will humble you and help you see that yes, you are capable of doing good things and making a positive impact on the world.
It’s also a wonderful respite from the shame parade clamoring around your brain.
Be proactive. Learn HOW to feel better in sobriety.
I’m a stubborn, recovering know-it-all, which means I don’t like asking for help. This quality has not served me well, particularly in sobriety.
My past relapses were largely fueled by sobriety’s inability to solve my problems for me. Instead of reaching out for help, giving AA a shot, or opening up to friends and family, I tried to Google my way to emotional stability.
Shocker! It didn’t work. At all.
Every day, I felt sad, unmotivated, lost, and unworthy.
When I quit drinking, I felt those things more intensely. I’d have some good days where I could say, “Hey, not waking up with a hangover is pretty friggin’ sweet!”
Those were the days I’d make it to the gym and think that things would turn out okay after all.
But, inevitably, a bad day would sneak in there. And it would hit me…hard. I translated bad days into personal failures. If I still feel these horrible things in sobriety, something is wrong with ME.
I must be broken. It will never get better.
(See that self-absorbed thinking? We, heavy drinkers, tend to believe that we are special unicorns for whom all problems are uniquely unsolvable.)
And so it became a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts. Down I’d go into a depressive spiral, usually all the way into a bottle of Jack.
Ask for help. And then take the advice.
Here’s the thing.
Sometimes when we ask for help, we aren’t REALLY open to hearing the advice because we either: A. want to believe that we are special, hopeless creatures, or B. think we already know what will or won’t work.
I’ve actually been dumped by therapists in the past for having a bad attitude and not being receptive to their suggestions.
Now, not every program or therapy approach will work for you. That’s true. But you don’t know until you try, and you have to genuinely try.
Give it your God’s honest, 100% best effort, and then decide if you need to adjust.
Sobriety will get better when you are actually open to LEARNING from other people how to be a happy, stable individual. Because the thing is, we don’t actually know. It’s why we drank so much.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own.
Do better things with your time.
A lot of people in recovery become fitness buffs, and it makes sense. We gotta find new avenues to channel our energy and work out our stuff.
Why not take your anger, fear, and resentment out on a punching bag or a heavy barbell?
It works for some folks and has the added benefit of pumping your body full of endorphins, creating new neural connections in the brain, and helping reduce depression and anxiety.
You’ll start to transform your identity into someone who shows up, does the hard work, and looks smoking hot in a swimsuit.
Not into gyms?
It’s fine. I’m not a gym bunny, either.
You can find something else – yoga, pilates, pottery, horticulture.
The point is to find activities to fill the time and help you become a better person. And then stick with them.
Prove to yourself that you can finish what you start and be reliable. Push through and show up, even on days you don’t want to.
It will change you.
Sobriety gets better in its own time.
It’s not uncommon to feel like you’re running on a treadmill, getting nowhere, but feeling emotionally and physically exhausted.
Sobriety is really hard work! It’s messy. There are ugly parts to it.
But one day, you realize the clouds have lifted a little bit. For the first time, you notice just how much has changed.
Maybe you’ve been more positive lately. Or perhaps you had a bad day and managed to handle it in a healthier way, and now you feel really good about that.
Whatever it is, if you keep working on your sobriety and believing that you have the power to change your life, you will do exactly that.
You’ll reach a point where you accept that there are some difficulties ahead of you, but you’re not afraid of them. You don’t feel defined by your past as strongly.
Or, to put it another way, you have hope.
Sobriety starts to get better when you stop living exclusively in your painful past and start caring about a future that has potential.
But you have to create that for yourself and trust that if you REALLY commit to it, that you’ll get there eventually.
Some people get there faster than others. It’s not a race. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Their recovery is none of your business, and vice versa.
You WILL get there.
And one day, you’ll look back and think, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe I was ever like that!” You just have to faith that you can.
Day 39 sober. Not feeling positive feelings. Zero creative juices. I sit with my guitar and it all sounds boring and grey. When I was drinking I had ideas – got excited about things. I’m going get to 90 days. If after 90 days life is boring and grey, I’m going back.
Please don’t! What you’re experiencing right now is called anhedonia. It happens a lot in sobriety because the brain is still trying to adjust to the lack of dopamine it used to get from alcohol. It will get better.
So if you aren’t willing to put up with groups like the AA telling you “you’re a worthless piece of garbage and only Jesus can help”, you must be able to afford therapy. Terrific.
Didn’t say that at all, but I hope you’re able to find a solution for your pain.