"Change is not a bolt of lightning that arrives with a zap.
It is a bridge built brick by brick, every day, with sweat and humility and slips.
It is hard work, and slow work, but it can be thrilling to watch it take shape."
After reading Pick the Weeds, Keep the Flowers: My Year of Sobriety, a Positively Present reader recently emailed me and asked for my advice on how to get (and stay) sober. It's actually hard for me to believe that today it's been two whole years since I had a drink -- and it's even harder to explain (even to myself!) how exactly I've made this happen. Cliche as it sounds, it really has been a one-day-at-a-time thing. Each day I do it and then I look back and realize another day, week, month -- and now year! -- has passed. Over the past two years, I've learned a lot about how to stay sober -- and, in the process, I've learned a lot about living life without a substance available to cloud up my view.
Everyone's experience is different, but I believe there are some general principles for that can be used for struggling to stay sober -- or anyone struggling in general. Many of these are cliches or sayings taken from AA -- phrases that are used so often that we sometimes forget why they are used so often. Below are some of the sayings that have really worked for me ... I hope they will work for you as well if you are struggling to stay sober, to stay on track in any way in your life.
6 Stay-Sober Suggestions
1. Actions speak louder than words. How easy it is to say you're going to do something! How easy to put it off until tomorrow or next time. But what works -- what's required -- if you want to stay sober is action. Words are meaningless without the driving force behind them: action. Do not wait until "the next time" to stop drinking. Do it now. Today. Commit to it and stick to it. If you slip-up (as I did two years ago, after I had been sober for eight months), start again. Action is everything.
2. Take it one day at a time. The most cliche of them all is actually the most important to me. The idea of not drinking ever again seems terrifying and daunting. The idea of not drinking today, much less so. I can make it through today. And tomorrow I'll tell myself the same thing: just get through today. If you take it one day at a time -- sobriety, or anything -- it becomes much more manageable. Suddenly what you felt you could not do, you are actually doing.
3. Practice makes perfect. If you want to get good at something, you have to practice. Professionals aren't experts in their professions because they just sit around and wait for genius to strike. They're professionals because they work their asses off. Same goes for you and sobriety. If you want to get good at it -- become a natural -- you have to practice. Don't hide out, avoiding all social situations. Get out there and practice living sober. It will be hard, but it will get easier. (I swear!)
4. All that glitters is not gold. I see the people laughing, the cold beers in their hands. I see the bubbling champagne and despair in how much fun it looks like I'm missing out on. And then I remember: not everything that looks fun is fun. I used to be one of those, glass in hand, head thrown back in a laugh. And I was miserable. Everything is not as it seems. The glitter is not gold, but bits of burning embers. Fire is beautiful but dangerous. I make sure not to be lured in by the sparkle.
5. Don't mistake pleasure for happiness. Would the rush of being drunk again feel good? Hell ya. Would it be so much fun to go out, get completely wild, and relive the "good ol' days"? Sure. But that would be pleasure, instant gratification -- not happiness. I want a positive life, filled with true and lasting happiness. I don't want the rush of one more good time. Because I know now that those good times are only momentary highs. They don't last -- and they bring with them the lowest of lows.
6. Detach with love. The people around you have such an impact on how well you cope with sobriety. Not everyone (even those you love most) is good for you. If you can get rid of those who tempt you or don't support your sobriety, do it. If you can't completely rid your life of those people, detach yourself from them. But do it with love. You don't have to be spiteful or angry. You must only do what is best for you and your sobriety -- and sometimes a little distance (physically and emotionally) is just what you need.
Rober Schuller said: "Yes, you can be a dreamer and a doer too, if you will remove one word from your vocabulary: impossible." If someone had told me years ago that I would one day be able to stay sober not only for a weekend, but for years, I would have certainly screeched: impossible! But what once seemed impossible has now become a reality. What I once thought I could never do, I have done. Of course, sobriety will always be a work-in-progress. There is no end, no point when I can wipe my brow and think, phew, that's over! But I've made a lot of progress and every day I get stronger, every day the need gets a little less powerful.
I used to be in a place that made no sense. I was washing down my fears and my pain with a heaping helping of poison. I wasn't here or there. I was nowhere. And now I am here. I am present. I am experiencing my life -- even the hardest bits -- without a veil of alcohol clouding my view. Is it easy? Rarely. Is it worth it? Yes. I'm much happier being here than being nowhere...
in the no||where, wildfires are burning.
the flames stretch higher with every pour
licking the bark of trees, smoke kissing the sky.
how beautiful, those flames, when viewed from afar
when the charred flowers, the broken bones and branches,
are too obscure to be seen beneath the smoldering pines.
filtered in orange, the sky will catch embers,
holding them up against its black backdrop
illuminations of beauty, a smattering of distractions.
fists clenched, the soaking storms will come.
the flames will fall victim to a change in the wind,
the sparks will be singed to nothingness by lack of air.
in the now||here, the smoky sorrow will linger.
in spring its sad scent will be vanquished by the
surprising aroma of wildflowers, the odor of now.
how beautiful, those blooms, when viewed up close,
when their buds are pushing up through the soot and soil,
their shoots and stems made stronger by freshly fallen ash.