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Milestones of Sobriety: 30 and 90 Days — 1, 5 and 10 Years
Recovery from addiction is often described as a journey. People who make the decision to set down the bottle or walk away from drugs have made the first step on that journey, but they may spend years working before they really feel as though they’ve arrived at their destination.We decided to interview several people in recovery, to get a sense of how people deal with the challenges as they become more comfortable with sobriety. Here’s what they had to say. Please note that all of the names in this piece have been changed to protect the privacy of our sources.
30 Days: New to the Struggle
Wendy was just released from the rehab center when this interview took place, and it’s clear that she’s still working through some of the issues that helped her addiction to develop.
“To be honest, things are hard right now. I really want to go back to drugs sometimes, to just numb myself up. But I remember how much my parents did for me, and how hard I worked in rehab, and it helps me to stay on track. Right now, I’m trying to figure out just what all of my triggers are, so I can figure out how to handle them when they pop up. I don’t have that figured out quite yet.”
Even at the one-month mark, though, her life is much different than it was when she was an active user. She has some challenges to overcome, however.
“I’m living with my parents now, because I don’t really trust myself to live alone. That’s new, and it’s a little hard. I’m used to having some space and my own stuff, and I am just adjusting to sharing. But I’m so thankful they let me stay. I don’t know what would happen to me if I didn’t have help.”
Wendy is also dealing with some of the aftereffects of the many years she spent in active addiction, but she is finding some bright spots.
“In general, I’m just really emotional right now. I can really feel things, emotions I’ve been able to bury with drugs for years. I feel like I’m gonna laugh or cry all of the time. It’s strange, and I feel like I’m adjusting. But I am also just remembering how great life can be. Little things like chocolate or a soft pillow, they’re like the best things that have ever happened to me.”
90 Days: Emerging Confidence
Steve also deals with ongoing cravings for the heroin he was addicted to, but after talking with him, it seems as though the grip of his addiction is slipping just a little bit.
“At first, I had a hard time staying clean. It felt like I had to use all of my energy, all of the time, just to stay away from smack. I loved my drugs, and I missed them. I missed my buddies who used too. Now, though, I have really good habits that help me to stay sober. I go to bed early. I eat right. I have friends to call if I feel like I’m about to slip. There are all of these systems around me, you know? I think they help me to stay safe. I don’t feel like I have to focus on this all of the time,”he says.
But Steve seems aware of the fact that he could very well slide right back into addiction, if he isn’t careful. That’s why he makes sure to stay in contact with the recovery community.
“I’m still going to meetings. Two, sometimes three, times a week, I walk into that room and admit that I have a problem. It helps me to stay humble, and to keep from testing the boundaries and getting back in trouble,”he says.
It’s that work in meetings that reminds Steve of all of the work he has yet to do, he says.
“I see so many people who walk into those meetings just terrified, you know? Like they think we’re all going to laugh at them or punish them or something. They don’t know how to be vulnerable and just admit that they need help. I don’t feel like I can help them right now, as I think I still have so much to learn, but I see them and I feel their pain. It helps me to remember how bad things could get if I slip up.”
One Year: Seeing the Benefits
Annie quit using when she became pregnant. She says that her life is remarkably different now.
“I quit when I found out I was pregnant, but had been trying for a while before that. I had my daughter February 28th, and that was amazing. I got married to my daughter’s dad. I have a job. I have my own place again. I have an awesome relationship with my mom, and I get to see my nephews all the time now. Before, I never saw or talked to any of them. My husband had left for Montana; I was sleeping under a bridge. So things have changed a lot. In a great way,”she says. “I have a purpose and goals again. It’s hard but so worth it.”
Even though her life is so different, she often deals with deep-seated cravings for the substances she’s given up. She must work hard to steer clear of the substances she craves, and she’s developing a system to help her stay sober.
“I stay on track by communicating with my husband. If I feel a craving coming on, I tell him and we find something to do that distracts me. Our goal is to NOT DWELL on my addiction, not live in it,”she says.
Five Years: Growing and Changing
At the five-year mark, Gabriel has learned a lot about what it takes to stay sober. But in many ways, he feels as though he has much more to learn.
“I had a problem with alcohol, and when my addiction was in full swing, booze was my best friend and closest companion. I had no room in my life for anyone else at all, and all of my relationships were a complete mess as a result. My wife left me, my kids wouldn’t talk to me, and I had no friends I could talk to. Basically, I was shut out,”he says.
“Since I got sober, I’ve been working on repairing those relationships. I went to counseling with my wife and my kids, and I joined some networking groups at work so I could meet other people that I had something in common with. I also met a ton of really great people in my AA group. Now, I feel like I have a whole bunch of people I can call when I’m low. I don’t even feel like I need alcohol. My life is so full,”he says.
Even though Gabriel feels confident that his deep drinking days are behind him, he continues to work on his sobriety and he tries to build a strong foundation that will keep him away from future mistakes.
“I’m still going to meetings, obviously, and I’m also working as a mentor,” he says. “It’s challenging, as my mentee can be really demanding right now, due to his addiction and trying to win the battle. But it reminds me of just how low you can go when you let the demon win. So as much as I help him, he helps me.”
“I’m also still going to counseling,” Gabriel says. “The longer I go sober, the more new things that pop up for me to talk about. I don’t want to be overwhelmed by it, so I keep talking.”
10 Years: A New Way of Life
At 10 years sober, Becky seems like a success story. The changes she’s made in her life are certainly inspirational.
“When I was drinking, my life really revolved around the next drink I was planning to have. When I went to parties, I headed right for the bar. As soon as I got home from work, I dipped into the refrigerator. Everything else that might have been important just slipped away,”she says. “Since I’ve been sober, I’ve had more energy for real relationships. I think I listen better, and I really try to be there for the people I love and who love me. I’m also able to focus on my work, and I’ve done a lot of amazing things there. When I don’t have to worry about alcohol all of the time, where to get it and how to cover up how much I use it, I have more energy for things that are really important.”
Becky also has a robust system in place that helps her to preserve the gains she’s made.
“I start off every morning with a run. I can get into a meditative space as I run, just thinking about what happened the day before and what needs to happen today, and that helps me to stay peaceful throughout the day. Running also reminds me of what my body is capable of doing. It’s a wonderful machine, and I really shouldn’t pollute it with alcohol. Running gives me that reminder,”she says.
Becky also believes that giving back to her community, and reaching out to those who haven’t yet made the commitment to get sober, is a great way for her to preserve her own sobriety. She does have words of wisdom for people in this camp too.
“I used to think that getting sober meant leaving all fun and good times behind. I guess I thought it would be like a punishment, and when I got sober, I’d have to pay for all of the things I did when I was drinking,”she says. “In reality, I still have a whole lot of fun every day. I run around with my grandkids, playing dress-up and having tea parties, I get my toenails done with my girlfriends, I watch silly movies with my husband, and we laugh and laugh. Sure, I have moments when I’m sad and upset about things. That’s just part of life. But it’s absolutely not true that sobriety means sadness 100 percent of the time. I have so much happiness in my life now, and I’m sure that’s because I’m sober.”
Making It Happen
Clearly, overcoming an addiction to drugs or alcohol isn’t easy. Often, it takes years of hard work in order for people to make the real changes that lead to long-term success.