The True Challenge of Sobriety: Staying Sober and Finding Peace
by John Risby
Published: January 25, 2023 Last updated: November 30, 2023
So, you’ve given up alcohol? Well done, that’s fantastic! It may have been a bit unpleasant but still, it’s all over now and the bad times are in the past. Now your life has really begun! Isn’t it great? Suddenly you feel fantastic. Your fears have left you. Your doubts are gone. Your health is perfect. You’re skipping around like a care-free five year old. Basically, life is just amazing. Right?
Sadly it’s normally very wrong, but many people think this is exactly how it plays out once you stop drinking. Sometimes that’s based on pure hope for a better life. Other times it’s because they see people who are long-term sober and think they have it made.
In reality, this just isn’t how it goes.
The grass is always greener
People in long-term recovery have probably spent a long-time trying to piece their life back together. They probably still are to some extent. There isn’t a single person on the planet who has a perfect life. It doesn’t matter who they are, everyone has problems and issues to deal with. From the outside they may seem to have a great life, and maybe they do have a pretty good one, but no one has it all worked out. Life is never without its challenges.
Stopping drinking – as vitally important as it is – really is just the beginning of a long process.
Truth be told, stopping drinking itself isn’t that hard. Sure, you feel like shit for a few days but that soon passes.
No, stopping drinking itself isn’t really the problem.
Living a sober life is the real trick
People can develop problems with alcohol at any age or stage of life but it’s fair to say a lot of people have used alcohol as a crutch for most of their lives. And many started in their teenage years.
The reality for those people is they’ve never actually lived life as an adult without the “help” of alcohol.
If you’ve been drinking since your teenage years and stop in, say, your 40s, you’ve not only spent most of your time on the planet drinking, but you’ve spent all your adult years drinking. All of them.
When alcohol has been a constant presence for so long, breaking free from addiction can be a daunting task.
Your education, your career, your first serious relationship, your marriage, your children, your choice of friends, coping with losing parents and loved ones, dealing with health issues, losing your job, getting divorced – every single thing that has happened to you as an adult has been acted out under the influence, and seen through the lens, of alcohol.
Alcohol has always been there as a crutch – to the point many of us considered it our “friend”.
Are Friends For Life?
The truth is some friendships are toxic. And alcohol is just about the worst friend you’ll ever have.
So why, when we’ve realised this and told alcohol we never want to see it again, do we spend so much time resisting the urge to rekindle the relationship? Why do we so often let alcohol back in our lives?
Basically, because we don’t know any other way of living.
Finding new ways to cope with all the problems we’re guaranteed to continue to face, and even celebrating all the good things that will happen to us, without turning to alcohol, is the hardest and most important part of stopping drinking. This is what will decide whether you stop for good, or whether you stop for a couple of months.
I started by saying how giving up alcohol isn’t that hard. For most people, most of the time, that’s true. But for some people it’s a gruelling process and it takes a heavy toll on the body and the mind.
Doing it again and again and again isn’t just physically and mentally stressful, but each time you start drinking again your confidence takes another knock. You tell yourself you’ve failed. And if you tell yourself you’ve failed enough, you’ll eventually consider yourself a failure. You’ll end up believing you simply don’t deserve to stop drinking. That you don’t deserve to lead a life free from the chains of alcohol. You may even convince yourself you’d be better off getting it – life – over with sooner rather than later. Anyone thinking that couldn’t be more wrong.
The Next Steps
Saying this is easy. Reading and agreeing with it is also fairly easy. The hard part is actually doing it. But while it is hard, it’s far from impossible.
The first thing to remember – no, the first thing to burn into your brain – is that you deserve this. You deserve to get, and stay, sober. You deserve to lead the best possible life you can. You deserve a life without the pains, stresses, embarrassments, illnesses, and torments, that come with living with an addiction. If you don’t believe that 100%, you may get sober, but you won’t stay sober. And I don’t care who you are, what you’ve done in the past, how you are living at the moment – you do deserve that life. Every single person deserves it.
This Is Only The Beginning
The next thing to understand is that stopping drinking is just the start.
Yes, you absolutely should be happy and even proud if you’ve stopped, but not to the point of thinking it’s in the bag.
Understand that stopping is just the first stage of a long process. Don’t let yourself become complacent. There’s a long way to go yet. In fact, there’s the rest of your life to go. But the good news you now get to make the rest of your life the best it can be. It won’t be ideal. Don’t kid yourself about that. But it’s going to be a damn sight better than it has been – if you put the work in to make it happen.
Get To The Root Of Your Drinking
Possibly the most important aspect of coping with the challenges of living a sober life is addressing underlying emotional and psychological issues that may have contributed to the development of a drinking problem. Most of us didn’t become alcoholics just because we drank too much. That’s too simplistic. We need to take a step back and look at why we drank too much. Most of us have a reason – or several reasons.
Understanding the reasons behind your drinking, and addressing those problems through therapy, group support, self-discovery and improvement, or professional help is crucial in overcoming the addiction in the long term.
Getting to the root causes of our drinking which led to the addiction is the most important thing we can do. Many people fail to do this and either start drinking again, or spend years being sober but still not living they life they should be.
Find New Ways To Cope With Life
Finding new hobbies and activities to replace alcohol is one of the best ways to cope with the challenges of living a sober life. Finding new hobbies and activities that are enjoyable and fulfilling can help to provide new sources of pleasure and engagement with the world. Examples of hobbies and activities that may be beneficial include exercise, art, music, and volunteering.
Building a support system of friends and family who understand and support your decision to stop drinking is also crucial in coping with the challenges of living a sober life. Joining support groups or therapy for individuals in recovery can provide emotional support and practical help during the process of adjusting to a sober lifestyle. It’s also important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and encouraging rather than those that might trigger your addiction.
You may need to re-evaluate some friendships, especially those based around drinking. Friends are important, yes, but the wrong friends will do you much more harm than good. Sometimes you have to be brutal in cutting people out of your life if you are to progress in your recovery.
It’s also important to maintain a long-term perspective when it comes to overcoming a drinking problem. The process of adjusting to a sober lifestyle is not always easy and may require patience and perseverance. Be kind to yourself and don’t give up if progress is slow.
Finally, remember that overcoming addiction is a continuous journey, not a destination. Living a sober life doesn’t change the ultimate outcome – all lives end the same way. But it does provide us with the opportunity to make the most of every single day. To live each of those days to the fullest, to improve ourselves, and to make a positive impact on those around us. And the power to do this lies firmly in your own hands.
Giving up alcohol is just the beginning of a long process.
Finding new ways to cope with all the problems we face in life – or even celebrating the good parts of life – without alcohol is the hardest and most important part of stopping drinking.
Building a support system, finding new hobbies and activities, addressing underlying emotional and psychological issues and maintaining a long-term perspective are all important strategies for coping with the challenges of living a sober life.
Believe, wholeheartedly, that you have a right to a better life. Recognise, unequivocally, that you hold the power to change your life. And above all, firmly acknowledge that you possess the determination and strength to make it happen.
About The Author
Co-Founder of The Alcohol-Free Shop and AlcoholFree.com. John is a recovering alcoholic who stopped drinking in June 2004. Born and raised in Manchester, he now lives in Malaga with his wife and young daughter. He came to terms with being an alcoholic many years ago, but still finds the concept his daughter is Spanish very strange.