Sobriety — we’ve all read the self-help books telling us why it’s great: “Your best days are ahead of you. The movie starts when the person gets sober and puts his/her life back together; it doesn't end there.”
This stuff is fine. But, we often don’t shed enough light on the fact that sobriety is hard. And uncomfortable. And sometimes, frankly, boring. We don’t like to focus on that for fear of inciting relapse. But recovery is all about acknowledgement — the positive and the tough.
Here are three unexpectedly hard things about sobriety.
1. Change is uncomfortable
I know what you’re thinking. “Duh, of course it’s uncomfortable or I would’ve done it already.”
What people fail to understand about recovery is that the whole process is uncomfortable because it’s the unknown. Addiction is always a "known." It keeps you in the same place, feelings and state of being for however long you’re living it. Addiction comes with predictable chaos, and that chaos becomes a norm.
When you go through recovery, everything feels uncomfortable because you’re seeing the world through new eyes again. You’re inside your deepest thoughts, and if you don’t have the excuse of addiction holding you back, then what next?
In the beginning stages of recovery, we are constantly reevaluating life and what we want out of it now that we are free of the chains that held us down. Oftentimes, we’ve made a lot of poor choices through our addiction, which can lessen our self-worth or the trust we have in ourselves to make "good" decisions. It’s about building back up that self-worth to know you can move forward and make a life that is worthwhile, even joyful.
Understand that sobriety is uncomfortable in the beginning, and work with it instead of trying to push that discomfort away.
2. You have high expectations to stay strong
When discussing recovery, I use the phrase “living in the flexible OK.” There’s always this assumption that you’ve snapped your fingers, made the choice to get clean and everything should align the way it’s supposed to.
It won’t happen. We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be "perfect" in recovery. Typically, we have the support of our friends and family throughout the process, and we do not want to let them down. To let them down in recovery only means you feel like you’re disappointing them yet again.
Regardless of why you entered, there is always the pressure to stay in it. That’s the easy part. The hard part is accepting that it will not be flawless.
I left rehab after struggling with years of eating disorders, and the moment I was back at home, I ran too much and pulled a ligament after months of inactivity.
With my tail between my legs, I waltzed back to treatment the next morning and admitted I’d pushed too hard.
This will happen to you in sobriety as well. The statistics of relapse are a staggering 90 percent. No one gets out unscathed. If you relapse, tell someone. Addiction thrives off shame so it can continue to clutch you. If you take a drink, it is not the end of your recovery world. It is merely a misstep. Figure out why you did it and realize you don’t have to make that choice again.
Life can feel boring in the beginning of recovery. When you are wrapped up in addiction, you lose everything. Who are you without it? What do you even like to do? You have to dig deep and be willing to take steps to explore.
When you’re feeling like you want to drink out of boredom, restlessness or loneliness, call your support group. Make new friends — and then pick up new hobbies and return to the activities you enjoyed before you were addicted. Find employment, return to school, occupy your time. Having plenty to do will help with feelings of self-worth, but you have to be willing to put yourself out there.
At the end of the day, recovery is about being aware of what to expect — and acknowledging it’s uncomfortable helps ease the psychological pressure we put on ourselves to have the “perfect recovery story.” Over time, it will get easier. These complex feelings will both fade and return at various times. That is the “flexible recovery” we all should expect and strive to keep.