Taking it Easy the First Year of Sobriety
When we first get sober, it’s an amazing experience. Months or years of hopelessness can suddenly turn into an optimism that we’ve never experienced before. Alcohol and drugs were our masters, and for many of us, our addiction to mind-altering substances took away the hopes and dreams that we had as we grew up. I know that when I was younger, long before alcohol and drugs came in to the picture, I wanted to go to college, find a career I loved and start a family. Once my addiction took over, I still wanted those things, but I couldn’t take the necessary steps to make them happen. Once I was sober, I started to realize that it was possible to pursue some of my dreams that I had abandoned long ago, but I also knew that I had to take it slow.
My First Year Sober
Whether you’ve been in treatment or have gone to 12-step meetings, you’ve probably heard of many people saying that you should take it easy your first year. If you’re like me when I first got sober, you didn’t take too much stock in the suggestions of people. When I heard things like “don’t date for your first year of sobriety” and “don’t make any major decisions during your first year sober,” I thought these people must be out of their mind.
My mom is who helped me get sober, and not only had she been sober for seven years at this time, but she was also the clinical director of an Intensive Outpatient Program. She was the biggest advocate of not making any major decisions or changes my first year sober. She didn’t even want me to work. She said that as long as I stayed sober that first year, she would support me. Although I was extremely fortunate for her to offer me this, I had no clue how I was going to pull that off because I’m a workaholic, and I wanted to move back to Las Vegas as soon as possible to be with my son.
I know that everyone doesn’t have the same opportunity I was given my first year sober, but it was the most difficult and beneficial years of my sobriety. My mom kept saying throughout that year, “Don’t worry about going to back to work. Sobriety is your job this year.” It frustrated me when she said this because I wasn’t getting paid to stay sober, but it’s what I did to occupy my time.
Here’s what I did to occupy my time and focus on my recovery:
- I went to as many meetings as possible. Sometimes this would be upwards of three or four meetings in a single day.
- I hung out with my new sober friends, which was great because they were also part of my support group.
- I read the Big Book of AA multiple times.
- I worked with my sponsor.
- I worked on my steps.
As you can see, there was plenty of things to do to make my recovery my job, and the best part was that it was helping me recover. All of the work I put into my recovery paid off, and the obsession to drink and use went away. By the time I was ready to come back to Las Vegas to be with my son and start working again, my head was in a better place than it had ever been before.
No Major Changes the First Year Sober
I don’t know about you, but I can get overwhelmed easily. Whether I’m given multiple tasks to do at work, if I’m trying to organize plans with multiple people or have a list of things on my to-do list, it can get really stressful really fast. This is something that I’ve heard many alcoholics and addicts talk about in early recovery, which is why it’s so commonly suggested not to make any major changes. Many of us learned about what our triggers are, and stress is one of the leading causes.
Those first months sober are when many of us experience that “pink cloud” of optimism. We’re seeing the world through clear eyes. I’ve seen many people who get sober and their enthusiasm for recovery makes them want to pursue a brand new career or go back to school, but for many of these people it did not work out. Unfortunately, the stress of doing all of these things before some of them learned how to live life on life’s terms really got to them.
It may not have been immediate, but it happened eventually for more people than it didn’t, and this is purely based off my experience with others. In my opinion, us recovering addicts have always had a problem with balance, so we go to extremes with the different things we do. When addicts in early recovery get a new job or go back to school, it’s extremely difficult to ensure that going to meetings or aftercare therapy is a priority.
Working with Others
“Our book is meant to be suggestive only. We realize we know only a little. God will constantly disclose more to you and to us. Ask Him in your morning meditation what you can do each day for the man who is still sick. The answers will come, if your own house is in order. But obviously you cannot transmit something you haven’t got. See to it that your relationship with Him is right, and great events will come to pass for you and countless others. This is the Great Fact for us.”
-Page 164, Big Book, Chapter 11, Vision for You
When we leave treatment and have finally realized that we never have to drink or use again, it’s an incredible experience. We hear about how one of the best ways to stay sober is by helping others, but we must be careful about this. It’s understandable when we get sober that many of us want to return home and help anyone we think has a problem with alcohol or drugs. We want to run up to them and tell them that we’ve had this amazing experience and they can get well too.
As the above quote from the AA Big Book states, we can’t transmit something we don’t have. I personally dealt with this many times in my sobriety, and I still do as an Alumni Coordinator. After two weeks of sobriety, my best friend asked me how he can get sober too, and I had no clue what to tell him. I tried talking to him and his family, but it didn’t do much. Finally, after three years of my sobriety, my friend went to treatment at the American Addictions Center location in Southern California called Forterus, and he has almost six months of sobriety now.
I used to worry constantly about my friend because I wanted nothing more but to help him and show him that this new way of living works, but I didn’t have enough clean time to really know how to help him. Throughout these years of my sobriety, he’s witnessed a change in me. He’s seen me become the father, employee, son and friend that I was never able to be. Early in my recovery, I was still just the same ol’ Chris, but without the alcohol and the drugs.
An analogy I often use when it comes to helping others is what they talk about when you fly on an airplane. When they go through the safety demonstration, they tell you to secure your own mask before you help anyone else. The logic works the same with sobriety. I can’t help anyone until I help myself.
Some people get clean, and they immediately want to jump into the field of addiction treatment. This is great, and we definitely need more recovering addicts in the field, but remember to get some experience under your belt first.
Whether it comes down to going back to school, starting a new career, beginning a new relationship or making a major purchase, ensure your foundation of recovery is strong first. Being in early recovery is like being a toddler again, and sometimes there’s no better teachers than time and experience. These are two of the tools that will help strengthen your sobriety and allow you to make these major decisions in the future without fear of damaging your recovery.
Be sure to check out my YouTube channel The Rewired Soul for mental health and addiction recovery videos.