During my first few months of sobriety, I felt extremely self-conscious — embarrassed even — by how recently I had quit drinking.
When I talked with other addicts who had stopped drinking years earlier, I felt like a fake. Even though I wanted to stay sober permanently, I didn’t really think I’d make it. I heard about their years of sobriety and assumed that I’d never reach that point myself.
As I hit each new small milestone — my first day, week, and month sober — I was immensely proud, but I also felt a little ridiculous for getting so excited.
I had a lot of negative, self-sabotaging thoughts in these moments: What was a few weeks or months sober compared with the decades that lay ahead of me? Had I really proven anything to myself? Wasn’t the fact that these first weeks had been so hard a sign that I didn’t have what it takes to stay sober for good?
When it came to my addiction, I was so used to failing that I couldn’t allow myself to just enjoy my success.
I know I’m not the only one who has struggled with this, because I see other recovering addicts do it online all the time. Far too often, when someone mentions their sobriety milestone, they feel an impulse to downplay and minimize it.
I often read things along the lines of “I know this isn’t much compared to the rest of you…” or “this probably isn’t very impressive to anyone else…” The writers want to share their latest sobriety milestone, but they’re too abashed to fully own their success.
As proud as we are of our first days sober, it can still feel like nothing compared to the people who have been sticking with it for years.
No Milestone Is Too Small
These days, with four years of sobriety under my belt, I see those early milestones in an entirely new light.
The truth is that those first milestones were by far the hardest, and after all this time they’re the ones of which I’m still most proud.
My first 24 hours sober was a huge accomplishment. I made a decision to leave behind my addiction, and I actually took a step towards it.
I had spent so many nights planning to quit, but actually making an attempt at it was much harder. It’s so easy to just come up with an excuse to put off sobriety for one more day, but I finally broke that habit.
Then came my first week sober, which might be my favorite milestone ever. It was when I proved to myself that I could get through the awful withdrawal symptoms brought on by quitting.
I had tried to stop drinking many times before, but rarely made it out of the first few days. I had to deal with cravings, headaches, confusion, poor sleep, and more. I often believed it was just too much for me to ever get through.
By the time I reached one week sober, the withdrawal symptoms were already lessening. Even though some of them were still bad, I knew that I had gotten through the worst of it.
At one month sober, I had shown myself that I could stick with sobriety even after the initial surge of motivation had worn off. I was starting to learn what it was like to be sober in everyday, ordinary life. Day by day, I was proving to myself that I could make it.
These early milestones weren’t easy. I fought hard to reach them, and I often doubted myself along the way. I’m still impressed with myself for sticking through it.
In contrast, hitting four years sober really wasn’t any harder than hitting three years. I’m still immensely proud of my dedication to pursuing a better life, but it no longer feels like I’m fighting every inch of the way.
When I hear about people who have recently gotten sober, I’ve never once thought that their milestones and accomplishments are less impressive than mine. Instead, I’m in awe of their perseverance, because I remember how hard those early days were.
I try to keep this in mind any time that I hit my own new milestones. When I hit four years sober, my first thought was “this is still nothing compared with the people who have stayed sober for decades.” Instead of comparing myself to them, though, I’ve learned to take pride in how far I’ve come.
I hope that if anyone reading this is in the very early days of sobriety, you can do the same thing. A few days or weeks might feel like a small milestone, but all of us who have gotten sober know just how long and difficult those early days are. No milestone is too small to take pride in.