Very little of what I have to say is original.
Like most people, I have borrowed most of the advice I give to other people from men and women who freely gave it to me. I like to think of it as recycling.
Years ago, I was sitting in a circle with a small group of men. We were fellowshipping and sharing experience, strength and hope with each other. The conversation of “time is recovery” was struck up. I remained quiet and listened carefully to hear what the men with more experience then I did had to say about this.
At this point, I had about a year and a half sober. I was still a newbie and I was confused as to why I should take advice from people just because they had more experience with sobriety than I. My attitude was not where it is today, and I secretly resented these men for being happy.
“That guy is an asshole. Why should I listen to him?” I would say to myself. What on earth did these men have to offer me?
These thoughts were running through my mind as I returned to the present moment. I was back in the circle with the group of men. It was at the time that a man I respect very much said…
“If you don’t think sober time is important, than go and get some.”
That hit me hard. I never thought of it that way.
Sober time is not everything. It is not the final judgement on the quality of your recovery or your life. When we put metrics on ourselves we are only giving ourselves something to criticize. That is not necessary.
What I am saying is that, although your time in sobriety is not the final deciding factor, it still means something. Here’s why.
1 – Time Takes Time. There is no way around that.
This is true for your parents, your friends, your family and everyone in between.
Time does not play favorites. Time does not allow for shortcuts. If you have six years in recovery, you have earned those six years. Those same six years have taken just as long for the men and women next to you as it has anyone else.
There needs to be some acknowledgement for that because the reality is that every day is filled with opportunities for relapse.
It is easier to relapse than it is to stay sober. It is easier to “slip” or to say fuck it or to pop that pill because it will make you feel better. Every second that you stay sober is a choice and the longer you stay sober, the stronger your armor will be.
This time has power. The correlation between length of sobriety and the relapse rates can’t be denied. The longer you stay sober, the better your chances are for staying sober. Every second that ticks by is another reason to celebrate. Every second is another lesson learned and another tool in the sobriety toolkit.
2 – Stamina is the Most Valuable Asset
I’ve always admired endurance athletes. My father was a triathlete and we both have always been involved with wrestling and martial arts.
I admire these athletes so much because it isn’t glamorous. Everyone loves speed and excitement. Everyone loves to watch a sprinter but if you watch the races that really matter, it is the endurance that matters in the long run.
Most boxing matches are won because one athlete gets tired. Most races come down to the “home stretch” when one person has just a little bit more in the gas tank. This is true with recovery as well.
How many times have we seen people come out the gate in recovery with speed and excitement? How many people reading this now have had an experience when they were “on fire” for the first six months? Then for whatever reason their motivation and their effort squandered and they eventually released.
It happens all the time. I have seen this happen more times then I would like to admit.
The reason is because stamina is hard. Stamina requires pain tolerance. When people are forced to deal with pain, they always seek a release to make the pain stop. The ones that succeed in their recovery (or anything for that matter) have the ability to stick it out even when it hurts.
Long term sobriety demands a high pain tolerance. Every single person with multiple years in recovery has gone through a painful experience in which having a drink may have temporarily dulled the pain.
There are always those deciding moments in which you conquered your pain and you did what was right in the long term in spite of the short-term comfort you were longing for. People with long-term sobriety have passed that test of time.
3 – In Most Cases, Long Term Sobriety Teaches People How to Be Good People
I am thinking of a few examples of men and women I know who have long-term sobriety, yet they are unhappy and unkind and not enjoyable to be around.
This is always the example of why time in sobriety doesn’t matter, is it not?
“I don’t look at years in sobriety. I look at the strength of your sobriety,” they say.
It’s true. Sometimes people with six months act like better people than people with six years. Sometimes people can remain dry for decades but they are still angry on the inside or they still live dirty lives.
Sometimes men in recovery still cheat on their wives. Sometimes women in recovery still depend on men to make themselves feel whole. It happens, but it is not the majority.
There are Exceptions to everything but we can’t lose sight of the fact that for the most part, men and women with long term sobriety have learned very valuable lessons about themselves which enable them to be men and women of integrity.
The people that I look up to all have long term sobriety.
- They show up on time to work and to commitments
- They are loyal and faithful to family and friends
- They make decent livings
- They give back to humanity by performing selfless acts of service
- They are comfortable in their own skin
- They make me feel good about myself when I am around them
What I am saying is that we can’t let these few bad apples distract us from the overwhelming majority. That majority makes it clear that if you stay sober, if you self-analyze and you work to improve every day, you will naturally become a man or woman of character.
Let’s not belittle that by saying sober time doesn’t matter. It does matter.
Wrapping It All Up
To be clear, I am not saying that people with 6 months are bad people. I am not saying that you need to have long term sobriety to be considered a good person.
What I am saying is that if you keep your priorities in order and you stay sober a day at a time, eventually those days will turn into years and those years will slowly mold you into the man or woman you want to become.
It doesn’t happen overnight, and it’s not supposed to.
I am reminded of the movie “A League of their Own.” In the film, the main character and all-star baseball player quits the team to go spend time with her husband who just returned from war. When telling her coach of her plans she uses the rationale.
“It just got too hard.”
Coach Jimmy Dugan replies with an intense stare and a strong tone and says…
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.”