A lot of us get sober with the idea that everything is going to change instantly. Sometimes we tell ourselves that our drinking or our drug use was the only thing creating problems in our lives. But when we get around to treating our addictions, we find that isn’t the case at all.
If you’re a drunk or a drug addict, when you sober up there are going to be a ton of positive changes in your life almost immediately. Our bodies start to heal, our brains begin to defog, and people that once ran in the other direction when they saw us coming start showing up in our lives again. And that kind of profound change is wonderful, but we have to be careful not to set unrealistic expectations for our long term sobriety.
Like everything in life, sobriety ebbs and flows. You’ll have good days and you’ll have bad days. You’ll have good months and you’ll have bad months. You’ll have good years and you’ll have bad years. But, it’s during those hard days, months, and years that it’s important to remember where you started. A bad day in your addiction looks very different from a bad day in your sobriety. This is something we should remind ourselves of often.
Sometimes sobriety feels like a superpower. We are able to tap into parts of ourselves that were once lost, and sometimes we find strength we didn’t even know we had. Because so much more is available to us in our sober lives, we have to be aware that not everything that shows up for us is going to be pleasant. Being realistic in sobriety is important. It helps you manage the highs and lows that come along with life.
Remember that, before you are anything else, you are human. You are allowed to have uncomfortable feelings, bad days, and low moments. If you’re not feeling your best, it doesn’t mean that you are doing your sobriety wrong. Everyone’s life has valleys and peaks.
This week’s question is a great reminder to all of us in sobriety, newcomers and old timers alike, to follow the 12-Step slogan: Take It Easy. Sobriety doesn’t have a finish line and it doesn’t have to look a certain way. Go with the flow and stay focused on the big picture.
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Q: I’ve been sober many years. But, I’ve been in a deep depression for several months now. I’ve never been down for so long in my whole sobriety. I feel like I’ve been doing this sobriety thing long enough to know what I’m doing, but, I feel so stuck. Any advice on how to get out of this funk? I just want to feel good again.
Down & Out
Dear Down & Out,
First of all, I want to commend you on your long term sobriety. I always tell people, it’s a really big deal because it is. Sometimes we need to be reminded. I also want to let you know that, you’ve been sober for a long time, so you know what you’re doing. Trust yourself. Don’t let a funk make you feel like you’ve been faking your own happiness in sobriety. I’ve been in your shoes and I know how easy it can be to convince yourself that you don’t know anything. But you do. Low moments are par for the course. So keep swinging.
The truth is, long term sobriety is challenging. The more time you have away from your addiction, the easier it is to forget what an enormous feat it is that you have stayed sober for as long as you have. Remember: You can handle this bump in the road.
When I find myself in a funk, I find that acknowledging it is the first step to getting out of the hole.
Step 1, in 12-Step Recovery, is admitting you have a problem. It’s the first thing you’ve got to do if you want to get to bottom of your issue. And, by writing to me, you’ve done that. You are aware of your depression and you’re taking action to change your situation. It’s important to know that you are not alone. Many people living in sobriety deal with feelings of depression, anxiety, and helplessness. So, don’t think for a second that you have to face your difficult feelings alone. Get out there and connect. You’ll be glad you did. I promise.
When people ask me how I deal with my own depression I always have two pieces of advice to offer:
Lean On Your Community.
Call a friend, go to a 12-Step Meeting, meet up with family for dinner. When you’re feeling low, it’s easy to tell yourself that you want to be alone. And, it’s even easier to feel sorry for yourself when you’re balled up under the covers and binge watching Netflix for days on end. When we isolate ourselves, we start talking to ourselves about our negative emotions. And, the longer we allow ourselves to stay in that negative space, the harder it is to get out. Get yourself back into the world. Even if you only meet up with friends or family for a few minutes, make it a point to communicate with others daily. If you’re comfortable telling them that you’re in a funk, you should. You’d be surprised how many of your family and friends are eager to see you happy and healthy. So, letting them know you’re having a rough time over a cup of coffee can only help you. Make plans for fun activities, or, if you want to stay in, invite a friend over to cook dinner and watch a movie with you. Remember: The smaller your world, the bigger your problems. The bigger your world, the smaller your problems. So, communicate with your crew. Make your world bigger!
Move Your Body.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to try to convince you to get a gym membership. But, I am going to try to convince you to get moving every day. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Go for a hike with a few friends and your dog. Find a group that plays dodgeball in your local park and sign up to play in a game this weekend. Exercise changes you. Literally. It changes your body chemistry. It pumps endorphins into your bloodstream, giving you a positivity boost and it also makes you feel better about yourself. If you’re feeling low, getting your blood pumping and some fresh air in your lungs can go a long way. Take action, literally, and watch as you start feeling better and better.
Down & Out, you’re not alone. Know that a funk is just that — a funk. Like everything, this too shall pass. Try to focus on the good things you have going for you. Sobriety is always moving us up and down, and while you may be in a valley right now, a peak is on the horizon.
Go easy on yourself, because after all, you are human. — I hope.