Three Ways to Help Turn the Page to Long-term Sobriety

On October 10, I celebrated three years of continuous sobriety, a journey that has taken me from the inside of a jail cell to a level of freedom from alcoholism I never dreamt imaginable. Along the way, I’ve gained a guide to life in the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous – ones that filled a lifelong void in direction. In sobriety, I’ve found not only peace but purpose, not only help but helpfulness, and not only brotherhood but manhood. I’ve grown up more in each of the last three years than in the previous 32 combined.

As is always the case, the first year was by far the most difficult. Like so many ragged rookies before me, the best I could do was suit up, show up, and shut up. It was an exhausting, grueling daily grind: the weight of still-fresh shame, guilt and remorse were nearly unbearable. The initially incredible burden gradually lessened in proportion to my slowly replenishing self-esteem as, one day at a time, I proved to myself that I wasn’t worthless.

As I got a sponsor and began working the Steps, I entered the notorious pink cloud phase of recovery. Just a short while ago I had been, in my own diseased mind, helplessly dependent on alcohol – a lost cause that simply could not stop drinking to literally save his life. Mere months later, I had found a solution that, miraculously, not only lifted my seemingly unbreakable obsession with alcohol, but also had begun to provide me with a sanity that, even in my pre-addiction days, was never realized.

I knew that I had a long way to go, but I had – with 100% certainty – found the road upon which to travel. The result was a joyousness born from the relief of wholly unexpected salvation. And why shouldn’t I be enthralled? Life was getting better, fast. My marriage, career and personal relationships were all reaching unprecedented levels of contentedness, and my physical health was improving along with my mental state.

But clouds, of course, dissipate. And when pretty pink ones start to clear, the weather can get a bit ugly.

For me, that meant more than a touch of the terrible twos. The Steps had been worked, the meetings made, the commitments kept. Many of the program’s Promises had begun to materialize. But where I found myself was in a strange, potentially dangerous place between the evaporation of pink-cloud enthusiasm and the more sustainable safe haven of emotional maturity – the sort truly accrued only through long-term sobriety.

Progress seemed to slow – a natural let-down given the enormity of effort and (at least for me) relatively immediate rewards of early sobriety. My obsession to drink was gone, but what remained were many of my more stubborn character defects: Anger, pride, fear, impatience, self-righteousness.

My physical sobriety, as it tends to do, had far outpaced my mental sobriety. Though my primary objective coming into AA had been achieved, I was left with the conundrum of being too cured to try to drink straight, but too diseased to really think straight. Something had to give.