Alone in Sobriety: How I Deal with Dark Thoughts, Cravings, and the Urge to Isolate

By Maggie Weeks 03/22/19

In the beginning of my sobriety, I went to meetings as simply a way of getting out of the house and not being alone. However, a cherished bonus—and one I was not expecting—was the feeling of being loved.

Woman sits at window, alone in sobriety
Sometimes I want to scream: “I know I screwed up! I know I acted the fool high! But I’m sober now and a totally different person!” ID 63291123 © Sergey Kichigin |

I’m supine on my couch, peering through my bay windows. The eucalyptus tree gently waves, the sun bouncing off the greyish green foliage. Oh my, never really noticed that before, the way the sun hits the trees… almost looks like diamonds are attached to the leaves. I sigh at the beauty of the agate blue lake against the backdrop of pink hills. In my celestial reverie, I think: Ah, this is the life. I need nothing but my view, my books, and of course my oxys and chardonnay. Life is, um, well, perfecto! I don’t need anybody! Life is dope! Ha, ha, pun intended! 

But as we all know, the nefarious love affair with our substances has to end—unless we’re recreational users. You know, the type that can indulge, but ends up moving on to smarter and better things—like careers, marriage, and kids.

But the addicted end up with no such future; and our fate comes at a staggering cost: numerous rehabs, jails, hospitals, and sometimes the ultimate price, death. So, if we want any chance at a decent life, we end up doing a program like AA or NA, or we join secular self-help groups such as SMART, or depend on MAT (medication-assisted treatment such as a methadone or Suboxone program). Others get well through individual therapy or exercise or church. And of course (not to leave anyone out), there is that rarefied set that quit on their own—no help needed.

Sobriety or Self-Destruction

But the point is: we get better or we blow up our lives.

I chose rehab, a Suboxone program (six-month duration, thankfully done), and AA meetings to get well. And now, things . . .are better. 

In the beginning my sobriety was no fun at all: when I looked through those same bay windows at the same beautiful view, a huge dose of anhedonia would hit me. Who cares if it’s beautiful? I’d think, seamlessly segueing into darker thoughts like: What a loser you are, or aren’t you a little old to still be blowing up your life?

But gradually (I can’t stress this enough), I recovered and those ugly thoughts subsided. I still have them, but nowhere near as bad. 

They told me in early sobriety to “stop isolating” and be around people. I found this exceedingly hard because while using, I’d convinced myself that I was an unrepentant misanthrope. Well, when I got sober I realized I didn’t really dislike anyone, I was more afraid of folks. So, again gradually (they call it “slobriety”), I’ve lost my fear of people and have learned to socialize more. Even though I’m a loner by nature, I know that humans are social animals. At the very least, I am going against biology when I'm alone all the time. 

Learning to Love 12-Step Meetings

Meetings can be one way to escape isolation without having to be super cheerful or interesting. In the beginning of my precarious sobriety, I went to meetings as simply a way of getting out of the house. However, a cherished bonus—and one I was not expecting—was the feeling of being loved. During my many failed sobriety attempts years ago I scoffed at the “let us love you until you can love yourself” platitude—only because where I came from, love was almost always conditional. Image was everything and being a woman of propriety was paramount (never mind what happens behind closed doors!). 

But finally I was so desperate to get well that I took love wherever it was freely given. And I was pleased to discover there is nothing wrong with getting unconditional love from random people—because eventually those random people became my friends.

There are times when being alone is inescapable, and this is when my thoughts can get downright dark. But at least now I have tools to deal with them. I can do some cognitive therapy and challenge my thoughts: “Oh, come on! You are getting better!” Or: “Oh come on! You’re trying, give yourself a break.” If that doesn’t work, I get on my knees and pray.

“God, please direct my thinking! Give me the strength to manage my life!” Even though I’m not sure I believe in God, I do it as a gesture of humility. And sometimes a calmness, a sense of focus, a clarification of the next “indicated step” presents itself, and I say a prayer of gratitude to the Universe for getting me out of my head and into action. 

If the silence gets too deafening, I’ll call someone. To “get out of self,” I generally reach out to someone who may be having a harder go at it than me. Or sometimes I just do something goofy like turn on some old school rap like Too Short’s Shake that Monkey and just jam out like an oblivious white girl. My twerking leaves a lot to be desired, my butt is just too flat. But it’s remarkably good exercise.

Fear, Rumination, and Acceptance

Sometimes, I’ll force myself to sit with these dark thoughts: acknowledge my insecurities, my chaotic and destructive past, my fear of never measuring up. This last trajectory can be dangerous because it can immediately put me in an even darker mood that lasts for days where I end up ruminating in obsessive, sad, or angry loops that keep playing like a film projector that won’t shut off. 

But I do believe that recognizing these dark corners of my psyche and accepting them, then coming up with a plan to negate any further damage by changing my actions to more positive and kinder ones is probably the best way to go. Because sometimes keeping busy in order to avoid thinking is like the old expression: brushing it under the rug. The dirt piles up in my mind, making me toxic.

When I’m alone and the cravings for drink and pills get fucking intense, I’ll walk around the block like a demented person, or even worse: I’ll go to the smoke shop and buy one cigarette at a time. 

When I have no social engagements and there are no meetings, self-pity can overwhelm me, my thoughts of loneliness so deep I’ll find myself obsessively checking my phone to see if anyone has texted. This is probably the hardest “alone” time there is, when you realize you’re alone because you have no one to be with. And I want to scream: “I know I fucked up! I know I acted the fool high! But I’m sober now and a totally different person!” Usually there is no answer from the heavens and I have to sigh myself into a grudging acceptance. 

Remembering "This Too Shall Pass"

Sometimes the only consolation for being sober is my stubborn refusal to get high no matter how lonely and sad I feel, and the knowledge that this too shall pass. And it always does. That day will surely come again where I’ll be outside, gazing at a gorgeous old Victorian home in the historic part of San Diego, or walking in the woods, or snuggled up with my hubby watching some improbably good show on Netflix, and I’ll say to myself: “I am, right now, presently, 100% good with the Universe.” A warm contentment will engulf me—much subtler than the synthetic euphoria of oxy. But it doesn’t matter because here’s the thing: I earned it, and that alone makes it a far more powerful and beautiful experience than drugs ever gave me.


How do you handle the dark times in sobriety? Let us know in the comments.

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Maggie formerly lived in Japan, but now resides in Bonita California. She has been a Japanese translator, professional dancer, and salesperson. She has written for San Diego Reader, Memoir Magazine and The Fix. She has also written a book, Memoirs of a Dancer, in 2004. She enjoys hip hop music, dancing, hiking, her husband, family and friends.