So, You're Sober. Now What?

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So, You're Sober. Now What?

By Regina Walker 05/26/15

Because getting sober is only the first step. Here's a long-range forecast from a series of voices.

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Maybe you found salvation from your poison through a 12-step program, or some other program, maybe church—or perhaps you simply woke up one day and said, “Enough!” But you did it. Congratulations. It really is a brilliant achievement to conquer one’s demons, to basically save your own life. But how you got sober is not the focus of this.

The question is: so now what?

Consider the amount of time you put into your addiction—just into obtaining your drug of choice, getting high or drunk and then, recovering from the high/drunkenness. Maybe you even put some time into cleaning up the messes you created when you were "under the influence." Maybe, you eventually gave up on that.

That’s a lot of energy and time—and where does that time and energy go when you stop that cycle?

I am talking about people who have been in recovery, sober, clean, abstinent, “on the wagon” for a while. You have your foundation down whether it is “meetings,” church, or the strength of your decision to stop. But where does that energy and time go that was once devoted to using?

In a recent interview with Rich Roll, he shared with me that after multiple years sober, he developed a food addiction as well as workaholism. He commented that he was miserable until he turned that around and directed his energy to sports: running, swimming, and biking.

James Fry, author of That Fry Boy says, “When I first got sober, I was so thrilled with being able to hold down friendships and stay gainfully employed that I didn’t find myself wanting for anything else. It wasn’t long though, before I found that with the gift of living a normal life, also meant I was now eligible for ‘normal’ problems. Be it boredom on the job, in relationships or simply just the slow burning humdrum of daily existence, without the excessive peaks and lows I had conditioned myself to during my using days, my newly found happiness was starting to lose its shimmer. Yes I was sober, and incredibly grateful for the fact, but also crazily bored at times."

"This left, unchecked could become rather dangerous ground. Sure, I had no intention to alleviate the boredom through using anymore, but what about the other things now more readily available to me as a sober member of society, that offered up a quick hit of pleasure, without needing to work on myself such as sex or relationships? I needed to take committed action if I was to be happy. To date, I have found intense physical exercise to fill this void, whilst also improving my general well-being. I prefer to exercise with others, because not only does it push me a little further than when I do it alone, it has become a great way to meet others, too. Recently, writing has also taken prominence in my life. Putting words on paper (or a computer screen) has not only given me something to do with my time that I enjoy, but through the publishing of my work has connected me with like-minded individuals across the world. In my experience, addicts, whether they are using or not, are seekers by nature. In sobriety, that trait, when used wisely, can be an amazing gift that can open up new worlds for us.”

Whether you were homeless or “functional,” active addiction takes over your life in an insidious and all-inclusive way. You may be a successful writer or a captain of industry. Still, a prevailing thought in your mind, most of the time, is about getting high and, possibly, how to get away with it. Maybe the thought is about how much you want to stop and trying to think of ways to do so. Regardless, addiction has you in a chokehold.

Martha Frankel, the executive director of Woodstock Writers, remarked: “When I was using, I spent a lot of my time thinking about getting high, getting high or recovering from getting high. When I stopped, I had a lot more time. I went to lots of meetings. I sort of stumbled from one meeting to another, building a foundation for my sobriety. As I got my bearings, I realized that time shifted in a way that I hadn't ever experienced before. Some days seemed elongated, some compressed. So I started knitting. Knitting did a couple of things: it gave me something to do with my hands when I wanted to pick up a drink. And it gave me an incredible feeling of accomplishment, even if it was just knitting a baby hat. Also, it was a great thing to do at meetings! Now my life is so busy and full, I sometimes yearn for those days when it was just meetings and knitting.” 

Breaking any destructive pattern of behavior frees you up to live a fuller life. Isn’t that what breaking the chains of addiction is about? The world becomes (hey, it always was!) a larger place. Did you really care about global warming and GMOs when you were looking for a vein? But now you have become (figuratively) an active member of the present world. No purple haze between you and reality. 

I spoke with author and spoken-word artist Bucky Sinister and asked him what life was like for him now. What kind of life had becoming sober allowed him? “Some things were too late to go back to. But others were not. I wanted to get a college degree and own my own home. I also had always wanted to perform standup comedy. It took two years to finish my BA. After that, I started standup, while looking for a new job. Two years after my BA, I got a solid office job. Two years after that job, I bought my home. After I bought my home, I started training in Russian Kettlebell Sport. All the while I’ve been writing on a regular basis. When I was a drunk for 15 years, I wrote and published one book. In 13 years of sobriety, I’ve written and published six. I get paid work in comedy clubs and I compete in two kettlebell competitions a year. That’s the long answer, I guess. You do everything you’ve wanted to do. You don’t allow excuses to be your limits. It’s too late for me to go back to high school and try out for the basketball team and I am not eligible to be an astronaut, but many things you want to do are within your reach. I ask my sponsees to create a list of all the times they enjoyed being outside of drugs and alcohol. From there, we find out what they really enjoy in life. Then you try to fill your life with that. Some people, it’s as common as starting a family. Other people want to rebuild a Harley. Just figure out what you enjoy doing, and do the fuck out of it."

"All of these things would’ve been better had I done them from youth, but I can’t get that back now. I can only move forward."

Painter Erin Parish remarked that some of her behaviors in active addiction did not change in sobriety but her motivation and experience of them did. "When first sober there is a chasm of time and energy that actively needs to be attended to. I now read lowbrow novels, nap, eat healthily as a scientific hobby, and take a lot of baths."

"In the past I went to the movies, shopped, redecorated, I joined book clubs even. But there was still the big question mark looming over my head, 'What do normal people do?' I don’t think I ever really figured out what 'they' do but this is what I have in my life."

"Involved in fitness after age 25, the reasons I work out have changed. I have added a much more intense weight-lifting regimen to my life, and am taking more pleasure in the process of working out. The sense of well-being chemically brought on by the exertion is priceless. The sense of self-esteem is also irreplaceable as it directly counteracts the voices in my head and replaces the temporary reward I would have gotten from doing drugs and drinking."

"I did a couple of obstacle races and metaphorically they taught me that life is an obstacle race and to just keep going. I wanted to try them before my joints insisted I stay in a safer zone. I do a lot of boxing training and get a thrill out of kicking the bag." 

"Between studio time, fitness, and diet, I strive to find my perfect stride. I am always looking for ways to maximize my time as I never seem to finish all the work I need to do. I am fortunate to be in that position so I really can’t complain. When my hands are cramping from painting, I tell myself that 'it is good work if you can get it,' take an aspirin, and gratefully listen [to] the silence."

"To relax, I go to Cuba with my husband to visit his family where there is no Internet and no phone. I don’t speak the language at a conversational rate, so I have tons of time to read and nap. Cuban Spanish is notoriously rapid and idiomatic so it gives me a chance to disengage. His family is very kind and I don’t know what they are saying so I can’t shade their words with nuance. I also make sure I have my own spot to go to as Cubans like to be social through the night. I love that it is not bad manners to read or take a nap during a party.”

Author Molly Jong-Fast was quite clear regarding the change her life has taken since getting sober. "I have been sober since I was 19 and without sobriety, I would have nothing. I attend an AA meeting everyday. I have a whole life since becoming sober. I am married, have kids, and I have written a bunch of books. In the last two years, I have gotten seriously into yoga. If I was still using, I would have none of this."

If you look at recovery as a process, the first phase is getting sober. After that foundation is built, the next logical phase seems to be about creating a life worth staying sober for. 

Regina Walker is a regular contributor to The Fix.

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