You Made It Through Sober October, What's Next?

By Olivia Pennelle 10/26/18

Recovery is not something we wear lightly; it is a lifelong challenge to recover our ability to regulate our bodies, heal from our trauma, and lead a healthy and fulfilling life.

Woman holds glass of wine in hand and looks at it miserably.
From Sober October to Can't Remember November?

Sober October is a great way to gain awareness of your drinking — whether your goal is to get sober or just take a break from alcohol. As positive as that lifestyle change might be, however, it has caused some controversy in the recovery community. For many of us, sobriety isn’t a choice; it’s a necessity if we want to stay alive. So it feels somewhat tokenizing when people are trying on recovery for size. On the other hand, what if it is a doorway to change? What if it creates sufficient awareness to help someone make a few adjustments to lead a healthier and more fulfilling life?

The challenge — initially called Go Sober for October — originated in the UK as an alcohol awareness campaign and a fundraiser for MacMillan Cancer Support. It is now gaining traction globally as more of a lifestyle change leading up to the holidays. In a recent Forbes article, Sober October was touted as a way to help reset your body and prepare it for the damage that inevitably takes place over the indulgent holiday season. They point out that a month off alcohol combined with other wellness-supporting measures such as a healthier diet and more exercise will lead to better sleep, increased energy, and a clearer mind. With those small lifestyle improvements, people who participate in a month of sobriety will no doubt mitigate the health damage of the party season should they return to drinking. And that’s a positive outcome no matter who you are — whether you’re seeking sobriety or just want to improve your health and wellness.

But for people in recovery, the problem occurs when those trying Dry January or Sober October flippantly celebrate how easy it was, or alternatively reach out to recovery advocates to ask for support during their challenge. Writer and advocate Tawny Lara describes why this is annoying in her article, Why Trying On Sobriety is Offensive: “Strangers frequently reach out to me asking for suggestions on how to get through 30ish days without drinking,” she says. “I don’t think they realize that my sobriety doesn’t have an end point. It’s fine that someone who probably doesn’t have issues with substance abuse, is ‘trying on sobriety’ for a little while, but why are you asking me, someone who does struggle with substance abuse, for advice? I can’t be your cheerleader for 30 days just so you can celebrate day 31 by posting photos of mimosas on Instagram.”

She continues, “If you really want to experience the lifestyle of us sober folks, try on recovery … not sobriety. Almost anyone can take a break from drinking. Try doing that, paired with the emotionally exhausting work of identifying why you drink and why you’re choosing to give it up temporarily.”

I understand Tawny’s frustration. Recovery is not something we wear lightly; it is a lifelong challenge to recover our ability to regulate our bodies, heal from our trauma, and lead a healthy and fulfilling life. And I used to find these types of challenges as offensive as she does. Now though, as I have become more of an advocate for harm reduction, I see them as a gateway to change. I support anyone in their desire to lead a less harmful and destructive life, whether they have a problematic relationship with alcohol or just want to temporarily improve their health.

So, to those of you who tried the challenge to improve your health and are ready to return to moderate drinking: I salute you. Even though I cannot drink normally, I respect those who can. It is also my hope that you'll be able to recall how great you felt when you were sober for a month, and how you achieved it, should your relationship with alcohol change.

And to those of you who entered into the challenge hoping to try sobriety on for size with that nagging feeling in the back of your mind that your drinking might be a little out of control, I’m here to tell you that life only continues to improve in sustained sobriety. Truly. I am not going to tell you that it’s easy because it’s not. But it sure as heck is worth it. As a woman who has been in recovery for over six and a half years, my life is immeasurably better: there is less drama, I have fun, I don’t have to sell my belongings to get four bottles of wine on the way home. I feel great most days, and I can’t imagine a life so painful that I have to numb myself every day. Today I want to be present and I want to show up.

If you want to extend Sober October into November and beyond (or if you think you might want to try again sometime in the future), there are many resources to help you on your journey to recovery. As Tawny suggests, we need to examine a problematic relationship with alcohol and get to the heart of why we’re using it as a coping mechanism. There are many pathways of recovery and many supportive groups to help you with the process. Here are my top five tips:

  1. Find a pathway of recovery that works for you. Whether it’s AA, SMART Recovery, or a meditation community, there is something for everyone. Don’t give up until you find one that works.
  2. Work with a great therapist to help you through the process.
  3. Build social supports. Find a local recovery community in your area, like an Alano Club. The Meetup website is a great way to find sober groups to hang out with.
  4. Find an online supportive community. Reddit and Facebook groups (She Recovers Together, Sober SHAIR Group, HOMies, Life After 12-Step Recovery) are great supportive communities.
  5. Read recovery literature.

If you’re still unsure and want to ponder the idea of continued sobriety, why not follow Joe Rogan’s Sober October thread? Or you can continue to read recovery publications to see if this is a lifestyle you want now that you’ve had a taste of it. I can recommend staying alcohol-free indefinitely, but you have to do what is right for you when you’re ready. If Sober October opens the doorway to that challenge, then I wholeheartedly support you!

Note: heavy drinkers should not stop drinking alcohol suddenly without medical supervision. Going “cold turkey” can cause serious and even life-threatening complications.

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Located in Portland, OR, Olivia Pennelle (Liv) is an experienced writer, journalist, and coach. She is the founder of the popular site Liv’s Recovery Kitchen, a site dedicated to helping people flourish in their recovery. Liv is passionate about challenging limiting mentalities and empowering others to direct their own lives, health, and recovery. You can find her articles across the web on podcasts and addiction recovery websites, including, Workit Health, Ravishly, Recovery Campus, and The Recovery Village. Liv was recently featured in VICE. Find Liv on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn

Liv also co-hosts a podcast — Breaking Free: Your Recovery. Your Way. Listen here.