How to stay sober when everything sucks

We’ve all seen the meme, “Recovery is truly one of the most badass things a human being can do.” Nothing could be more true. Recovery has many paths – harm reduction, getting healthier, ideally, getting sober. And that’s just the beginning. We face the challenges of staying sober, changing ourselves, our lifestyles and ultimately, our whole lives.

We do it out of desperation. We do it to not lose our families and/or to not die. We do it – and we do it again and again. Relapse doesn’t have to be part of recovery, but it often is. Resilience is our greatest strength. Those of us who make it keep getting back up.

As an addictions counselor, I cheer loudly and often for everyone to make it, but I have lost many I loved to the disease of addiction. I hate a disease, but I can’t hurt it. All I can do is support those who seek to overcome it.

A dear friend of mine wrote to me recently and asked, “How do we stay sober and practice self-care when we are locked into an unhealthy situation with no change on the horizon?”

I’m a realist. I know recovery hard as hell under the best of circumstances.  I also know that sometimes “life on life’s terms” means we must take care of ourselves even (and especially) when the world is falling down around us.

I’ve known people who stayed sober while living with an abusive partner. I’ve known people who stayed sober in prison when drugs were readily available. I’ve known people who stayed sober after they lost their parental rights.

What I know is that when we’re up to our asses in alligators we accept it, we work harder, and no matter what, we don’t drink/use.

Pragmatically, we need all the support and accountability we can possibly get. We need to make detailed plans geared toward avoiding relapse and promoting holistic health.

Here are the two keys I offer: The first is a simple and unavoidable truth – If drinking/using was part of our past problems, it can never be part of our present solutions. The second is an emotional piece of vindication – using/drinking is self-abuse. When we abuse ourselves, we honor our abusers.

I, for one, will be damned if I will honor those who made me ashamed of myself.

To be nonviolent, loving, and compassionate to others comes naturally to most in recovery. To be good to ourselves does not.

Let this be your motivator. There’s no bad reason to be sober. Do it out of vindication. Do it out of spite. Do it because it’s not what they expect you to do.

Do it because you have guts. Do it because you’re more scared of what will happen if you don’t.

Do it because it’s what God wants for you. Do it because you’re an atheist. Do it because it’s better than dying alone. Do it because liver failure is distinctly painful. Do it because you love music or because you might write a poem someday and I’d f@cking love to read it.

Do it because you might be able to help others if you do.

You don’t have to care to practice self-care. Treat it as a necessity for sobriety. The basics are vital: nutrition, hydration, exercise, sleep. Time with friends and family who support you. Meditation, prayer, yoga, journaling, and naps all help. Meetings, good books, hot baths, laughter, fun. Write a list of everything you have to be grateful for.

Just don’t drink/use. I promise it gets better.

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim is the cofounder of an online addiction recovery program that is affordable and provides complete anonymity