Counting days: what to do in early sobriety

It is important that you spend serious time centering your world on your recovery for the time being.  This feels offensive, too overwhelming, or silly to some people.  The point of recovering, as they see it, is that alcohol and drugs won’t be part of their life any longer, not making a bigger deal out of it.  The point is they need something more positive, a bigger sense of fulfillment or joy, more health.  Many people are legitimately concerned they will replace their addiction with an addiction to AA.

Those thoughts make sense and have truth in them.  But they are thoughts reflecting your own beliefs and feelings, not accurate reflections of alcoholism and reality.  The reality is that alcoholism is a life and death thing.  That you can’t possibly have ‘more positive things, a bigger sense of fulfillment and joy, more health’ until you start with sobriety.  You cannot get ‘addicted’ to AA, but even if you could, would that really be a bad thing?  Honestly?  To sit with a group of like minded people, who support you and understand you, and encourage you to go out and live better?

The thoughts are real, but they may very quickly lead to relapse.  The truth is we’ve already tried “not thinking about it” or finding “something else”.  Finding more truth, more entertainment, more fulfilling relationships is ultimately a diversion: our lives are filled with noise, pressure, consuming, diversions, things.  What we most need is quiet, stillness, a minute to figure out the truth.  If you keep running around like the headless chicken, you’ll increase your stress, minimize the severity of your addiction, and promptly find five thousand excuses to use again.

The truth is alcoholism and addiction are deadly.  If you don’t treat them as such, they win, and you will die.

In thousands of self-help seminars across the country, find yourself retreats, and live a better life literature, people are asked to pretend they only have a very short while left to live.  This changes our attitudes more quickly than anything ever will.  If we knew we were going to die in a week, our priorities would shift dramatically.  We’d let go of pettiness and excuses and do the things that really matter.

Here is a gift: you are an alcoholic.  You are going to die.  Imagine, if you have to, that you have a cancer or a ticking bomb in your brain.  If you return to your life yesterday, you have a matter of days or hours left to live.  If, on the other hand, you make some very simple changes, you can have the life you want to live.

This is true.

For the first few weeks, give yourself permission to completely focus on saving your own life.  People spend thousands of dollars to do this for a few days.  People exhaust their life savings trying to get the opportunity you have.  Most of the world, right now, is ill at ease and wishes they could change something, feel better, if only they knew what was wrong.

You know what is wrong, and you have an opportunity to change it.

The people who ‘make it’ in recovery are generally those people who take it seriously.  Make recovery the center of your day.  If it feels like ‘too much’ or ‘a waste of time’, consider the alternative, realize this is temporary, and treat today like the only shot you’ve got.

Many people dedicate fifteen minutes in the morning to reading a daily reflection, prayer, or meditation.  This is difficult for many of us.  Sitting still is difficult.  Patience and attention are difficult.  There are tools: there are hundreds of little books published as meditations.  Most of them are a page long or less and take three minutes or less to read.  Even though three minutes is really not a big deal, and we waste far more than that trying to decide what to wear, where we left our cellphone, or whether or not we’re ready to get out of bed, most people have a very hard time sitting down and doing it.   Do it.  Set the book by your toothbrush.  Or the coffeepot.  In time, this might come to feel like a ritual, something soothing, something to look forward to rather than a task or a chore.  Get yourself a kitchen timer if you have to and just practice sitting still for five minutes, if that’s all you can do.

Going to a meeting once a day is also useful to most people in the beginning.  It will fill up the hours you don’t know what to do with.  It will give you motivation.  It will give you support.  Again, many people resist and say they don’t have time.  If you are honest, though, you can probably see that the hour in a meeting, plus the maybe half hour getting to and from, is significantly less time than you spent drinking or recovering.  Truth: you have gained time.  Hours and hours of time.  You have time to go to a meeting.

Having a sponsor, other sober friends, and focusing on repair are all things people do in the beginning.  Most of us have not had an honest physical in years.  Go to the doctor.  Many of us don’t have a doctor or health insurance when we get sober.  Get a plan now.  Health care is available to anyone in any circumstances, even the homeless and penniless or, perhaps more trickily, the middle class.  Find help.

Most of us have not seen a therapist or counselor with anything like honesty and openness forever; find one now and begin.  I

It took some time, certainly more than 30 days, but my early recovery was marked by repair.  I got health insurance and went to the doctor.  I followed through with the recommendations made there and went to  a dermatologist.  I went to a dentist (for the first time in 17 years) and followed through there, too, getting my whole mouth worked over.  I began therapy.  I went to the DMV and renewed my liscense.  I started excercising.  I began calling long lost friends.  I returned library books and paid off fines.  I accomplished more in the first few months of sobriety than I had in the decades preceding.

And it was not overwhelming.  It was simply ‘what is the next thing I should do’? and doing that.  Then I’d take a nap, or eat a bowl of ice cream, or daydream for hours at a time.  Slowly, one next right thing after another, I completely returned to myself.

This is yours.  It starts now.  Take it seriously because you may never, ever have this opportunity again.  What is one thing you can do, right now?  Do that thing.


(If you found this helpful, you will probably find the book even more so.)

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