Today I’m five years sober. Leading up to this milestone during a pandemic, I’ve had opportunities to reflect. This means looking both backward and forward.
The first few years of sobriety, I saw rapid transformation. After about two or three years, I frequently acknowledged that growth. I needed to feel proud; having spent many years in active addiction, I had rarely felt proud of something so big and sustained.
Approaching five years sober, I’ve felt more comfortable recognizing areas I still need to grow. It’s as though I don’t feel threatened by it like I might have before; I feel more settled in the knowledge of how far I’ve come.
Times of internal struggle are often transformative. Reaching this milestone in a pandemic, I’ve had a lot of those tough moments. Remembering previous times I’ve grown in sobriety following rough patches is a big part of what’s helped me through.
I’ve written before about how I see long-term sobriety as continued practice at life. The first time you struggle in sobriety or a hard thing happens to you, you don’t know how you’ll cope. The more time you spend sober, the more practiced you become at handling different stressors without drinking or using.
Which leads me to another big thing I’ve realized at five years sober: hard feelings don’t seem so terrible. I know I can get through them. This sounds simple, but I didn’t know it—really, emotionally know it—when I was newly sober. I certainly didn’t know it when I was drinking and using drugs.
When I was in active addiction, difficult emotions felt impossible to handle. So I didn’t; I used substances instead. Being five years sober, very little seems unmanageable—even if it’s really hard. That’s why I’m able to acknowledge where I have more work to do.
Anyone in my life knows how important sobriety is to me. Not just in prioritizing my recovery—which is also important—but in feeling thankful for it every day. Sobriety changed and saved my life. All of those things can be true—and I can still acknowledge that I struggle with some of the same things even after years in recovery.
As I was planning to get sober, I wasn’t under any illusions that my life would immediately get better. I knew the work would start once I removed substances. But there was a point in my sobriety where I (only somewhat) jokingly said, “I’m disappointed that I’ve been sober this long and I’m still not the Buddha.”
Some part of me thought that if I stayed sober long enough, I could be at complete peace, free from any addictive tendencies. I’m not. But I am a whole lot more at peace than I was when I was in active addiction.
That peace isn’t the negation of negative feelings. It’s the knowledge that you have the skills to cope with whatever happens.
If you are looking to get sober, you have a lot to look forward to. There is no better time to ask for help than now. Amatus Recovery Centers is open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, with hospital-grade sanitization of our facilities and telehealth options. At our recovery centers across the country, we offer high-quality treatment for substance use and mental health disorders.
Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you build a life in long-term recovery, so that one day you can reflect on five, ten, 20 years sober. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.