Sobering Up “Sucks”


When I tell people who have never struggled with drug or alcohol addiction that sobering up ‘sucks’ I get a “look”. The look that suggests not trying hard enough, or not meeting societal expectations that are put upon people who are trying to quit their addiction. A look that places judgment on something that is not theirs to judge.

Though in the long run, being sober and being free from addiction is a pleasant, positive, and life-changing choice, at first sobering up is far from any of those things. Giving up your security net, lifestyle, friends (sometimes family) and entire social being, is HARD. When you first sober up (I dislike the term clean, it implies that people with addictions are dirty and that’s not the case) you feel alone and exposed.

Like most people who have tried time and time again to stop using their drug of choice, it’s something that doesn’t happen overnight. For the majority of people that I have had the opportunity to chat with, it seems to be their experience, and my own, that it takes more than a few times to finally quit.

People often ask me “why go to rehab or treatment if they are going to use again?” Good question. Why do you go to the gym time and time again but yet still give in to the oh-so good ice cream? There is no universal answer; there are many reasons why people relapse.

For some people it’s the rehab or treatment center that is hard for them. I once went to rehab but was not allowed to smoke cigarettes, I lasted two days because I felt that if I was there for my drug addiction why should I also quit something that could have helped my nerves? Though I understand now why they do it, at the time smoking was not something that I could, or wanted to photoquit. Also it gave me another reason to leave, and like others it was not hard to find reasons to leave rehab!

Treatment centers, depending on their mandate can approach sobriety with a holistic plan. Group discussions, individual programs etc. to address internal and external problems that patients might face that could take them to a place where they could be tempted to use again. If you’re lucky enough to be at a center that also has a psychologist or social worker, they can also help you with past issues that could have had a part of leading you into your addiction.

A few years back I worked for a wonderful youth treatment center for men, the staff was lovely and we had social workers that had great relationships with the clients. Being there for a few months, I would see a few youth leaving before their program was finished, and other’s staying to graduate but then would return a short while after. Why? It’s hard to give an answer because everyone is different. Some left because they were not ready to deal with issues that happened in the past, or being away from home and family was too much to handle. If they had graduated and then returned, it was because most could not live within their social circle without using, either because of peer pressure, social issues, or just the easy access to it.

Most commonly used is the 12-step program. I have known people for whom this has worked wonders, and now, 14-15 years later are running the group. For others it put pressure and obligations for them to deal with issues and situations that happened while they were using. Situations that they might have never been in if not for the drug, and they may not feel that apologizing for, or dealing with something that was controlled by their addiction would better their future, instead it may bring more problems. Also, some people are either intrigued or turned off by the religious undertone that is embraced by the 12-step program.

Treatment or addiction programs are not a one-size-fits-all solution, just as addiction and why people use are not all the same. I write this to give people a look inside the life of struggling with addiction and how hard it can be even with all the programs that are available.

Someone may be ready to quit and have tried all the programs but found nothing that is right for them. That’s the key to sobriety: individual programs that are based on the needs of the person, not the person needing to fit into an already made program, it’s like that saying: “labels are meant for soup cans, not people.”