What is sober? What is sobriety? Can we define this? Let’s try!
Sober. First off this word can be exchanged with AF, Alcohol-free, whatever. But what is sober?
When we say sober, at least for this blog, we are referring to alcohol.
(That’s the drink that put Paul behind the mic 🎙).
This topic, especially in the rooms of AA and 12 step programs, can be somewhat divisive. 👊🏼👊🏼 But…the truth of the matter is, it really shouldn’t be. I think we’ll find out that arguing over what sober IS, and ISN’T, is a silly and almost harmful endeavor.
In fact there are even nicknames for what type of sober you are. 🙃
Our recommendation is don’t get too attached to any idea of what sober looks like, because at the end of the day, it’s not really about the substances, behaviors or actions…
it’s the freedom that you have from them. 🦅
Do your absolute best not judge others for their definition of sober because as we’ll find out, it’s not as black and white as you think.
Quick side note about judgements 👉🏼 When you judge others you judge yourself (thank you boomerang 🪃 effect), and create separation.
In terms of sobriety, Paul has heard some silly stories about people being told they aren’t sober because they drink kombucha, they drink NA beers, or they had beer battered fish and chips for lunch. True story. Never-mind mind the fact a ripe banana 🍌 has the same amount of alcohol as kombucha and a hamburger bun has nearly triple that. Are you not sober if you eat a banana or a hamburger or chicken sandwich?
When Paul first quit drinking and began going to AA he thought it was no alcohol, no drugs, no substances, no pills, no prescriptions, no mind altering substances, no MDMA, no mushrooms, the list can go on and on…
But, welcome to the real world, where there are approximately 50 shades of gray, and just as many shades of ‘sober’.
Here are some statements Paul has heard from sober people.
- “I’m sober, and I drink Kombucha.”
- “I’m sober, and I drink NA Beers.”
- “I’m sober, and I eat dishes that are prepared with some form of alcohol.”
- “I’m sober, and I smoke cigarettes.”
- “I’m sober, and I use chewing tobacco.”
- “I’m sober, and I drink 1-10 cups of coffee a day.”
- “I’m sober, and take ADHD meds.”
- “I’m sober, and take antidepressants.”
- “I’m sober, and I use cannabis.” (This has been coined California Sober.)
- “I’m sober, and I take benzos for my anxiety and sleep.”
- “I’m sober, and take opiates for chronic pain.”
- “I’m sober, and I take sleep meds.”
- “I’m sober, and I pull out my eyebrows, I itch, pick and pull.”
- “I’m sober, and I use plant medicine.” (Ayahuasca, psilocybin, ketamine, MDMA)
- “I’m sober, and I have to sexually relieve myself constantly.”
- “I’m sober, and I eat a fuck ton of ice cream.”
- “I’m sober, and I love to shop.”
- “I’m sober and I leave this planet while doing Breathwork or Tai Chi.”
Paul has even heard people say, I’m sober, but…they have a couple drinks a year, month, or even in a given week.
As you can see, defining sobriety is a fool’s errand. We can’t do it, and we shouldn’t do it. In fact it’s dangerous to do so. If we did, we’d separate, isolate and disconnect ourselves even more.
We’re also ignoring the environment we have to live in. We unnecessarily beat ourselves up for not hitting our internal definition of sober. In a meeting one time Paul heard a guy say that he wasn’t sober because he was taking sleep meds. It was consuming him. We, of course, don’t exactly know what his relationship with the meds was like…if he was taking them ‘as prescribed’…but sleep is fucking important. Paul had to take AF Sleep-Eze, and Tylenol PM’s for probably 4-6 months when he first quit drinking. If you don’t get good sleep, the foundation of your sobriety is compromised.
Okay, so those are some Newtonian ways to define sobriety. Those are more about staying away from something, or coming at it from a lens of sacrifice.
Here are some better ways. 🙌🏼
- Sobriety is freedom.
- Sobriety is everything.
- Sobriety is living authentically.
- Sobriety is not being a slave to a substance, behavior or action.
- Sobriety is you living your life how you want to live.
- Sobriety is living with a connected head and heart.
- Sobriety is being able to recognize beauty, art, and appreciate sunsets.
- Sobriety is a different vibration.
- Sobriety is hope.
- Sobriety is you taking off the chains.
- Sobriety is you…meeting you.
- Sobriety is a manageable life.
- Sobriety is “downgrading additions.” Sarah Hepola – Blackout
If you remove alcohol and aren’t ready to say goodbye to everything else, go slow, take your time, and listen to your body. There is no right or wrong way to do this, and there is no generally accepted definition of sobriety.
So then what? Do we have to accept them all? Well, just like it’s a good idea to accept all skin colors, it’s the same with defining sobriety. What really matters here is the person is trying to make a change. Even if the change is a mental thought form swirling in the brain, it still is something that exists.
We’re going to make this simple, at Recovery Elevator, we accept all versions of sober. We accept all versions of you.
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, episode 380, host Paul Churchill***
Are you thinking about giving up alcohol? What is stopping you?
Maybe you know that you have a problem with alcohol, that it is no longer serving you, it’s causing wreckage throughout your life…but the thought of quitting makes you nervous and scared?
Maybe you are sober curious. Alcohol hasn’t really caused any problems in your life but you still would like to see what living a life free from it would be like.
And maybe you’re hesitant because of some of the myths, misconceptions and rumors floating around out there about what living a life without alcohol is like. Societal stigmas exist everywhere. And although there have been great strides and growth in the AF (alcohol free) movement in recent years it is often the fear of feeling stigmatized, labeled or judged that stops people from seeking out a life free from alcohol.
Don’t fall victim to the many myths about sobriety. Let’s look at some of them.
1. YOU HAVE TO LABEL YOURSELF AN ALCOHOLIC
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
First of all, what is an alcoholic? It is an outdated term that the medical and scientific communities don’t even use anymore. Instead it’s called alcohol use disorder (AUD). AUD can be diagnosed as mild, moderate or severe…and the bar for mild AUD is pretty low. Which makes it not surprising to me that a large chunk of my friends and family exhibit it.
Second of all, you don’t have to label yourself as anything…labels are for file folders.
Personally I am neutral when it comes to calling myself an alcoholic. It doesn’t bother me. I can take it or leave it. But the word carries so much stigma and people have such a specific image in their head when they hear it…that it turns people away from getting help.
Before I get hate mail from the ‘alcoholics’ out there let me continue. I know that for some people identifying as an alcoholic is an important part of your sobriety…and there is nothing wrong with that! GO TEAM ALCOHOLICS! 📣
2. YOU “HAVE” TO GO TO AA
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You also don’t HAVE to go to AA…but it’s perfectly fine if you do! When I first decided to get sober…many moons ago…AA is the first place I went. I think that is how it was for a lot of people, because there was a time that AA was all that was out there.
AA is not part of my program currently, but it was as recent as a couple years ago. I even held a service position for an entire year!
What matters most is finding what works for and is the best fit for you. As long as it is keeping you sober, that is all that matters.
3. IF YOU ARE SOBER, OR CHOOSING TO LIVE A LIFE WITHOUT ALCOHOL, YOU MUST HAVE A DRINKING PROBLEM.
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to have a severe drinking problem to want sobriety. You don’t have to have a drinking problem at all.
You can just want to feel better. Maybe you’ve decided that alcohol isn’t bringing anything positive into your life so you are just going to remove it from your life. It doesn’t have to be awful to want better.
Anyone, anywhere, with any kind of drinking habit can make the decision to stop drinking…there is no prerequisite for how bad your drinking has to get first.
4. YOU HAVE TO HIT ROCK-BOTTOM TO GET SOBER
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
You don’t have to hit rock bottom to want sobriety. You don’t have to be suffering from the repercussions from drinking to want sobriety. You don’t have to have lost everything…the job, the money, the house, the friends, the family… to want sobriety.
And can you really even say what your rock bottom would be? Everyone’s rock bottom doesn’t look the same.
5. SOBER LIFE IS BORING
FALSE 👎🏼 👎🏼.
This preconceived notion could not be further from the truth. Alcohol numbs our senses and feelings. And guess what… when you numb the bad, you also numb the good.
Remove the alcohol and discover how much more time you have, how much more money you have. Discover and rediscover hobbies and interests you once had. You will discover your FOMO turn into JOMO.
If you find that sober life is boring I hate to say it…your life is boring. Make some changes. Sobriety provides a greater amount of opportunities for freedom and fun than a bottle of booze could ever offer.
It’s not a no to alcohol…but yes to a better life. Sobriety…there is probably no healthier, kinder, loving thing you could do for yourself. ❤️
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟
What do you do when you get a craving? When you’re in that moment and your next move may decide whether you pick up a bottle, or not. And how do you feel when you’re in that moment?
For example…I feel anxious, I feel panicky and I feel nervous.
In a recent therapy session I shared with my therapist that since my recent relapse I have been noticing I am having more frequent moments of feeling anxious and feeling cravings come up. I don’t know if these feelings are really more frequent or if I am just paying closer attention now…but regardless, the feelings are there either way. (Side note – Back to 72 days alcohol free as of this writing!),
She asked me what I do when these feelings come up? Did I know what grounding was, did I use any grounding techniques or grounding exercises when I was “in” those moments?
I know what being grounded is…I was grounded a lot while growing up. 😆 And I’ve heard the term grounding used with earthing…walking around outside barefoot, which I also do a lot of. But she was talking about something else.
She gave me some grounding techniques that I had never heard of…that I could do anywhere, at any time. I’ve used these…and I have found them helpful. They help me turn my attention away from my anxious mind and off the craving…help me refocus on the present moment. And help me move into the next hour sober. I’m going to share some of them with you and maybe you will find them helpful as well. 🤟🏼
The 5-4-3-2-1 Grounding Technique (or the 5 Senses Technique)
Our physical body is how we interface with the rest of reality, the five senses like tethers anchoring us to the moment.
- Look For 5 Things You Can See: Look for the small details, the wood grain on the desk in front of you, the pattern in the ceiling. Become aware of the glossy green of the plant in the corner. Take your time to really look and acknowledge what you see. Maybe look for something that you may not have noticed before.
- Become Aware Of 4 Things You Can Touch/Feel: The clothing on your body, your cotton shirt against your neck. The warmth of the sun on your skin. The wind blowing through your hair. The chair you are sitting on. It may help to vocalize these…”I feel the wind blowing through my hair, I feel the warmth of the sun on my face.”
- Acknowledge 3 Things You Can Hear: Pay special attention to the sounds your mind has tuned out. Don’t judge, just hear. The distant traffic. The ticking of the clock. The roosters outside. (I’m in Hawaii as I write this, there are a lot of roosters outside. 🐓) The voices in the next room.
- Notice 2 Things You Can Smell: Try to notice smells in the air around you, like an air freshener or freshly mowed grass. If at first you don’t feel like you can smell anything, simply try to sense the subtle fragrance of the air around you, or of your own skin.
- Become Aware Of 1 Thing You Can Taste: I suggest carrying snacks for this step…because, snacks…duh. Pop one in your mouth and focus your attention closely on the flavors.
Repeat, repeat…as many times as needed. 🙌🏼
Another grounding technique she shared with me was like playing a game of “categories” with yourself.
Pick a category (types of dogs, fruits and veggies, cereals, jazz musicians, animals, famous people, cars, TV shows, writers, sports, songs, cities, etc.) and name as many items in the category that you can think of. For a variation name the items alphabetically or try to name an item in the category that begins with each letter of the alphabet. This can also be a great game to keep kids preoccupied in the car!
For some more grounding techniques Paul shared some of his here.
Like I said in the beginning…I had a recent relapse. Weirdly I feel alright about that. I have found these quick and easy grounding techniques to be very helpful for me at this stage of my journey. I hope that they may help you too.
If you have any that you use and would share, please drop them in the comments!
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟
I saw the following quote about relapse on Instagram the other day. When I first read it I thought, ‘gross!’, and scrolled on. Throughout the day the quote kept coming back to me though…perhaps because I have 3 dogs that are often doing gross things. But the more I thought about it, the more I agreed with it.
“It is the return of a dog to his vomit.”
― Paul Verlaine
Relapse IS kinda like the return of a dog to his vomit. 🐶🤮 But it is more than that, much more.
In its simplest terms, a relapse is when you start drinking again after a period of abstinence.
I think relapse is one of the scariest words for people in recovery. But it is also a very normal part of the recovery process…and it does not mean you have failed. If you have listened to the Recovery Elevator podcast or are part of our Café RE community you have probably heard the term ‘field research’. Many of us use that term in place of the word ‘relapse’. Some people, such as Paul Churchill, feel that the word ‘relapse’ is another word in recovery, similar to the word ‘alcoholic’, that needs to be thrown out. Paul talks more about that here.
Alcohol is one of the most commonly ingested substances in the world. The 2019 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found roughly 16 million Americans were heavy alcohol users, and 14.5 million Americans had an alcohol use disorder. Stress, anxiety and isolation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic have worsened these numbers.
Over 30% of people who attempt to stop drinking relapse in their first year of sobriety, but that rate does go down over time. After 5 years that number has dropped to 9.6%. I left out a lot of the statistics, but the bottom line is more than 70% of people struggling with alcohol abuse will relapse at some point.
That doesn’t mean they won’t get back on that wagon and succeed.
I’ve heard people say that the relapse starts way before you actually pick the drink back up, the relapse itself does not occur all at once. I don’t think that anyone plans for, or intends for a relapse to occur. But they do happen, and they happen in stages.
“Stressing about a relapse happening only leads to a release happening.”
― D.C. Hyden
THE STAGES OF RELAPSE
Experts say that relapse occurs in three separate stages — emotional, mental and physical.
- Emotional relapse: The person is not actively drinking or even thinking about drinking, but they are having thought patterns that could possibly be setting them up for a future relapse. This is also where triggers come into play. A trigger could be going to a location where you used to drink, hanging around people you used to drink with, or participating in an activity that you used to drink during.
- Mental relapse: The individual in a mental relapse is waging an internal battle. One part of them wants to remain sober, and the other part wants to drink. Once you have given yourself mental permission to pick up the drink, even for “just this one time”, it can be very difficult to hold on to your sobriety.
- Physical relapse: The individual starts to actively drink alcohol again, often resulting in, and leading up to, previous patterns of alcohol abuse.
A relapse will have you feeling guilty, ashamed and tempted to throw in the towel. But don’t! Use those feelings to get back in the saddle.
That’s what I have done (am currently doing in fact). Will relapse be a part of your story? Maybe. Maybe not. It is, however, a part of mine.
I have had a recent relapse…and it’s not my first. (God willing it will be my last! 🙏🏼). I have those feelings of guilt, shame, that I’ve failed…myself and everyone else, that I’m not good enough for the people that I surround myself with. But I’m using those feelings…using them to help me do better, be better.
I can’t tell you when my relapse started…because again, it started long before I picked up the bottle. And I also can’t tell you how long it would have continued had I not been called out on my bullshit. What I can tell you is I stopped using the tools in my recovery toolbox. I can tell you I never reached out for support or asked for help…and my support circle is LARGE (something I learned after sharing I had relapsed). I won’t make those mistakes again.
I can also tell you that it feels really good to be sharing with that support circle now. 🙌🏼
Today I feel good.
IWNDWYT (I will not drink with you today.)
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
There was a time that I was afraid to stop drinking. I was afraid that I would fail. I was scared about removing something from my life that had been a part of my life for over 30 years.
I thought drinking made me fun…so by quitting I would be boring. I would lose friends. Which in hindsight was crazy thinking since I drank at home, alone, for the last 15 or so years. I didn’t have friends…drinking friends or not. Sounds like the opposite of fun to me now.
In the beginning the thought that I would have to be ‘in recovery’ for the rest of my life was depressing and overwhelming. Was I always going to have to work so hard? Was whether or not I was drinking going to be my only real story? I now see recovery as a gift.
I am truly grateful for my recovery and being in recovery. I can now take a step back and list off things that without my recovery I wouldn’t have. Things I’ve gained. Things I’ve regained.
I can also step back and remind myself of the things I don’t miss about drinking. Here’s a few of them.
1️⃣ The hangovers. The bloody hangovers. This is probably the main thing we can all relate to and the first thing that comes to mind when someone asks you what you don’t miss about drinking. Peeling your eyelids open, the pounding headache, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, shakes, lack of energy. There was a time that was my everyday routine. I would either sleep the day away, finally starting to feel human again later in the afternoon…when I would start drinking again. Or I would have a couple shots early in the morning to help get me through the day. My motivation and productivity was at zero. I don’t miss the hangovers.
2️⃣ The blackouts. Waking up and checking my phone in fear…when I could find my phone. Who did I talk to? What did I say and do? Not having a conversation the next day because I very well already had the conversation the night before and don’t remember. Playing detective the next day. I was a blackout drinker from day 1. I don’t miss blacking out.
3️⃣ The anxiety, the shame and regret. 3:00 am was the worst. I would get up and drink…if I could find the bottle I hid…just so I could fall back asleep. I never really thought I had anxiety until I stopped drinking and it went away. I don’t miss not sleeping properly, I have never experienced sleep like I have since I quit drinking alcohol, it really is incredible. I don’t miss the anxiety, the shame and regret.
4️⃣ Apologizing…over and over…again and again. It’s true that action speaks louder than words. But I truly was sorry that I drank, again. I truly was sorry that I said I wouldn’t, but I did. I don’t miss sounding like a broken record with the apologies.
5️⃣ Always thinking about alcohol. I don’t miss thinking about alcohol all the time. Have I got enough? Should I go and get some more? What if it runs out? Is it too early in the morning to go buy more? The mental energy spent when drinking is exhausting. I don’t miss always thinking about alcohol.
6️⃣ The harm to my health and physical appearance. My skin looked like shat. I had bags under my eyes. I looked years older. I ate junk food in excess. I had high blood pressure. I couldn’t sleep. I had no energy. When you’re actively drinking you don’t necessarily realize the toll it’s taking on your body, or you just don’t care. But when you remove alcohol, it becomes pretty obvious how it was affecting you physically. I don’t miss harming my health and good looks. 😉
7️⃣ Disappointing the people I love, disappointing myself. Not to say that after ditching the booze I never disappointed the people I love or myself again. Because that is just not true. I am human after all. But I can say I stopped the groundhog days of doing it. And once I was able to let go of the shame I was able to believe that I am not a failure because of my failures. And I was able to start rebuilding relationships…the most important one being the one with myself. I don’t miss repeatedly letting those I love down.
There’s more I could add…but I’ll stop there. I feel the longer I am in recovery the longer my list will get. Some days it is easy. Other days I have to use more of my tools. It’s not saying no to alcohol, it’s saying yes to a better life. And there are wonderful things on the other side…you just have to trust yourself you CAN get there.
But it really is worth it.
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼
“I’m in recovery.”
Two statements that very often get interchanged. If you think they mean the same thing, think again. There is a distinct difference. Being sober is very different from being in recovery. You can be one or the other…or you can be both.
What Is Sobriety?
When you have eliminated alcohol from your life you are deemed “sober,” and although sobriety is part of recovery, sobriety alone is often a temporary and fragile state. Think of the terms “white knuckling it” and “dry drunk”.
White knuckling your sobriety means you are trying to manage your addiction without help. You are using your will power or trying to fix yourself with your mind.
A “dry drunk” is someone who is sober but is struggling with the emotional and psychological issues that led them to have a problem with alcohol in the first place.
Just because you no longer live under the influence of alcohol it doesn’t mean that other unhealthy aspects of your life have changed. For example, you may still have poor or damaged relationships, behavioral health issues, mental health issues, or emotional issues that need to be addressed.
Sobriety is considered to be the natural state of a human being at birth. A person in a state of sobriety is considered sober.
What Is Recovery?
There is no “standard” definition of “recovery” in the addiction community, and part of the reason why is because everyone’s recovery journey is unique. 🙌🏼
According to SAMHSA, recovery is “a process of change through which people improve their health and wellness, live self-directed lives, and strive to reach their full potential.”
A person in recovery is continually making an effort to work through the issues that caused the alcohol abuse to occur in the first place.
In recovery is a powerful period because beyond everything else, it signifies that you know you have a problem and you are trying to fix it. Recovery allows you to make positive changes and deeply examine your feelings, beliefs and behaviors. Recovery does not mean you fix your issues right away. It means you recognize something is wrong, which is the first step and a critical part of getting help.
People in recovery have the greatest chance of maintaining long-term sobriety. Better yet, they have the opportunity to live a happy and productive life that is free from addiction.
I love this list that Odette shared on the podcast, episode 316…titled the same as this blog…”Sober” VS “In Recovery”.
When you are in Recovery, you:
- Feel a kinship to those who are also in Recovery. (SO true!)
- Make decisions based on how it could impact your Recovery. (“My recovery must come first so that everything I love in life does not have to come last.”)
- Adjust friendships and relationships based on how they could affect Recovery. (BOUNDARIES!!)
- Never let down your guard. (I don’t got this!)
So, can you be sober and not be in recovery? Absolutely! And although you can achieve a state of sobriety with simply abstaining from alcohol, with time, you will come to find that the life you want comes not just from being sober but from entering into the recovery mindset. 🧠
And you know what the cool thing is? You don’t have to be an alcoholic to live in this mindset. 🤯 The mindset that allows you to grow and develop your self awareness, the mindset that allows you to see beyond the surface and question many things in life like relationships and boundaries. That mindset is for everyone.
Once I got past the early days of sobriety I started thinking of my sobriety journey as my recovery journey. I realized that it was about SO much more than just ditching the booze. That the recovery process is one of ongoing healing and that there is no part of my life that my recovery doesn’t touch.
I also learned that it is rarely accomplished alone. I wanted to be around others ‘in recovery’. Not just because they were sober and could relate to that part of my life. But because they want to grow, want to learn, want to be better.
Transitioning from sobriety to recovery takes both commitment and action.
If you are a grey area drinker or someone who doesn’t even know if they belong here because you are not alcoholic enough…I hope you know that recovery is for EVERYBODY.
E V E R Y B O D Y.
You have your seat at this table, no matter what.
Until next time, be well.
Kerri Mac 🤟🏼