Updated April 24, 2020
When you’re addicted to drugs or alcohol, the notion of getting clean and then staying sober over the long haul can be frightening. One reason for this is the understandable and very common fear of what being sober feels like. Life in the absence of the self-medicating highs and euphoric escapes that drugs or alcohol once provided can suddenly appear very boring, uneventful, and empty. While this point of view is understandable, it’s also thankfully often misleading and entirely possible to overcome, as a member of FHE Health’s Alumni Program recently shared….
How Sobriety Can Look Boring
While you’re in active addiction, the life you imagine without drugs seems awful. Sobriety seems like a lot of hard work, boring, and downright miserable—not to mention impossible. And, when going to rehab demands stepping back from your life for a temporary period of time in order to focus on getting well, recovery can seem more like regression than moving forward.
“There was a time when I thought and felt many of these same things, but in hindsight, that was only because I hadn’t truly experienced sobriety.” That’s a member of our Alumni Program who agreed to be interviewed on this topic on the condition of anonymity. “If you’re wondering, ‘How do you know?,’ she said, “I can tell you that it’s because I am sober and know that for me it feels nothing like boring, glum, or hard work. And it may be helpful to know that I’m speaking as someone who hated the drug-fueled life I had but didn’t want to live the goodie-two-shoes life of sobriety either.”
What Being Sober Feels Like
So what does being sober feel like? The answer to this question can depend on who you talk to and where they are in their recovery. Here are some of the ways that people at different phases in recovery have described their experience of sobriety:
- “I feel like I’m finally getting my life back together.”
- “Being sober is anything but boring.”
- “Feeling all the feels”
- “A lot more fun”
When we asked our alumna to describe what being sober feels like, she gave a detailed and inviting description that captured these key points. From her experience, sobriety….
Feels Really Good
Just how good? Our alumna went so far as to compare the feeling of being sober to being high “in a really weird way.” Here’s how she described it: “I am not talking about the way it felt to be high in the sense of intoxication, blackouts, impairment, or intense, short-lasting euphoria; I am talking about how you have no care in the world, life is fun, you are a part of it, and you aren’t worried. You are part of the world and the people around you, you aren’t afraid, you don’t worry at all, and you feel content inside.”
In her case, drugs were an effort to escape from anxiety. Those drug-induced escapes got increasingly shorter, but “I kept chasing them,” she said. “The feelings I have now, are a lot like [those escapes], but it’s not a feeling I have to chase. Instead of my baseline being anxiety and seeking an escape, my baseline is now contentment and I solve my anxiety as it comes.”
Feels Like Success
What’s success? Success is “being the person you always imagined yourself to be … achieving goals … being proud of yourself … knowing how much you’re worth. Whatever those things feel like to you is how it feels to be sober.”
On the flip side, success can be defined by what it’s not: “It is being able to lay your head down on your pillow at night and not worry about how you might get caught drunk at work tomorrow, what you did in your blackout, what people think about you, how you are going to get your drugs, disappointing your family, failing out of school, ruining your marriage.”
In other words, success is the blissful absence of all of the devastating consequences of a previous drug or alcohol habit.
Feels Like “Wholeness and Oneness” with Others
Being sober also feels like being whole, without all of the internal divisions that a previous drug habit incited and maintained. According to our alum writer, “Being sober is what it feels like to work through all that crap in your life, and when your head hits the pillow, immediately fall asleep because you don’t have guilt or shame anymore.”
She described sobriety as “a feeling of wholeness and oneness with everyone and everything around you … It’s feeling and realizing that everything is happening for a reason, and because of that, you are not afraid anymore. You have the ability to see your worth and use it for the greater good.”
Finding Happiness in Sobriety
Words can fall short in describing what the newfound happiness of sobriety feels like, as our alum indicated: “It is hard to describe because it’s not something that is easily put into words, but it feels a lot like you were missing something your whole life and when you got sober whatever was missing was found. You feel whole again. You are at peace with yourself. You are content. You are able to sit by yourself without your thoughts racing a mile a minute.”
Finding happiness in sobriety is a process that takes time but is totally achievable with the right daily supports, priorities, and commitments. Healthy relationships, a regular practice of gratitude, finding your purpose, and living in the moment are some of the components of recovery that enrich the good feelings of sobriety.
What if I Don’t Like Who I Am Sober?
If you’re asking this question, you’re not alone. Many people drink and do drugs precisely because they don’t like who they are and want to dull the sensation of their shame, self-loathing—even self-hatred. The prospect of being without the one thing that relieves their sense of low self-esteem and lack of self-love can be very scary.
Similarly, there are many people who drink and use drugs because they feel more fun, daring, likable, and interesting when under the influence. Removing the thing that they believe gives them more charisma or self-confidence around other people can trigger the very real worry that they won’t like their sober self.
If these concerns resonate with you, remember that sobriety doesn’t happen overnight—even if you try to rush it. Give yourself time to discover the new sober you. Within the safety and supports of a trusted rehab program and sober peer community, many people come to like and love the person they are when drugs and alcohol aren’t in the picture. In this sense, recovery is a bit like falling in love with yourself and then learning how to love yourself—another feel-good aspect of being sober.
The Reality of Your Life Without Sobriety
Substance addiction is an experiment in lying to oneself. When someone in active addiction is convinced they’re having “more fun” and eluding boredom by over-indulging in drugs and alcohol, they aren’t being honest about the reality of life without sobriety. The reality is that addiction is a disease of disconnection: It can rob you of the opportunity to be fully present to the joyful, exciting, and unpredictable moments that together make up the passing adventure that is your life—the only life you have to live.
Drugs and alcohol may offer fleeting bursts of fun. They may feed a very persistent illusion that life is boring without them. In reality, though, over the long run, there is no escaping the very “un-fun” trainwreck of untreated substance abuse and addiction. It will have you longing for the so-called boredom of a life that’s free of the financial ruin, damaged relationships, emotional breakdowns, and physical health problems associated with drugs and alcohol.
“With the experience of some of life’s lowest lows behind me, I know the troubles I face tomorrow can’t stand in my way,” our alumna wrote. “Being too tired to go to work is nothing compared to not knowing if my friend who I’ve been getting high with is going to wake up or not. The stress I encounter now is manageable in comparison. I’ve learned to use the experience of overcoming the obstacle of addiction as a daily reinforcement for what I can achieve.”
Feel What Sobriety Feels Like for Yourself
If you haven’t felt what sobriety feels like, you can. It’s never too late to start feeling better, by stepping into that happier future and discovering and falling in love with the happy, whole, successful, more connected person you are when sober. The promise of sobriety is that “the way I feel stone-cold sober, even on my worst days ever … I would never trade to feel the effects of a drug and drink again,” our alumna said. She said anyone can have the same experience being sober. The hitch is you have to do it—as in get sober. For help getting started, we’re here 24/7. Call us anytime.