Deciding to get clean and sober can be difficult. For many people, there is the question of if there is an easier, softer way. Few people want to admit that they have a problem that they cannot solve on their own. In our culture, admitting defeat can feel like a humiliation. The problem and addict encounters is that recovery requires reaching out to others, to finding a community. Even after getting help for an addiction, the idea of telling people outside of your recovery circle that you are in recovery can seem overwhelming, stressful, and just awkward. Perhaps you worry about judgment, or that they’ll pressure you to drink, or, as most early in recovery report, that you’ll miss out on important opportunities.
Learning how to talk about your recovery to other people is actually an essential part of recovery! It can help repair relationships with other people — and it allows you to live life more true to yourself. Moreover, with more than 20.2 million adults in the United States suffering from a substance use disorder, it is likely you’ll end up helping someone out or making new sober friends. Additionally, the sheer number of those impacted by alcoholism and addiction has made this malady commonplace in our culture. Meaning that addicts are not looked at as pariah’s or somehow less-than anymore because almost everyone has been impacted by addiction. When someone you love, and know is a good person, has an addiction it can completely change your perception of others impacted.
For those of us who have achieved permanent sobriety, oftentimes there is a sense of pride in your recovery. For those that knew us in our addiction, a stated attempt at a new life is almost always welcomed by friends and loved ones. And once you find a community of people going in the same direction, helping you to not live the way you used to live, most want to shout it from the rooftops. For others, navigating early recovery can be painful, awkward and embarrassing. Here are 5 ways you can discuss your sobriety with others.
1. Not everyone needs to know
Recovery is a time for honesty, but that doesn’t mean that you need to share every detail of your life story with each person you encounter. You have the freedom to decide who you share your story with. In some cases, you may not want to share it at all. If you do not feel comfortable telling your boss that you’re in recovery, you don’t have to. For those who did not know you had an addiction, they might not even know you have made a change. You don’t have to offer information that is not requested.
In other cases, it may feel natural to share only an aspect of your recovery. At a party with new people, you might feel more comfortable simply saying “I don’t drink.” You can even say, “I’m not drinking tonight.” If you’re not feeling in the right frame of mind to say you’re sober or in recovery, or if you sense negative energy from the other person, you don’t have to say anything. For some, avoiding these high risk environments is key. For others, they can engage in such events and fit in by holding a glass of club soda or water. What you will find is that most people will be intrigued if you are the only one holding a water bottle amidst a group of drinkers. In fact, most will admire that sense of commitment and discipline. If you try it, you might be surprised at the sense of accomplishment you receive from the response of others.
2. Accept That People Will Have Questions
When you open up to someone and explain that you’re in recovery, it’s only natural that they’ll have questions. Some people may not know what recovery is at all! Others will be more inquisitive, and they may ask you questions about your history of substance abuse. If you were someone who drank or used drugs in isolation, close friends may ask, “Did you really have a problem with substances?” They may ask whether your sobriety is going to last forever or how you will ever have fun again. They may also have a loved one whom they feel has a problem. This was a large portion of my experience in that others were constantly inquiring how they could help a loved one navigate sobriety. This is a perfect opportunity to carry the message of recovery which is a key component to staying sober.
These questions can be confusing and annoying during early sobriety, especially since you probably don’t have all the answers yet! Recognize that people will have questions, and that they are rarely ill-intended. In many cases, though, you’ll be surprised to find that people aren’t even interested — which might be a relief to you! Oftentimes we think we are the most important or the worst person in the room. This self-absorption is something one must break in order to live a peaceful happy life.
3. Remember That Most People Aren’t Thinking About You
Continuing the previous point, you are not as important a person, or as bad a person as you think you are. Like most things, the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It may not sound like the most positive news, but most people aren’t thinking about you or your drinking habits. In fact, if you’re worried about how people will react to your sobriety, you can take that as a sign that other people are probably worried about how they’re going to be perceived. Chances are, you can easily attend a party or event and not drink — and no one will even notice!
In some cases, this can even be a little disappointing. After all, the recovery process is hard work and often feels like an incredible accomplishment. It may feel like a letdown when you tell someone you’re in recovery and they say, “Oh cool.” They’re likely just thinking about their own problems, though! Understanding this can take a lot of pressure off of you and open you up to think about others. A key tenant of 12-step programs is to think of others more highly than yourself. In fact, the literature of Alcoholics Anonymous states that “Our very lives as ex-problem drinkers depends on the constant thought of others and how I may meet their needs.”
4. Think of others, but Don’t Try to Fix Other People
During early recovery, many people find themselves on what is called a “pink cloud.” On a pink cloud, individuals feel that their lives are perfect now that they’ve quit drugs and alcohol. There’s probably some truth to this, but the fact is that eventually many challenges emerge and this overconfidence can be deadly for some. Fortunately it is possible to meet these challenges by making use of recovery tools.
If you feel that your life is better now that you’re sober, it may be tempting to try to share this feeling with others. You may see friends using drugs or binge drinking and think, “I can save them.” In fact, there are many that have relapsed thinking that they are going to go into high risk situations to save people. Sometimes it will be really obvious that someone has a drug or alcohol addiction. In these cases, especially when it comes to close friends or family members, it can feel wrong not to try to help.
Ultimately, however, the only person you can directly help is yourself. If an individual has no desire to change, they’re probably not ready to be “saved” by anyone. Trying to do so can actually end up alienating your loved ones. Most people who suffer from addiction are reluctant to ask for help or discuss their issues; in fact, only 11% of people with addiction ever reach out for aid. Obviously if someone reaches out to you and says, “How did you get sober? I need help,” then there is plenty you can do for them. But it rarely pays off telling someone they have a problem and that they need to get sober.
By pursuing your own recovery, however, you can set a good example. In fact, the example you set will likely benefit countless people. You might even not ever directly discuss your recovery with these people, and they may never reach out for help. But you will be living proof that recovery is possible, which can give people hope — and that counts for a lot.
5. Be True To Yourself
During recovery, we reach a better understanding of ourselves and learn to live honestly and truthfully. For most people in active addiction, substance abuse led to toxic personality changes and warped relationships with loved ones. Talking about your recovery with other people, whether you’re talking with close friends or loved ones, provides an opportunity for vulnerability and honesty. In a sense, this is part of the recovery process.
Don’t worry about how other people will react to your sobriety. Your job isn’t to accommodate others, it’s to express what you need to express. If other people react badly to the news that you’re in recovery or try to pressure you to drink, it’s likely that they have a problem. It’s up to them to decide how to deal with that, not you. Be your authentic self.
Recovery is Possible at Design for Recovery
San Diego Sober Living is a women’s sober living home located in San Diego, California. At San Diego Sober Living, young women in recovery have the opportunity to live together in a safe, supportive, and trigger-free structured environment. Every one of our residents is honestly (to the best of their current ability) pursuing long term sobriety and working to rebuild their lives. Our sober community provides a vital support system for young women who want to take positive steps in recovery.
If you are struggling to discuss your recovery with people, you can benefit from having a stronger sober peer support system. In fact, research shows that individuals in sober living homes who develop long term relationships in a recovery community are more likely to stay sober for years after graduation. These relationships not only help you stay sober, however. They provide opportunities for fun sober activities — and meaningful connection.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re early on in the recovery journey or have recently finished a treatment program, San Diego Sober Living is here to support you and meet your needs. If you are ready to make a change, contact us today.