By Aaron Emerson
Keep it simple, stupid.
I’ve heard the saying in meetings countless times. It truly does make sense. How do you stay sober? The answer is simple: you just don’t pick up that first drink or drug.
When you break down sobriety to just that, it IS a SIMPLE concept. But talking about actual recovery and changing one’s life, well, it involves much more than simply abstaining from drugs and alcohol.
Another popular saying around 12 step meetings is this: what does an addict need to change to stay clean? Everything! Recovering from substance abuse is one of the hardest journeys an individual can ever take. Digging down deep to uncover trauma, abuse, pain, misery and all of the things that us addicts use drugs to run from is extremely frightening.
If we never get to the root cause of why we used drugs in the first place, though, lasting recovery is not gonna happen. For me, I’m currently working with a therapist to heal from the PTSD I experience due to a sexual assault when I was younger. It’s something I’ve hidden from and tried to cover up for many years, not even telling my parents until last year. But when I went to rehab earlier this year, they taught me how the trauma I experiened goes hand-in-hand with my addiction. I used drugs to cover up that pain, and until I started talking about it, I wasn’t ever going to live a life of recovery.
It’s a new process for me. I hate talking about the sexual assault. It hurts and brings out rage. But if I want to stop relapsing, I understand now that I have to work through my trauma and feelings. And so it is with many addicts. There have been many studies done that have linked PTSD and substance abuse. Many addicts and alcoholics also deal with mental illnesses, depression, anxiety, self-esteem issues and much more.
Until we start working on dealing with those issues, though, they’re going to keep manifesting in our daily lives. Just simply not using drugs or alcohol isn’t going to make those symptoms go away. And if we aren’t working on them, eventually they’ll catch up to us and be too much to handle.
Another thing I have to do to maintain sobriety is stay connected to other people in recovery. Right now, I currently have a sponsor, a secondary sponsor, and a recovery coach. Each one of those individuals wants me to call and check in with them every single day, and so I do. Sometimes when I’m having a busy day, calling three different people to talk about how I’m doing can be exhausting. But I committed myself to do EVERYTHING possible to stay sober and find recovery this time. I’m not gonna give up!
This is hard fucking work. So yes, keeping it simple and just not picking up that first drink or drug makes sense. Keeping it simple and picking up the damn phone when I’m having a bad day also makes sense. But at the same time, lasting recovery is not so “simple.” It involves shedding many tears, talking about uncomfortable issues, confronting trauma, changing the way we think, and reaching out to people in recovery on a daily basis. Everybody’s path to recovery is different. I’m not saying everyone should be doing the same things I’m doing to stay sober. What I’m trying to get at, though, is how hard this is: how utterly painful it can be to fight these demons.
Find what works for you. Find some people you can trust to help guide you through the process. We can’t do this alone. If you are in active addiction or in the beginning stages of sobriety, please know that all of this is worth it. Yes, the journey to recovery will be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but there will come a day when it will all make sense, and an overwhelming feeling of gratitude will hit you. I have some tough days, a lot of times when I just want to crawl in bed and cry. But I also have a lot of times when I’m hanging out with my daughter, watching her play and laugh, and think to myself, “I wouldn’t trade this moment for the world. Thank you God!” Life is good today and I have hope! This is hard, but I am so extremely grateful!