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How I Stay Sober Week After Week

Staying sober is hard — incredibly hard. There’s a reason so many of us die of this disease. There’s a reason the average lifespan of an alcoholic is 68. There’s a reason the average lifespan of coke addict is in the 50s.There’s a reason the average lifespan of a heroin or meth addict is 35.

This stuff kills. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t get cured. It waits for me to let my guard down, and then it creeps back in.

It says in the Big Book that this disease is cunning. That’s the right word for it. Someone who is cunning is both intelligent and evil. They’re smart. They’re skilled. They can achieve their goals, but they do it in whatever way they can regardless of consequence.

Think of a chicken coup. If a wolf gets hungry, the wolf crashes into the coup, grabbing up as many chickens as it can. A lot of chickens escape. Maybe the wolf gets shot by the farmer. It’s lucky if it gets a few chickens and escapes with its life.

A wolf is not cunning.

But a fox is.

A fox sneaks into the coup at night. It grabs a single chicken, snapping its neck before it can squawk.

The fox can come back night after night until someone notices, and even then it might slip past traps that have been set for it.

This disease is the fox. It’s waiting for me to slip up.

Here’s what I do every week to make sure I don’t.

1. Carry the Message to a Rehab

Above everything else, this is what keeps me sober week after week. I started going to rehabs to carry a message of hope to other addicts and alcoholics when I had 45 days sober. In the past 9 years, I haven’t gone more than 3 weeks without carrying the message at least once.

This is step 12. I can’t stress enough the importance of step 12. This is what has helped me get through so much of the misery and suffering that I experienced in sobriety because I wasn’t doing the next action on the list for years.

If you work the 12 steps and you want to stay sober, carry a message of hope to the people who are where you once were. Show them that sobriety can be good. Show that that, even when times are tough, it’s still better than being back out there using. For every time I experienced suffering and misery in sobriety, I found joy in carrying the message to the same rehab I went to. This is the number one thing I do to stay sober.

2. Take My Mental Health Medication Every Day

Obviously this doesn’t apply to everyone, but it definitely applies to me and many others who are trying to stay sober and are dual diagnosis. I have never been just an alcoholic and drug addict. I also suffer from depression, anxiety, OCD, binge eating disorder, anger issues, sexual addiction, and probably some other shit I don’t even know about.

Between year 1 and year 8 of my sobriety, I refused to take any medication for my mental health issues.

I suffered. My workplace suffered. My wife suffered. My family suffered. That’s what happens when I don’t take my medication the way I’m supposed to.

During those years, I definitely had plenty of periods of happiness, but they were the exception rather than the rule. Today, happiness is the rule. This is why I put this action so high on my list.

It saved my life.

3. Go to the Same Meeting Every Week

One of the few things that I’m grateful for when it comes to my OCD is the fact that it likes me to keep as regular a schedule as possible. This means I work 5 days a week even though I work for myself. It means I generally wake up at the same time each day.

And it means I try to go to the same meeting every week, week after week.

This is a critical component of my sobriety. It does several positive things for me.

The first thing it does is to give me the chance to share a message of hope with others. It’s almost as important as carrying the message to a rehab (it’s essentially the same thing in a lot of ways).

The second thing it does is keep me plugged into a fellowship of other sober people. A social network is so important to long-term sobriety. Staying connected to people means that–when things are bad–I’ll reach out for help instead of keeping silent.

The third thing it does is feed me spiritually. I can carry the message at a meeting, but I can also hear the message I need to hear.

4. Call My Sponsor

I actually have 3 sponsors in 3 different programs, which probably sounds crazy (and it kind of is), but it gives me the ability to reach out and get wisdom and knowledge from someone with more experience than me. They keep me humble. I sponsor a lot of guys, so it’s easy to get the idea in my head that I’m Mister Billy Badass. If my ego grows, I become blind to problems. Egotism leads to selfishness, greed, dishonesty, and the idea that the rules don’t apply to me.

Calling my sponsors keeps me humble. It reminds me that just because I give advice to guys who ask for it that I am not the source of all knowledge, that I’m just another dopefiend.

It also gives me someone I can confide in, someone I can tell my fears and resentments to, someone who keep me accountable and encourage me to work my program.

5. Help a Sponsee

If I want to stay sober, the 12 steps tell me that I need to help others, and they’re not talking about just anyone–they’re specific. They tell me to help other alcoholics and drug addicts. That’s what my first action is all about–getting sponsees. But once I have some sponsees, I need to help them. Usually they’re pretty good about calling me, but I’m not willing to let my sobriety rest on the shoulders of someone who may or may not make a phone call to me.

So if I’m not getting calls, I’m making calls. I’m checking in to see how my sponsees are. This helps me get out of my head and forget the problems of the day.

I highly recommend it.

6. Pray and Meditate

I readily admit that meditation is something I’ve never been perfect at, but prayer is for sure something I do every day. I once had a daily meditation practice, but it’s more like once a week now.

I’ve found that both are important for several reasons. First, the goal of the 12 steps is to connect you to a higher power, whatever that looks like to you. For me, the closest I’ve ever come to a belief is Taoism, though I often use the word god to describe my higher power, mostly because it’s a straightforward concept for most people and helps them understand quickly that I believe in spiritualism of some sort. So that makes prayer critical because prayer is one of the few ways for me to connect with this power, despite the fact that I don’t believe it’s a deity.

Second, both prayer and meditation calm me. This can help me prepare for the day, deal with a bad day, or just get through a difficult situation.

This is step 11. It’s not nearly as important as step 1 or step 12 in my experience–I know a lot of people who pray a shitload and can’t stay sober–but it’s certainly not a waste of time.

It helps me stay sober.

7. Spend Time Alone

I think a lot more needs to be said about this and its importance in sobriety. While I love spending time with people from time to time, I also love spending time by myself and doing whatever the hell I want. Now that might include many of the other items on this list–prayer, meditation, playing video games, writing, exercising–but many of these things can be done with people.

For me, I need time away from everyone to recharge. I don’t know quite how to describe it, but being around people puts me on edge, and being by myself takes the pressure off. I love nothing more than taking an hour or two to watch a movie by myself or play a video game–as long as it doesn’t get in the way of me working my program.

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