How Long Until I Am Sober?

Good question.

People ask us this often, not only for economic reasons (how much will this cost?), but also for work and family considerations. How long until I’m sober? The question comes hopefully, with hope for a cure and wholeness restored.

At the same time, we also know that most alcoholics or addicts hope the answer to How long until I’m sober? is Not very long. Going away seems so drastic. Here’s the good news: it takes only one day to get sober, which is today, with help.

We don’t blame you if you think that sounds like a cliche. “One day at a time” does sound like one of those corny things uncool people say. But look: a bunch of these uncool people are sober. (They’re actually cool, too, but that’s for another post).

What is sobriety, anyway?

To answer this question, we must emphasize the difference between “not drinking or using” and living a happy and healthy life. All our successful alumni will tell you simple abstinence in and of itself is not enough. This may sound like a depressing thought, since stopping using or drinking seems like a pretty huge accomplishment, not to mention the whole idea of getting sober in the first place. It is huge. Yet it is only a beginning of something better.

Most alcoholics and addicts misuse certain coping tools for the problems of life. We have covered up our anxieties, fears, shyness, discomforts, or traumatic past experiences with substances which “worked until they didn’t”. Being the only tools we had, we continued to use them long past their use-by date until we simply couldn’t stop.

Here’s the thing, though: when the alcoholic or addict finally stops, all the internal discomfort, traumas, and unpleasant feelings are still there, not to mention relationship and family wreckage from a life of using. After a few sober days, many find quite a few resentments, insecurities, fears, and other mental and emotional baggage are exposed, just as raw and fresh as the day they happened. Physical recovery begins rather quickly for many, but learning how to “live life on life’s terms” is something else altogether.

The good news is that once you begin your recovery journey, there is a wonderful community of alums and support groups that will help you live better and happier than you’ve ever been. A 30, 60, or 90 day retreat is a great beginning to sobriety, which we define as a design for living happy, joyous, and free.

30, 60, and 90 Day Programs

The first stretch for everyone entering Discovery Place is the 30 day program. While we promote living “one day at a time,” a successful life in recovery begins with the first month. The head clears, and the body begins to heal from the tremendous amount of poisons it has been processing. Regular meals and a schedule of positive activities keep the newcomer from focusing too much on feelings of guilt, fear, remorse, anger that are exposed for the first time in a while.

Another thing we instill in the first month is acceptance that sober living does not happen alone. We introduce newcomers to one another and to others in recovery who show how they’ve  learned to use a new set of tools for coping with life.

After a month, some find that they need longer. There are no hard and fast rules, but we hope that after the first month a new guest has a basic knowledge of a toolkit that will sustain him in a life in recovery, putting him a better position to participate in his own assessment of what should come next.

60 and 90 Days

Many newcomers find, to their surprise, they actually want to stay longer after the first 30 days of recovery—for 60, 90, or even 120 days. There can be several reasons: he may feel shaky about his ability to cope with life “on the outside” without drinking or using. Or he has begun to experience something like peace of mind and wants to learn how to keep it.

Perhaps the first 30 days has been spent in angry denial or unwillingness to listen to suggestions. Every case is different. We believe any amount of time spent getting a firmer footing in a life in recovery is time well spent. Even those who relapse, or “go back out,” as we call it, may find a seed has been planted that makes a return to their old lives much worse than they imagined it to be. There is no shame in relapse; only danger and hurt to one’s self and others.

A word on “drying out”

Some mistakenly believe that a 30, 60, or 90 day program of abstinence, of “drying out,” equals a cure for alcoholism or addiction, and they will be able to return to a life of casual alcohol or drug use. We must be frank: we have never seen it. The will and enthusiasm to not drink or use may fade in the first weeks being dry, but relapse into full blown addiction or alcoholism is inevitably a drink, pill, or puff away.

We say that alcoholics and addicts are defenseless against the first drink or drug not for puritanical or moral reasons, but because we have learned the hard way. This is often difficult to accept. We have seen many leave, eager to return to a “normal” life after a short, dry, stay. They want to return to old friends and social situations. These people  are really the best candidates stays longer than 30 days. Though many of our alumni have begun a happy, sober life with only a 30-day stay, the person seeking to simply “go to rehab” can find himself quickly in a worse state than ever if he leaves too soon.

Extended stays

Extended stays longer than 90 days are not uncommon, and we have a separate campus for those guests. By this time, a new person is starting to emerge from the wreckage of his past. He is working, making positive contributions to his job, repairing relationships. He continues to work on his sobriety while helping others take their journeys. We encourage him to participate in our Step-Down Program, which provides schedule and structure necessary for what we call “staying in the middle” of sobriety. We have learned that service and sharing bring the greatest insurance against relapse.

Men who have made it to Step-Down improve their chances of remaining sober with each passing day, provided they remain open to suggestions. They assume responsibilities to themselves and others. They have a sponsor—a mentor in sobriety who has been there, and who has a sponsor himself. The sponsor helps keep the newly recovering person on the beam when the going gets rough. The sponsored person (or sponsee) hears straight talk without judgement or reproach from someone who, like him, is working to stay sober a day at a time.

We believe the best guidance and inspiration comes not from men and women in white coats, but from people who are “walking the walk.” Sobriety should be a judgement-free zone. Our own recoveries depend on it.

Living Sober

Whichever length of time the newcomer stays means little without a plan for returning to “the real world.” We know this may sound sad, a forecast of life without color, full of grudging, tedious maintenance. If you are cynical, you may expect us to say here that this won’t be the case. For good reason: it isn’t. This is where what we call “a design for living” comes in. It is not a matter of living life without something, but gaining something better:

  1. Presence for family and friends: the end of guilt, satisfaction of helping others, being loved and giving love, feeling purpose and self worth
  2. Health and vigor
  3. An end to loneliness
  4. Fun: the ability to show up and enjoy things without getting high
  5. Zero hangovers!

1. Being Present

Though the relationship road ahead may look dark, we can attest that most who earnestly participate in their own recoveries rebuild their relationships with family and friends. There is usually much guilt and regret, some of it close to the surface, some buried deep. When the using stops, these feelings are laid bare.

Much of recovery involves learning real ways to process these feelings so they no longer dictate how we act. We learn to forgive ourselves and others, and to accept forgiveness. Over time, what was once unthinkable—helping others, “suiting up and showing up”—replaces bad behavior that’s been our default. The anguish of absence due to addiction is reversible. Satisfaction and self-worth, doing right by friends and family, becomes something we want rather than have to do. This is the upward spiral of recovery. It may seem far-fetched, but many can testify that this sense of going up is better than any high.

2. Health and Vigor Returned

An amazing thing happens once using stops: the body almost always begins to heal. Although those who need detox are in for a rough time at first (they should receive professional medical assistance), once withdrawal passes and a regular schedule of good food, regular rest and activity begins, it’s amazing how they recover in mind and body. The human body wants to heal, and given a chance, almost always gets better. We have seen physical health restored to many that appeared past the point of no return. When health and vigor begin to return, the will to live well is strengthened—another part of the upward spiral.

3. The End of Loneliness

Almost all alcoholics and addicts suffer from feelings of being “apart from” or “less than” others. Drug and alcohol abuse magnifies these feelings. We believe that unaided recovery is impossible. We know first-hand that left to ourselves, even without using, our brains are not always our friends. Lonely people convince themselves of all manner of notions that, if said aloud, they would immediately recognize as downright crazy. Recovery provides fellowship with people like us, people who understand, who have been there. It is an opportunity to make friends and be in fellowship with people who really show up for each other, not because they have to, but because they want to.

4. Fun

Few words are as fraught for alcoholics and drug addicts as this simple, three-letter word. Almost all of us have a wonderful memory of a buzz-fueled day, party, or period  which seemed like the happiest time of our lives. We have sought to get back there with dubious success. Why would anyone not? And since drugs and booze were a key part of it, we regard them as essential to returning. Surely sobriety is going to be a dull affair, if the main component of better days and carefree times has a giant barricade across it reading, NO FUN ALLOWED.

Hard as this may be to believe, sobriety is anything but dull. Things like concerts, festivals, parties, holidays, vacations do not turn into things to doggedly endure without drugs and alcohol. They become things which are enjoyable in and of themselves. There is a phrase often used among recovered people: We are not a glum lot. On the whole, most people in recovery laugh more, do more, and smile more than “normal” people. They have learned not to go it alone, discovering that people in recovery are fun. They’re the people we used to hang out with, only without the lying, cheating, and stealing. They find more joy in simple day-to-day living, too. Why not? Most of us have been to hell and back.

5. All This and No Hangovers!

This sounds so lighthearted. Again, why not? When we think of all the energy it once took to drag ourselves out of bed to face another day, we realize that we must have been pretty stronger-than-average people. A normal person would stay in bed (as we did some days). To wake up without a terrible handicap and with a zest for meeting the day is a win-win. To paraphrase one of our favorite writings, a person with a hangover cannot live well that day. And while many days in recovery do come, with stiff challenges of life (and everyday annoyances, too), they are much easier to accept and roll through without the drag of self-inflicted illness weighing us down.


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