Five years sober from alcohol is never something I thought I’d be, nor did I think I’d be talking about it in a format that actually makes an impact.
Alas, here we are.
I’ve found it easier to write these reflection posts year after year. At first, I worried quite a bit about what people would think about me being open about my addiction and recovery and the potential impact on my job and work prospects. However, this format of sharing my sobriety has become exciting to revisit every year. It has become part of the necessary routine-building I discussed in my 4-year sobriety milestone post and part of how I give back.
The Key Points
This year sober, I’ve learned to live my best and love myself more. I’ve made mistakes and met insane challenges, but I knew I could manage them. I’ve had less therapy, which was challenging at first, but it also freed me with a system of emotional self-support that I had but didn’t know I was ready to use on my own.
There have been times over the past year when I knew for sure I was immersed in a prime moment that would be the shiny peak of next year’s sobriety reflection post. But those moments—those peaks—just kept happening.
Over and over and over again, the unthinkable has become my routine.
My current approach to growth is that nothing good will come from nothing. This practice—the more-is-more-even-when-its-not-perfect-approach—has brought immense growth in the various fields I work and play in and the building of a healthy relationship with myself. As I’ve maintained longer-term sobriety, I’ve been more gentle than before and learned to be cool with just being me. I’ve leaned into being the person I know I am for the moment I live in, understanding that everything can always change. There have been so many times when, through other people and our shared experiences, I have found myself connecting to some part of me that I didn’t even know existed and thriving in it. I permit myself to be me now, even when I don’t initially recognize him.
In other words, I’ve kept dancing to the music that is playing.
To call five years of abstinence from alcohol “long-term sobriety” might be questionable to some, and I’d understand that. I have met many people with 30-50 years of sobriety, but I don’t use that as a goalpost or define what long-term means regarding sobriety. One day sober is a long time for anyone struggling with substance abuse. I’ve also found that the ideal of achieving longer-term sobriety stops so many people in early recovery from just enjoying the moment.
Long-term means that I am committed to what I’m doing. It’s here to stay.
Over the past year, this mindset has resulted in tremendous development as an independent journalist, photographer, artist, and sober person. I keep doing and trying new things as much as possible because I’m less afraid now to be myself. I worry far less—but not entirely zero—about what other people think because focusing on self-discovery has led me down a wild path of mystery, growth, and excitement.
Here are five tips for achieving and maintaining a happy, healthy, joyous long-term sobriety from alcohol:
Give sobriety back
Although I can’t entirely agree with many things in the practice of non-modernized Alcoholics Anonymous, I believe that the principal value of giving your sobriety back is crucial in keeping it for yourself.
The best example I have is this post you are reading.
I only sometimes have time to go to meetings; in fact, I’ve only been to one or two this year. However, I love giving back in my own format. Not only does it allow me to share with more people in a form that works best for me, but anyone can consume it however they want (or not), and it gives me a chance to sharpen my tech skills simultaneously.
The site speed, SEO-optimization, keywording, etc., of this sobriety content, has helped me to reach so many new people in organic search results on Google. Last year, more than 12,000 people worldwide landed on my website while searching for terms like “how to stay sober” in English and Thai; I have replied to over 200 emails asking me for help via my contact form. I do my very best to respond to every single inquiry, and through that, I have interacted long-term with strangers about their recovery. Having these interactions is one of the best feelings in the world, and I get to experience it regularly by sharing it this way.
No matter who you are or your skills, your recovery is your own, and how you give it back to others is also determined by you. Regardless of its form, I’m here to cheer you on and remind you that every way of giving back is acceptable, including art.
Surround yourself with people who know your joy
Nothing is nearly as beautiful as being around people who know your joy.
This is not to say that you have to surround yourself with only people that fully understand your joy or that knowing your joy is a prerequisite to loving you or being in your life. However, simply being around those who recognize your happiness and let you have those moments is priceless.
You’ll also find it easier to do the same for other people once they’re the company you keep. When you are with people whose joy you can feel, you’ll see the same light in them. Whether we like it or not, relationships are transactional, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with expecting that the people we spend our time with will see our moments of joy and growth.
Find that in others, and hold it close. Give them your joy, and come alive in theirs.
When I first got sober, like in the first month, I had over 15,000 unread emails. Sounds like a real first-world problem with nothing to do with my sobriety, right?
Those 15,000 emails were enough to derail me in early sobriety. Whenever I looked at my inbox, I saw an insurmountable reason to give up on everything and just hit the bottle instead. As wildly unreasonable as that sounds, a thoughtful therapist pointed it out and talked me through getting rid of them, which I most definitely did not want to do. Obviously, I knew that I would always need to have those emails, and there was no way anybody else would understand it.
Nonetheless, I dumped the emails, and since then, I’ve “needed” an email from that archive maybe once or twice in the last (now) five years. It was never crucial, either. I never found what I thought I needed, and I survived long enough to write this post about it.
That strange email story was the foundation for organizing my entire life now. The fresh start I got from clearing that inbox became a routine of keeping organized in my personal and professional communications, files, etc., and it makes all the difference in just about every other aspect of my life while giving me way fewer excuses to self-destruct with booze.
The same applies to just about anything you’ll do. I realize that only some people are going to go full inbox zero. However, to set yourself up for success with your sobriety, you need to be organized in how you spend your time. No matter what it is, even if you have to catch up on being lazy for a few days, do it in an organized way. Set yourself up for success by being organized in what you are trying to accomplish outside of your sobriety, and the sobriety will become more natural.
Run toward the traffic; get the dream
It is true that in many sobriety groups and recovery-related support networks, long-timers will encourage patience and waiting. It is also true that no newcomer wants to sit around and wait for the blessings of long-term sobriety.
Regardless, while I believe that viable long-term sobriety depends on solid focus in the beginning, I do not think you have to wait years to start working on your dream, whatever that is.
The idea that there will come a day when you’ll feel ready to “finish” the sobriety journey and never think of it again is unreasonable. If you have an unmanageable relationship with any substance, you’ll never “finish” the sobriety journey, nor should you want to.
That said, there is absolutely no reason to wait for the dream. I say run against the traffic because that’s practically what I do with daily running and my sobriety, and it looks a lot like how I approach my work.
When I run outdoors, I stay in the lane facing oncoming traffic. This way, I can see what is in my path and what is approaching me. I can see how it is moving, plan what it will do next, and do so myself accordingly. This allows me to stay safe and stand out because I am not running parallel to anyone or anything else.
This is also how I approach my work. I watch what others are doing and place myself against the current, with a clear view of my dreams and how to achieve them.
Without a sober mind and body, the idea that I could craft solutions that put me closer to my dreams is unimaginable, but now it is my practice. I allow myself to focus on the dream, know the challenges, and stay confident that I can find a way through, even if it hurts a bit or doesn’t always go “as planned.”
I’ve been doing it this way since I first got sober, and I have no plans of slowing down now. I can assure you that there is no reason to wait to achieve your goals, and no set amount of sobriety time is required to have what you’re dreaming of.
Reframe “emotional support”
In my experience traveling the world, I have seen emotional support understood and practiced in many cultures in various ways, including emotional support animals, talk therapy groups, and even friends casually offering it to each other as mental health has become more routine in everyday conversation.
Because it is called “support,” I find its implied meaning is that emotional support only comes from other people or things. On social media, many people jokingly use emotional support to describe something like shopping, eating, traveling, and animals. In most cases, I’d agree that these things can meet the emotional needs of people.
I, for one, have benefitted greatly from the emotional support of animals for almost my entire life, especially in recovery.
It’s easy to forget that emotional support for self is also vital, though. Thinking more about how I can be available to support myself through rational decision-making emotionally has been an essential item in maintaining my sobriety.
Emotional support from others and things can be genuine and usually feels nice, but acknowledging and acting on supporting yourself emotionally is also crucial. Taking time to build a system with which you can give yourself that necessary push of self-support is also super helpful in maintaining long-term sobriety, as you’ll more easily see solutions to challenges than reasons to drink instead.
I hope you have found this reflection on my fifth year of sobriety helpful. If you’d like to view the past years, you can do so here:
- 4 years sober + 4 tips for sobriety without AA
- 1000 Days Sober – 5 Tips for Staying Sober from Alcohol
As always, if you’d like to reach out, you can email me by submitting my contact form.