I’ve been sober from alcohol for almost seven years. The reasons why I was successful in getting sober are complex and unique to me. The truth is everyone who quits any kind of substance will have a unique ride into sobriety. Many of us relapse many times before finally getting sober.
If you ask each person about their addiction recovery plan, you will find various techniques, supports, and reasons for getting sober. It’s essential to clearly understand your reasoning and how you plan to get and stay sober. It’s also important to know that most people who quit cold turkey without some kind of plan rarely stick with sobriety.
However, there are a few questions to ask yourself that can help you organize and plan for getting sober. These questions will also help you determine your motivations, unique health issues, and supports. I think understanding the answers to these questions before getting sober will set you up for more success.
1. How long were you drinking, and how heavy did you drink?
This is an incredibly important question that not too many people think about enough. The longer and heavier a person drank, the harder it will be to get through sobriety. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible, it just means that you may need to be more thoughtful and rally more support.
Research shows that heavier and more frequent drinking can change the nervous system considerably. This is especially true if heavy drinking took place over a more extended period of time. Once the nervous system has been altered, it can be challenging to feel ok when getting sober. Unfortunately, this can lead to a higher incidence of relapse. You would need more professional help if you drank heavily and frequently.
If your drinking was less severe, it’s possible you can get through the initial stages of sobriety a little more easily. You will still need supports in place, but you’ll have an easier time of withdrawal and the reorganization of the nervous system.
2. Do you have an effective withdrawal management strategy?
This brings me to the second question — do you have a safe and effective withdrawal management strategy? If your drinking was very heavy and took place over a long period of time, you will definitely need to consult professional help to move through withdrawal safely.
Research shows that frequent and heavy drinkers are at a high risk of severe complications during withdrawal. These complications can happen pretty soon after quitting alcohol. The worst outcome is Delirium Tremens and it can cause life-threatening seizures, cardiovascular and nervous system issues. Do not attempt to stop drinking alone if you are a frequent and heavy drinker.
For those who don’t have a heavy and frequent history of alcohol use, quitting drinking can often be done at home. Still, the withdrawal symptoms can be very uncomfortable without some sort of medical support. Consider checking with your doctor first.
3. Do you have a support system?
One of the reasons people return to drinking is that they don’t have an adequate support system. People that are very close to you need to know your plans and support them unconditionally. At the very least, you need a friend or a sponsor that can help you move through those initial stages of sobriety.
In my case, I had sober friends and a supportive spouse that helped me feel grounded during that first year after I quit. I look back and don’t know if I could have got through it all without them. Be sure you have some supports as it is crucial, especially in the first year of sobriety.
4. Who are you quitting for?
You may already know this, but it bears repeating, if you’re not quitting primarily for yourself, sobriety may be very difficult for you. Many people hit rock bottom because a spouse left them or they feel guilty about their children. Wanting to be better for other people can be very motivating for sure, but if you aren’t getting sober for yourself, then you may not have the tenacity to get through the harder parts of sobriety.
Remember, actually stopping drinking is only the beginning. The more complex parts come later when you move through cravings and confront situations that trigger drinking. Not to mention that all the deeper traumas and emotional baggage that the drinking covered up will surface when you get sober. This is perhaps the most difficult part of getting sober — learning to feel again.
If you haven’t quit for yourself, then it may be harder to move through these cravings, triggers and emotional processes.
5. What is your goal for quitting drinking?
It should go without saying, but it’s important to understand that you have to have a goal for quitting drinking. As mentioned above, sometimes we want to stop drinking for our children or for someone we love. This goal can be a good one, but it’s more effective if the goal is something more personal.
For me, I quit because I didn’t want to feel so awful all the time. I hated always feeling sick and sluggish, and I also hated how it impeded my other goals in life. I wanted to be free to pursue new adventures and dreams without feeling like a slave to alcohol. This goal kept me motivated and committed to my path. Having a specific goal can help you get through those dark nights when cravings and triggers are high.
I think asking yourself these questions is a really great place to start when considering sobriety. They will help you formulate a good plan for how to get through sobriety in a healthy way. Many people quit without thinking through these issues, and they end up failing. Although you can always try again, it’s better to avoid repeated failures as they can make sobriety harder to attain. Also, the more a person goes through repeated withdrawals, the harder it is on their health.
If you’re considering sobriety, it’s worth taking some time to answer these questions and formulating a good plan before you commit to stopping drinking. By doing so, you will have a much better chance at getting and staying sober.
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