Four Years of Sobriety = Four(ish) Lessons Learned

An article by Renee W.

Okay, so I’ve certainly learned more than four lessons in the past four years of sobriety, but for the sake of this article, I will stick to four, to make it tidy. But wait, nothing about recovery is tidy. So I may add another lesson or two in there. There’s really so much to say.

Every single morning, I read the “notes to self” on my notes app on my phone. The first one listed is the one I cling to:

Get Up and Show Up.

It’s my favorite one and the one that sticks, the one that makes the most sense, and the one that is doable. Getting up and showing up is always the next right thing to do.

Four years ago, I had nearly ruined my life, yet again.

All I remember is that I could not, no matter what I tried, stop drinking. This was nothing new. The previous 20 years I had spent battling alcohol. Just the past November, I had checked into detox at the hospital and taken a medical leave from work. Instead of focusing on recovery, I continued to drink and spiral and focus on all the wrong things, mostly everything I could not change.

On May 26, 2019, I checked into a treatment facility for alcoholism and drug addiction. May 26, 2019 was the date I took my last drink.

In treatment, I made a silly little bracelet during “art time” where I slung together beads to spell out this date. I’ve had hundreds of restart dates, so at this point, there was nothing spectacular about May 26, 2019. However, I carry this bracelet around to remind me that this date is spectacular. It’s the longest I have ever been sober since I first discovered alcohol at the age of 14.

What it was like

In articles like this one, some spend a lot of time on “what it was like”.

“What it was like” is certainly significant because describing the pain of alcohol addiction can be helpful for those who are currently battling it. However, I will keep my “what it was like” brief because I want to focus on “how it is today”.

I took my first drink at 14 years old when I worked for a catering company. I served alcohol at weddings, anniversary parties, and retirement gatherings, so why wouldn’t I sample it? Unfortunately, “sampling it” isn’t how it turned out.

Over the years, my drinking escalated into what experts would call “problematic”. If I was going to meet friends somewhere, I would have already consumed several drinks prior. I began carrying alcohol with me everywhere—vodka in water bottles was my go-to.

Fast forward to when I was 27 years old, and I was drinking every single day starting in the morning. I guess I was what you would call a “functioning alcoholic” because I was also working, going to grad school, and had two children. This worked for a while … until it didn’t work anymore.

Single woman alone swinging on the beach. Generative AI

The next few years involved so much trauma:

  • A job termination
  • A DWI (driving while intoxicated)
  • Court dates
  • Jail time
  • Lost driver’s license
  • Days of blackout drinking
  • Broken relationships
  • Self-hatred
  • Shame and guilt
  • Loss of self-respect

I started going to 12-step meetings in 2013, and it took a while for any of this to stick. I didn’t trust people, especially not overly cheery people who claimed they were “sober and happy” or even worse, “grateful, recovering alcoholics”.

However, I never stopped going to AA meetings. There was something there I wanted. I just had to peel back some of the layers to see what exactly that was.

What it’s like today and four(ish) lessons I’ve learned over the past four years

My life is peaceful these days. Well, the circumstances aren’t always peaceful. I have teenage sons, so there’s that.

Today though, I can look in the mirror and authentically say: I love my life. I love being sober. I love my family and friends. Perhaps most incredible: I love myself.

I have learned so much about myself and recovery in the past few years.

Lesson one: Sobriety is work.

(However, staying in addiction is much much more work.)

Commitment takes work. I had to, along with many recovering alcoholics who came ahead of me, believe with all of my being the first step in AA:

“We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

It took me a while to actually believe this. It’s easy to blame others for our problems. So often I was asked, “So why do you drink?”. The question always left me with nothing.

Why did I drink?

  • To escape pain?
  • To not feel anything?
  • Because I’m mad?
  • Because I’m sad?
  • Because it’s in my genes?
  • Because it’s raining?
  • Because it’s sunny?

I didn’t need a reason. I drank because that’s what I did. I drank alcohol. I was good at it.

Committing to recovery takes a lot of work. Work in self-discovery. Work in unlearning everything I thought I knew. Work in putting one foot in front of the other and showing up for life.

The recovery work is so very worth it, and it beats the work of maintaining an addiction.

Lesson two: Find your people. Yes, you need them.

Addiction is an isolating disease, and perhaps the worst part is the isolation. Addiction is not treated like other diseases, even though it has been classified as one since 1987 by the American Medical Association (AMA).  

I read this once and it resonated: “The opposite of addiction is not sobriety—it’s connection.”

Connecting with people is so ridiculously unnatural at first. When you have been living in webs of deception your whole life, peeling all that back, layer by layer, is painful. So, I had to start small and find just one person in the recovery realm that I trusted. Then I added another. Then another.

I know this to be true: You cannot get sober on your own. Sobriety screams “connection”. 

I have now found my connections—my lifelines, the ones I depend on day in and day out to live free from the bondage of addiction.

Close-up of psychiatrist hands together holding palm of her patient

Lesson three: Using willpower alone to stay sober never works.

If willpower worked with addicts, we wouldn’t have an influx of addiction. Willpower doesn’t work. Willpower has nothing to do with staying sober.

I always believed I drank because I had no willpower. I had willpower in other areas of my life, so why couldn’t I apply this to alcohol?

No amount of willpower or white-knuckling to stay sober will ever lead to long-term recovery.

We fight addiction by giving up the fight.

This sounds counterintuitive, but it’s true. I had to surrender that I was powerless over alcohol. I had to surrender to a higher power to help me. I had to let other people in recovery help me. I had to do some deep digging and unlearn and relearn everything I thought I knew about… well, everything.

Lesson four: Perfection is unattainable.

There are good reasons why we throw around the saying “progress not perfection”. In fact, this phrase is a shortened version of the original quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles [of Alcoholics Anonymous]… We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.”

There’s no perfection anywhere in life, especially not in recovery. Recovery is messy, and mine is no exception. Letting go of the “perfection ideal” is incredibly freeing and allows for true progress. When I don’t have to worry about doing this recovery thing perfectly, I can focus on living authentically.

I like what American author John Steinbeck writes in his 1952 novel East of Eden: 

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Lesson four(ish): Helping others helps me.

If it weren’t for the people in recovery who helped me get and stay sober, I wouldn’t be sober. I could never have done it on my own.

Here’s another point, and I mean no disrespect by this: I had many well-meaning people who were not in recovery themselves who tried to help me: doctors, therapists, pastors, family members, the list goes on. However, because they could not relate, they could not help me the way I needed to be helped. I could not make them understand my addiction because the bottom line is that they couldn’t. 

I needed those who had lived through addiction to help me. Connecting with others in recovery was a game changer. So now, in order to keep this precious gift, I help others in any way I can.

recovery and speaking in groups

Helping others in recovery continues to help me stay sober, and here’s how:

  • Helping others takes the focus off myself.
  • Helping others eases my own anxiety.
  • Helping others keeps me accountable.
  • Helping others gives me reminders of how far I’ve come.

In AA we say, “You have to give it away to keep it.” This saying, based on the 12th Step, means that in order to keep our recovery, we must help others in their recovery.

The bottom line

I am grateful to be celebrating four years of continuous sobriety this month. As I said at the beginning, four years is the longest stretch of sobriety I have ever seen.

I get a lot of “good jobs!” and “you’re so strong!” and while well-meaning, those comments make me a touch uncomfortable, and here’s why:

Getting and staying sober has more to do with the connection with God and others than it has to do with any strength I have on my own.

Question anyone in addiction recovery, and I doubt you’ll ever hear: “I am sober because I am strong, and I did this all on my own.”

That’s not how it works. Not ever.

Yes, sobriety is a ton of work. But like you learned in school, it’s a group project. You were never meant to do this alone. The good news is you don’t have to.

I go back to the “notes to self” app on my phone:

Get Up and Show Up. That’s all you have to do.

How can Camino Recovery help?

At Camino Recovery, we firmly believe that healing is a collaborative process. Our team of experienced clinicians work together to provide comprehensive care that addresses the root causes of your addiction.

We foster a warm and non-judgmental atmosphere where you can openly share your struggles, find support from others, and discover new coping mechanisms and life skills.

If you or a loved one are struggling with addiction, call us today for a free consultation and to find out more about our treatment programs.

David Scourfield

David Scourfield is a Camino Recovery team member since 2017, focused on facilitating communication with Clinical and other professionals to ensure a comprehensive understanding of Camino's program.

Combining his marketing skills and lived experiences, he joined Camino in 2017, contributing to external publications and the Camino website. With a strong belief in solidarity during the recovery process, David helps clients build support networks by connecting them with others in recovery.

More from David Scourfield

Get in Touch

We treat all of our clients with the utmost care, dignity and respect. Call now for a totally confidential, no obligation conversation with one of our professionals.

Whether you’re calling for yourself or someone you know, you needn’t suffer alone.

If you or someone you know could benefit from our services please do not hesitate to contact us.