5 Ways Sobriety Changes Over Time

Life to be continued

By Beth Leipholtz
Originally published on The Fix

I want to be able to use my story to let people know that getting and staying sober at a young age is possible and even enjoyable.

Today I get to be comfortable in who I am and how I choose to lead my life.

When I first got sober a little over five years ago, I couldn’t imagine a time when sobriety wouldn’t be front and center in my life. The beginning of sobriety felt so all-consuming. It came into play in every aspect of my life and dictated what I chose to do and who I chose to do it with. It was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought about before going to bed. I thought it would always be that way.

But now, five years later, sobriety is just a part of who I am. The role it plays in my life, as well as its prominence, has changed. I no longer think about it every single day. I no longer wonder how I will manage at a social gathering. I no longer worry about what people will think.

People so often talk about how sobriety has changed their life, but they rarely talk about how their sobriety itself has changed. As with most things in life, it doesn’t stay the same forever. Here are just a few ways I’ve noticed my recovery change as time has passed.

  1. It becomes freeing rather than limiting. Five years ago, I viewed sobriety as something restrictive, something that was going to make my life smaller. I thought it would keep me from doing things like going out with friends, traveling, celebrating special occasions. I had no idea that over time, it would actually prove to be the opposite. Over the years, my sobriety has morphed into something that makes my life bigger. It allows me to take chances with confidence I’ve built, not confidence that comes from alcohol. It gives me the opportunity be fully present for every single moment, which is especially rewarding when it comes to traveling.

  2. It fades from the foreground of your life. Maybe this isn’t the case for everyone, but for me it has been. Early on in sobriety, I thought about it all the time. I planned my days around treatment and 12-step meetings. I talked about recovery often, and about the milestones along the way. Now this isn’t really the case. It isn’t that these things aren’t still important to me, because they are. It’s just that they have become normal parts of life to an extent. Sometimes days can pass and I realize I haven’t even thought about the fact that I am sober. Today it’s just part of who I am at the core and that is something I have become comfortable with.

  3. The motivating factors change and evolve. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still glad I’m sober for many of the same reasons I had when I initially stopped drinking. I’m glad I don’t wake up having to apologize. I’m glad I know what I did the night before. I’m glad I get to skip over the whole hangover thing. But it’s more than all that now. Now, my motivation has deeper roots. Much of the time I’ve been sober, I’ve spent sharing my story and hoping to help others. Over the past few years, that has become my biggest motivator to stay sober. I want to be able to use my story to let people know that getting and staying sober at a young age is possible and even enjoyable. In early sobriety, that was far from a motivation for me because I didn’t think anyone would care what I had to say. Today, I know they do.

  4. It becomes less taboo of a topic. Early on in sobriety, I often felt like people were tiptoeing around the topic of my sobriety. I’m not sure whether they didn’t know what to say or were just scared to bring it up. Either way, it felt like it was off limits for some people. As time passed, friends and acquaintances seemed to become more comfortable asking me questions, like if I minded if they drank around me, or how sobriety as a whole was going. I know my own comfort level played a role in other’s feeling comfortable speaking about it, but I think some of it was just a natural progression as well. When you stick with something for a long time, it becomes part of who you are and people seem to be more open to discussing it, which I’ve found to be beneficial for both myself and them.

  5. It becomes a source of pride rather than insecurity. It took me awhile, but today I can say I do not have a single ounce of insecurity about my sobriety. I no longer wonder what people will think or whether I should even tell them I am sober. I no longer worry that their opinion of me will change drastically. I’ve realized that it’s on them and not me if they have an issue with the way I choose to live. Today I get to be comfortable in who I am and how I choose to lead my life. Today my sobriety is something I am beyond proud of. I am 26 years old and I have been sober for more than five years. That’s pretty damn neat if you ask me, and I’ve learned that anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t someone I need in my life.

In writing this, I fully realize these are my own experiences. No one person’s sobriety and recovery is the same as another person’s. As such, the way sobriety grows and evolves will vary. But no matter what, I think it’s important to stop every so often and evaluate how your sobriety is different now compared to early on, and whether those changes are positive ones. It’s so vital to stay in touch with yourself and know what is going on inside, and that is often tied into recovery.


Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. She enjoys writing about recovery at Life To Be Continued, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs.

13 Responses

  1. Mick S. says:

    Beth, this is brilliant. I am 71 with 20 years sobriety and every word you’ve written resonates with me.

  2. Curt E says:

    Beth, we’ve been sober the same amount of time. I started at 54.

    I’m glad you wrote this piece. So much of what you wrote rings true to my experience.

  3. Beth Leipholtz says:

    Thank you all for the kind words! I appreciate it!

  4. David C says:

    Thank you Beth for sharing your story. I can identify well with what you wrote. I didn’t get into the fellowship till I was 59, in 2012. Apart from that I can relate well to the changes in sobriety you relate. David

  5. John L. says:

    Good points. Regarding Beth’s statement, “It [sobriety] fades from the foreground of your life” – it does. But in the background, at the core of my life, is Staying Away From The First Drink. Without sobriety – total abstinence – I would have no life – indeed, I would be dead.

  6. life-j says:

    Thank you Roger, you have found so many good articles from the Fix for us over the years. And it is nice to hear something so well thought out from a young person. I had to do what I had to do, but it sure would have been nice if I hadn’t had to, and could have been well on my way to an emotionally mature life at 26 instead of waiting until 40.

    And thanks to Beth for writing it.

    (And I’m noticing things about your new web design that I’m appreciating, such as the ability to better zoom in to an enormous font that my cataract plagued eyes can read.)

  7. bob k says:

    I can relate to the changes at 5 years vs. early on. The next 5 years can take people in a variety of directions including right out the door. In the 1990s, members seemed to talk about how much AA they “needed,” and sort of calculated out the minimum. They came less and less frequently. That proved costly to some folks.

    Early on, I recognized that I was something of a “halfway measures” artist as far as the full “by-the-book” program is concerned, so I’ve always maintained an above average fellowship involvement. I’m no longer operating on a basis of need, but I do WAY more AA than I need to. I see that as better than doing WAY less.

  8. Dale K. says:

    The profoundness of change in early sobriety elicits such beautiful stories such as this. Thank you, Beth, for reminding me of this and inspiring me to rummage through my memories of the first five years of my sobriety. And, if you liked the first five years, you will love the next five years!

  9. Chris G. says:

    Very good observations, thank you.

    Interesting that you choose the 5-year point. I also found a big inflection point in my sober life at about 5 years – everything you describe pretty well applies to me as well. I know several others who have also commented on this about-5-years maturation of sobriety.

    I was at a lunch yesterday, meeting a new person to join us for the first time. We got to talking about how we are all dealing with ageing (I’m three times your age, Beth!), and I found myself saying something like “being an active alcoholic for 50 years didn’t help any”. Just a matter-of-fact comment, no emotion attached. Before that 5-year change, I would never, ever, have made that comment to a stranger. Now it’s perfectly natural, just part of my life, no big deal.

    Unfortunately, I know many more who don’t experience this. After 10, 15, 20 years they are still pounding the meetings, saying the same things, experiencing the same angst, as they apparently did at year 1 or 2 or 3. What’s the difference? Probably some basic mental states deeper than just alcoholism. We are complex beasties, us humans.

    • life-j says:

      Chris, looking back I would say that my recovery was way too slow. Part of that is that this program was made for the ego-driven folks, rather than the emotionally beaten down people like me. I never liked “the program”, and still don’t, in fact I like it less and less. but I am very grateful that we have this fellowship of people who are so dedicated to helping each other.

      It took 6 or 7 years for me to even begin changing, and only by 15-20 years sober did I become, more or less, what one might call a normal person, someone with reasonable self esteem and reasonable responses to whatever the world around me served up.

      It’s no wonder that so many people come a few meetings and then leave, and for that matter, that so relatively many people go back out after 10 or 20 years. Many things this program simply cannot do anything about. I still, after more than 30 years, have unresolved issues, really bothersome ones that I know will never really get resolved, well, short of a 7th step by the book. Pray, and *everything* will magically get resolved. No, doesn’t work that way, and I hope the day comes when we can replace the wholesale 12 step nonsense with a program that really works, and, even more hopefully, not have our beautiful fellowship fall apart over it.

      • Christopher S says:

        Thank you. Your expression of this being for the ego driven is so rarely expressed. For me, it was ego driven, but I have noticed many people at my meetings squirm at this approach.

        Even on this forum, for those less/not conforming to a [religous or G/god] belief system, this is good to keep in mind.

  10. Thomas B. says:

    Thanks Beth for sharing your story and Roger for reprinting it from The Fix. I identify with much of your story, since I got sober at age 29, comparatively a very young age to get sober, in 1972 in New York City after I attended my first meeting. Like you, the meaning of sobriety has changed immensely for me over the years from something I desperately needed to do for survival to something I have become increasingly grateful for with each passing day.

  11. Micaela S. says:

    Beautifully written essay. I related well to all of it. Thank you for helping start my morning out on a peaceful note knowing that I am not alone. I am not alone in sobriety and I am not alone in how sobriety changes as the years go by.