Sober a Long Time – Now What?
By Jeanine Bassett
A few years ago, I perused the literature table at a local AA conference (HOWL in Hood River, Oregon). Noting the daily meditation books, many of which I’d been reading for years, and other titles geared mainly to those in early recovery, I said to my friend, “I’ve been sober a long time – where’s my literature?“ We chuckled, and moved on, but later at dinner with my spouse, I said it again – “Where are the books for those of us in long-term recovery?” followed by, “Maybe I should write something!” And like anything that is true and right for me, the thought kept coming up. Maybe I should write something for those of us who’ve been sober a long time.
The idea of a workbook for long term sobriety didn’t fade, and I started paying closer attention to what my peer-group talked about when we got together in confidential spaces, spaces where it didn’t feel like we had to merely give our spiel when asked to share in a meeting. In my monthly step group, and especially with a group of women we dubbed, “Too Old to Give a ****”, I heard my thoughts echoed in the voices of others. What do we do when going to meetings isn’t the desperate need that it was when we first got sober? It sometimes feels like I’m not hearing what I need to hear in meetings. And what about getting old sober – who are my teachers?
In May, 2016, I started a weekly blog in order to formulate my thoughts and feelings around what it means to live life on life’s terms while often being the person in the room with the most recovery.
As I got feedback from readers, sometimes on the page, but usually via email or in person, I started a mental “Table of Contents.” What matters to those of us who’ve often been sober longer than we drank? Meetings, sponsorship, medication and illness, other addictions, grief & loss, aging, and what about those who got sober young and now have decades clean? Relationships & intimacy, our work life, and the principles of the steps came up time and again in conversations and as I listened to others share, both in and out of the rooms.
The result is a workbook, I’ve Been Sober a Long Time – Now What? – 78 pages of topics each including a “member’s view,” processing questions and then space for the reader to write their answers in an 8 ½ x 11 spiral bound format. All of this is intended to be used for solo reflection, or perhaps in a small group or with a sponsor.
Following is an excerpt from the first chapter, as an introduction:
Chapter 1 – Taking Stock
When we first enter sobriety, most of us aren’t thinking of the long term. We come in to get the heat off, to save a marriage, a job, or both, to repair relationships with our children, or simply because we can’t go on living chained to the bottle or the bag or what the doctor ordered. Some of us may have wondered if we’d be taught to drink responsibly, without consequences, and were upset when we learned that total abstinence is the best prescription for alcoholism and addiction. But we listened and learned from the examples of those around us, from our sponsors, and from our new friends in the rooms of recovery. We began to grow up.
And then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, we wake up and find ourselves with long-term recovery. Ten years, twenty, thirty, go by in a flash of life-on-life’s terms. We look around the rooms of recovery and see people who were there when we came in, if we’re fortunate, and many who came after. By now we’ve likely developed long term relationships, sometimes with people whose last names we don’t know, and we are likely to have history with various groups, some of which we may have helped to start.
Long term recovery comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Being an elder doesn’t mean that we won’t have troubles, but it does mean that we are role models for walking the walk rather than simply talking the talk. How does one practice being an elder without veering into Know-it-All land? Someone who recently celebrated forty years sober described a stepping back, a turning over of the reins to the younger generation. Maybe being an elder means sometimes keeping our mouth shut and seeing where the enthusiasm of those newer to the path takes the group.
“How do I stay engaged in the recovery process, in my recovery process?” is a question to be asked as time moves forward. One of the biggest challenges of long term recovery is to keep it fresh, to keep growing spiritually and emotionally. That takes effort, effort of a different nature than that required of early sobriety, effort that may ebb and flow, but effort nonetheless. Literature, trying a new meeting, taking on a new sponsee, or a new sponsor, hitting a meeting out of town – it is an individual journey, but one we don’t need to take alone.
A long timer’s view:
Catherine N. ~
Long term recovery comes to me one day at a time. Once, my counselor asked me if there was a recovery 2.0! Like do we ever graduate from AA? The answer is no, keeping my AA program simple like when I came in still helps me to stay sober today. I still have a home group, work the steps, have a sponsor and I sponsor.
Although it was all I used when I was young, AA is not the only way that I get what I need for my recovery or self-care anymore. I go to meetings now once or twice a week (as opposed to seven days a week for years!). Now I try and go to yoga three times a week, therapy once a month, pray & meditate, soak and get massage, make art and practice writing, travel, walk and spend time outside in the natural world. All things I would NEVER have done as a newcomer, or before I got sober. Spending time in gratitude on the days that I do it, keeps me young.
1. How is my life different today than when I first entered recovery?
2. What goals have I achieved along the way, and what dreams have I let go of?
3. List intentions or goals as related to recovery, relationships, health, work/retirement.
4. What are my strengths, my positive qualities?
5. What are areas that need my attention?
6. How would I describe the state of my recovery?
I got sober in January, 1986 on the 30 day plan to save a relationship with someone who’d already left the country and married someone else. I had absolutely no idea that, 34 years later, I’d be living life in recovery, nearing the end of a good career, happily married, with good friends, a little garden – all those things that were just out of reach when I was drinking and using.
What helps me today is what has worked all along – I go to meetings of like-minded others, I continue the self-reflection called for in Step 10, and do my best to practice “one day at a time” which includes staying teachable. And I wrote a workbook! Thank you all for your attention.
If you are interested in Jeanine’s workbook, or checking out her blog, you can click here: Sober Long Time.
Jeanine Bassett began writing a weekly blog in 2016 on the joys and challenges of long term recovery. Readers are invited to participate in the conversation by posting comments and their views of the various topics raised by Jeanine, each and every week.
Jeanine has worked in the addiction field for over thirty years, with teens, adults, in medication-supported recovery, and, currently, as Program Manager for a prison-based residential program. Helping to facilitate change and watching people re-gain their lives and repair relationships, continues to be her passion.