Recognizing 15 Years of Sobriety

By David Bohl
Originally Posted on the author’s website on August 22, 2020

Today I celebrate an anniversary of 15 years of sobriety from alcohol. I cannot state any revelations at this milestone, except to say that I’ve diligently worked over the 15 years to increase the protective factors in my life that combat a chronic brain disease. I’ve never ceased to see what I have as something that I will be cured from because I know it’s a progressive and fatal disease – as an addiction specialist I’ve seen first-hand that addiction kills and not just its victims. It kills families, it robs children of parents and parents of children. It’s as deadly as any virus – if not more deadly.

Over all these years in recovery, I’ve seen attitudes about addiction change very little and that perhaps pains me the most as I celebrate sober years. There’s still so much shame surrounding addiction and there’s even shame surrounding recovery. It’s interesting because as much as I want to celebrate it, I want to also rebel against having to consider myself “recovered” from something that the society tells me was somehow my fault. Because that’s how we still think of addiction – at least majority of us. As something that you bring on to yourself because of a flaw in your character or lack of solid moral values.

To me that kind of thinking is nonsense, but I can’t get angry about it any more because that’s not productive. I can only work towards society changing those attitudes by sharing my story and showing you that, yes, you too can recover and lead a successful, happy life.

My story isn’t that shocking for those of us who struggled with addiction. I got sober in my 40s, after a medical incident, started with acute detoxification, residential treatment to stabilize, IOP for 24 sessions, then continued through connecting and staying connected with like-minded individuals who I trusted shared my wellness goals and helped to hold me accountable – all the while investigating causes and conditions, most notably environmental/ cognitive ones (including stopping smoking tobacco 11 years ago) of addiction.

I didn’t find god or that spiritual Higher Power as I was instructed to do in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous, and that searching was one of the darker sides of my recovery. Feeling less-than, and even ashamed of my lack of spiritual connection made me doubt my recovery more times that I care to count, until I finally realized that I did have a Higher Power all along and it was not the one suggested by Big Book advocates or old-timers in meetings.

My Higher Power is simply Reality.

For me, Reality meant that I was honest about my diseases and that I understood that it would kill me if I didn’t take it seriously and diligently pursued recovery. I like to say that I pursue Reality relentlessly – with more fervour and energy that I’ve ever given my addiction. This is the only way to do it – my obsession with recovery has to always be stronger than my obsession to numb Reality used to be.

Is Reality always pleasant? Of course not. Of course there are times when I’m exhausted and feeling like I just need a break – but a break from what? I used to take breaks all the time and then it got so confusing that I could no longer function. I couldn’t live a day without taking a drink, couldn’t be social without it, couldn’t relax without it, couldn’t think about it not being in my life. It was everything to me and it was destroying me.

Fifteen years later, I know that I was just running away from what was in front of me all along, which is my own life and my own Reality. I will not stop chasing it, believing in it. And I think I can do all that for the duration of my chronic brain disease – for the rest of my life that is.

David B. Bohl, author of the memoir Parallel Universes: The Story of Rebirth, is an independent addiction consultant who fully understands the challenges faced by so many who seek to escape from, or drown their pain through, external means. His story offers hope to those struggling with the reality of everyday life in today’s increasingly stressful world.

Through his private practice substance use disorder consulting business, Beacon Confidential LLC, David provides independent professional consultation, strategic planning, motivation and engagement, care coordination, recovery management and monitoring, and advocacy services to individuals, families, and organizations struggling with substance use issues and disorders.

20 Responses

  1. Witek says:

    It irritates me this keeping pretending that A.A. is not religious. The Big Book, in which the word God appears 281 times and in Steps 6 and 7, has nothing else to offer the alcoholic other than a prayer for the elimination of character defects, are just a few examples. It is not an honest or consistent attitude. If we say to agnostics: yes you come to us, but you are not allowed to change a word in the content of the 12 Steps, because it is an inviolable dogma (although Bill W. did not think so!), we do not allow them actually to work on the program.

    Thanks David, we need such hopeful articles.

  2. Stuart T says:

    Brilliant article David, congratulations on your 15 years. I celebrated my 31st year sober yesterday by doing my weekly 5 hour phone responding shift, my higher power is “the power of example” so your idea of “reality” is, again, an example for me. Very little secular AA here in UK for an atheist like me, but that’s ok. Some members helped me get sober, service has and does keep me sober, one day at a time. As someone once said to me, “We are not the chosen few, we are the few that chose”. Thanks again.

  3. Brien O. says:

    Congratulations on 15 years David that is great. I also like your HP is reality.

    I do know addiction is progressive but I do not believe my addiction was in the parking lot doing push ups like so many say in AA. I get the fear factor but never bought into it. So at 23 years and 5 months I drank again and for 1 year and 7 months I drank periodically then stopped for 200 days then drank another 8 months. Only the last 4 months did I drink every day. I could not go 1 day without it so I quit again. I have 3 years sober again and I know this is serious business and maybe if there is a next time I will not make it back.

    No more full flight from reality. I will one day at a time accept my reality the good and the bad. Damn this Covid 19. I need a meeting that is my power greater than myself. Thank you David. I needed that.

    • Brien, thank you for your thoughts, and for sharing your experiences and wisdom. You’re right on when you say: “ No more full flight from reality. I will one day at a time accept my reality the good and the bad.” Kudos!

  4. Charlie H. says:

    David, “My higher power is simply Reality”. This helped me put some things into place!

    Thank you!!


  5. Thomas B. says:

    Congrats, David, for your 15 years of non-god recovery. I dig your concept of “reality” as your higher power — works for me as well…

  6. Megan W Moyer says:

    Congratulations and thank you for your post!

  7. “My Higher Power is simply Reality” – there’s something that will always be there.

    15-years? You wear it well and where does the time go. Some days drag but these years fly by; don’t they? I’m better for knowing you David.

    • Joe, Thank you for your kind thoughts. I feel likewise – your influence on my reality and life have been profound. Acknowledging Reality allows for a philosophy where I’m no longer fighting and instead working toward something positive.

  8. Jonathan M. says:

    I’m a 50 year chronic alcoholic and drug addict with 9 years of sobriety. In AA the concept of a higher power is very intriguing but it just doesn’t make sense. I consider myself anti-theistic. The concept of reality being my higher power makes sense. Great article.

  9. Doc says:

    I’ve now been sober for 51 years and haven’t found it necessary to use a god or higher power to stay sober. Focusing on reality has been, for me, one of the keys for growth in sobriety.

  10. Karl H says:

    Congratulations on your fifteenth sobriety anniversary! Just hit my third in the program (not counting the 30-year period I white-knuckled it… an “ABA” (all-but-alcohol) alcoholic.)

    I like your message a lot; I’m just not wired to believe in something that has no objective proof, such as an omnipotent being, so I can’t rely on that for ‘recovery.’ I agree with the disease viewpoint: we’re born alcoholics, but alcoholism is like a binary poison: the genetic differences that make us alcoholic, alone, are no guarantee that we will act alcoholically. It takes both nature AND nurture to create a full-blown alcoholic.

    I’ve never met anyone who was happy and well-adjusted and solidly established who subsequently became an alcoholic from out of nowhere. Most if not all of us had ‘precipitating events’ or circumstances that led us to use alcohol or dry goods to escape from a painful reality, and it’s there that the genetics of alcoholism/addiction finally get traction and start calling the shots.

    I’d say “bless you” for bringing us a non-God alternative to beating addiction, but well, you know… that’d be kinda religious, wouldn’t it? I personally find no shame in being an alcoholic/addict; for me, it’s simply an additional obstacle that is built into my life, like being diabetic or crippled or deaf. It’s just an additional obstacle/challenge in my life that most other people don’t have to deal with. I take pride in the fact that I’ve managed to overcome something that was so debilitating (with help, granted… can’t take all the credit). At least I’m aware that I have problems in dealing with life, and I’m actively working to address them… which is more than most other people can say.

    Thanks for your message, and this post, and again: congratulations!

    • Karl, Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. You said it as clearly as anyone could when you wrote: “At least I’m aware that I have problems in dealing with life, and I’m actively working to address them…” Kudos to you! You’re well ahead by doing so.

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