How to Begin, Navigate, & Sustain Sobriety
There is a moment in time, an experience shared by millions, that I’ve always been incredibly curious about. The moment when someone decides to be sober or healthy or healed. I’ve asked this question to hundreds of people and some have very clear answers while, for others, it was a gradual decision or not even a decision at all but a result of a behavioral and thought changes over an extended period of time.
This moment is unique to everyone and although every story is very different from the next in circumstance, I find a common thread that joins all of them. This common thread is Vision. The person seeking sobriety could finally “see” themselves as living a sober life. When I say “see”, I mean that they saw in their minds eye, felt with their heart, and/or connected tangibly in some way through their body with their future Self and the possibility of sobriety.
One client I worked with, told me his story. He was in a particularly fowl mood in an AA meeting and about to leave when suddenly the speaker said something that grabbed him. As the speaker told their story, my client suddenly put himself into the story. He saw himself living in a sober and happy state like the speaker, doing what he loved, surrounded by people who loved him, achieving a particular goal. He saw himself in an entirely new life for the first time. The story became three dimensional for him and he jumped into it feeling the warmth of a peaceful life, the calm of an open heart, and the comfort of an authentic and honest connection with those he loved. He was transported to a world of Technicolor and life strangely looked and felt different for him. From that day onward, his sobriety was never questionable. It became something already done in a strange way. For the first time, he knew his sobriety in an intimate and very personal way. It became clear to him that what he needed now was just time, in a full and vivid way, he already knew the experience of sobriety in his head and heart and all that was left to do was to bring this “known” experience into his physical world.
Another client told me their story of how they finally confronted their abuser and, to their shock, they unexpectedly forgave them! A feeling of being Free from the abuse rushed over them and this feeling, another knowing experience paved the way for their sobriety. The forgiveness was tangible and repeatable. The more they forgave, the freer they felt. Forgiveness became something that can be remembered and duplicated. Practicing forgiveness and stepping into freedom became their new normal.
Still another client shared with me their story of how they watched someone they admired very much struggle with sobriety, just like them. They decided to do the opposite of what this person did. Instead of mimicking their behaviors, like they had in the past. As they observed this person make a mistake, my client would review what they saw playing out in their friend’s life and make a contrary or even opposite choice. Eventually these contrary choices worked out and their sobriety stuck.
I sat down with each of these people to learn more about what this experience was actually like for them. What as revealed was that sobriety became something they “knew”. They could see it, feel it, smell it, taste it. They knew the color of it and the experience of it in their mind AND body. It wasn’t abstract anymore. It was something they understood with all of their senses.
Now, the experience of sobriety is something they know. Although the actual experience may be the size of a deer trail in their brain’s knowingness, it’s a start. With continued reinforcement and their expanding on the understanding of their sobriety with greater and greater detail, it has no option to become a physical experience in their world.
As a therapist, these moments are golden. We work on strengthening these experiences in their thoughts and finding ways to anchor them to a sensation of some sort, sound, color, texture. Further expanding and understanding the experience of sobriety. The more they connect with this understanding of sobriety, the more their brain understands it, the more they feel confident in the experience of it.
If they understand sobriety as the feeling of peace, then we work in session together to figure out all the many ways that peace can be understood as a color, texture, sound, smell, taste, feeling. If they had to paint their walls the color that best represented peace, what color would that be? Once the color of peace is understood, then it can be used to anchor them in that feeling. If the color is blue like the sky on a warm Spring Day, then maybe we can find a stone or crystal that’s this same blue color and they can keep it in their pocket. Every time they feel that stone or pull it out of their pocket, they are reinforcing and anchoring to their experience of sobriety.
Muhammad Ali, the famous world champion boxer said, “If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it, then I can achieve it!”
By asking ourselves questions like, “What is the color (texture, temperature, sound, smell, taste, feeling) of my sobriety?” and interacting with that sensory information along with practicing seeing/knowing ourselves, in our minds eye, as already being sober, then experiencing the world as a sober person in the moment, right now, we begin to teach our brains and ourselves how to navigate and sustain sobriety.