If you are thinking about addressing your relationship to alcohol or substances, you may ask yourself if being sober is worth it. Sobriety may look boring, difficult, and unappealing, but the drinking or substance use might be starting to impact the rest of your life, making things even more challenging to manage.
It may feel like you have to choose between chaos and boredom. Right now, these may seem like the only options. Fortunately, there is another way forward.
In this article, I share the experience of Stephanie, a fellow recovery advocate. Four years ago, Stephanie could not imagine living in a state of sobriety. Now, she is pursuing her dream of helping others in recovery. Here are her reasons why it’s worth being sober:
Being sober is worth it because you can live a life of meaning and purpose, you feel healthier and more vital, you’re thriving rather than just coping with life, and you’re no longer living in a constant state of guilt and shame.
The decision to stop drinking or using substances can often feel like an internal debate, so let’s consider the arguments for and against each of these reasons.
You can live a life of meaning and purpose
People may turn to substances due to boredom or the lack of meaning and purpose in life. Using a substance to cope with daily life may take the edge off temporarily, but it further entrenches a person into patterns of behavior that make it more difficult to escape.
You get to build the life that you want.
Your mind may argue, “I don’t know what kind of life I want to build anyway…”
“You can build any life you want. Sobriety is a rebirth into clear-headedness. You can pick what you want to do and build your goals from that.”
A helpful technique from Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) requires gaining clarity regarding your values. One way to do this is to think of a particular role model in your life. What characteristics do they have? What do you value about them? How might you live by some of these values in your own life?
Your life is worth living every day.
Your mind may argue, “But my life is not worth living. I’m hopeless, and I’m a burden on others. They would be better off without me.”
“Every life is worth something. Addiction makes us think that we are nothing. We feel we have nothing left to offer, and all we have done is hurt our families and friends. When we are not using, we can build more meaningful relationships and build a life we feel is worth living.”
A helpful ACT technique consists of taking a step back from thoughts like “I’m worthless.” Rather than thinking, “I’m worthless,” consider rephrasing it as “I’m having the thought that I’m worthless.” This small change of wording in your self-talk makes a significant difference, allowing you to take a step back and regain focus on what matters.
You get to see your kids grow up
If you have kids, your mind may tell you they don’t notice, it makes you more fun around them, or it’s not that bad.
“Addiction tells us we can use so that it can work it’s way in and set roots. Are you sure you are more fun around your children? They may have a very different perspective. We think we can hide our use, but it is not always hidden as well as we think. Think about when a person is drunk and trying to be quiet.”
If you have any variation of these thoughts, it may be useful to take a step back and reconsider what others might be seeing. In ACT, this consists of perspective-taking. Imagine looking into your child’s eyes, and you see them looking back into yours. Put yourself behind their eyes, looking back at you. What qualities do you want them to see in you? What qualities would you want to see in yourself?
You can help the community in a way others can’t.
Your mind may tell you, “what did the community ever do for me?”
“Not all of the community is against you, and you have allies. You will not be alone. But no one can help you unless you help yourself first. Although the work is going to be within you, you will need outside support, and with time, you can find that.”
One of the key lessons in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is the healing power of connecting with something beyond yourself. For some, this may be connecting with their understanding of a higher power. For others, this can mean connecting with a community.
You’re thriving, rather than just coping
When using substances to cope with underlying pain or boredom, this short-term solution prevents one from achieving a state of thriving. Instead of just getting by, sobriety allows you to strive toward your full potential.
You never worry if your utilities will be shut off.
Your mind may tell you that you don’t have financial problems, so this is not a concern.
“…addiction makes millionaires into homeless people. I’ve seen it a lot.”
Even if drinking or substance use does not lead to financial issues in the present, it could result in increasingly putting off financial responsibilities and disorganization in many areas of your life.
You learn to deal with life in a way that isn’t going to kill you.
Your mind may tell you, “It’s only a few beers or a bottle of wine in the evening.”
“It starts as a couple on the weekend and then turns into a few a night. Eventually, the party always ends, and the nightmare begins. It always ends the same way, and it’s not pretty. It will kill you; it’s only a matter of when.”
When drinking or substance use gets out of one’s control, it can spiral downward at a rapid pace. The difference between casual drinking and drinking to cope with underlying issues is that the latter eventually gets out of one’s control, causing increasing harms as use escalates.
You’re not living in a constant state of withdrawal.
If you experience physical pain when stopping opioids or constant shakes when stopping alcohol, your life may start to revolve around obtaining the substance to feel normal.
“…no withdrawals is freedom for me. That was what held me prisoner. I couldn’t be sick like that.”
Freedom from continually impending withdrawal means having a significantly greater amount of choice in one’s life.
You’re not living in content guilt and shame
Guilt is a sense of doing something wrong, whereas shame is the sense of being a bad person. Both often show up when struggling with substances.
You earn back respect and trust.
Your mind may tell you it’s hopeless and that no one will ever trust you again. It may feel hopeless right now, but trust can be rebuilt over time.
“Trust can be built. While it’s harder to build with some and some relationships will never be repaired, we can build new relationships and repair the ones that are fixable.”
When trust is lost, words alone are no longer enough. Trust is built through repeated patterns of committed action over time.
You don’t feel worthless anymore.
Your mind may tell you’re worthless and that you don’t deserve a better life.
“We can’t change what others think, but we can change what we think. When we look into the mirror, the person we see in addiction is very different than the person we see in recovery. I am happier with who I see, and I see the people around me change how they deal with me and treat me.”
Changing what we think requires recognizing these patterns of unhelpful thoughts and changing the way we respond to them. Greet the thought like an old friend, telling it that it’s not helpful right now. Then, letting it be, ask yourself what matters right now. Then, move forward, committing to actions that are most relevant to the things that matter.
You feel healthier and more vital
There are many health benefits to sobriety. Although we may often hear this from medical doctors, it is hard to internalize unless we experience it first-hand.
There are no hangovers.
This is the most obvious and immediate benefit of being sober. Hangovers can derail our entire day, taking us further away from moving toward a valued direction in life.
With the increased energy and improved mood, you can focus on more meaningful areas of life rather than merely coping with a state of impaired health and well-being.
You’re more present, focused, and sharper.
Chronic substance use can impair your ability to think quickly, clearly, and retain information. Depending on the substance, the effect can vary, but I’ve personally talked to many people who noticed a significant negative impact on their brain function.
“You can see life clearly and find solutions to the issues we would have normally not been able to because drugs would be clouding our perceptions.”
This clarity allows for increased progress in all areas of life. Being sober can lead to improved memory, cognitive function, in addition to an enhanced ability to cope with stress.
You have a better schedule.
When frequently using alcohol or other substances, life can become chaotic, making it challenging to stick to a schedule.
“You are not up all night using and sleeping all day. Having irregular sleep patterns leads to us generally feeling yucky and doesn’t help in maintaining a life we can be proud of.”
When regaining a sense of order and healthy habits, motivational momentum snowballs into building a life you can be proud of.
When contemplating sobriety, the voices in your head may be engaged in an endless debate. As described in my article on the Types of Denial in Addiction, our minds can make up many reasons why we don’t have a problem.
If you are thinking about getting sober and are wondering if it’s worth it, hopefully the reasons presented here can help you in your journey. If you would like to reach out to Stephanie, you can find her on Facebook here. You can also check out her powerful story of addiction and recovery here.
Although being sober has been worth it for Stephanie, along with many other individuals I’ve spoken to, there are still some people who may disagree. If being sober is just as difficult as using substances, or worse, this may be a sign that some underlying issues are needing to be addressed.
If this is you, counseling may be a helpful way to work through difficult thoughts and painful emotions driving the urge to use substances. For more information, see my article on The Benefits of Counseling.
As an addiction counselor, I offer online counseling to persons struggling with alcohol, substances, gambling, and gaming. If you would like to discuss whether counseling is right for you, contact me here.