Tuesday, October 2, 2007

How long have you been sober?

As a person with a history of intermittent relapse, I of course hate this question. I was at an AA gathering recently and a woman was asking everyone as they walked out the door how long they'd been sober. I guess I was doing something close to praying as I kept up the mantra, "Don't ask me, don't ask me." She didn't. And I was glad. And I'll tell you why. I was sober from 1988-1994. I was sober most of 1996. I was sober a majority of 2001 - present. In the past year, I've been sober about 360 out of 365 days. Now, usually when people ask you this question, they're in AA. And they don't care about any of that. They want to know how long it's been since your last drink. I know that so I'm not comfortable answering 13 or so years because I know that's not really what they're asking. Here's the thing, though. I am proud of and thankful for every single one of those days sober. And just because someone else thinks that because I've slipped, it all amounts to a pile of nothing doesn't mean I think it. Based on my history, it's a pretty good bet that I'll slip again; however, it won't keep me from having long-term, stable sobriety as my goal and sincerely trying not to slip. As problem drinkers, we all know that a slip can lead to long-term drinking, as noted by that big gap from 1996-2001 where you won't find many sober days I logged. I'm not stupid. I know this. I do the best I can without giving up my soul to something I don't necessarily believe in.

Another reason I don't like the question is this. It has absolutely nothing to do with the kind of person I am. Telling you that I've been sober 90 continuous days or 13 intermittent years won't get you any closer to knowing me than telling you my hair is brown. You may think you know something about me. For instance, if I said the first, you could think I'm off to a great start (ha! if you only knew). Of if I told you the latter, you could think one of a few things: either I'm really slow (which I'll readily admit to) or I'm one of the most persistent, tenacious people you've ever known (which I'll also readily admit to) or you could think I'm a complete idiot (which thanks anyway but I won't be owning that one). But still, you won't know that I'm honest and compassionate and loving and a great friend and creative and really, really impatient and on occasion, very petty.

Another reason I don't like the question is that I think it's rude which really is another post. But the main reason I don't like it is because it will take an entire year of someone's life - most of it spent sober, productive and active, and focus on the one day you veered off the path. And it will give that day power instead of all those good days.


Kikipotamus said...

Right on.

claud said...

Double right on from here, too, A.

Olivia said...

Make it a Triple Right On.

Anonymous said...

Thankfully, I haven't had this particular struggle, but what you're saying makes a great deal of sense. Inflating this "how many days" issue to a near hysteria can't be positive. Having a few bad days in the midst of many good strikes me as a tremendous success.

Sherri said...

Here, here to all the previous commenters. (CommentOrs?)

If you must count days, I think that you should count all the sober days prior to your first drink, too.

You're awesome, Angela.

Angela said...

Wow, you guys. I had no idea what kind of response I would get to this post, but it felt important to me to put it out there. Thanks for your comments.

Jane said...

When my ex-husband and I separated, I started going to different churches looking for my spirituality. There was one church where I must have been asked by a stranger there each time I went, "So, when were you saved?". I wanted to run out of the room screaming because it felt so intrusive. Why would someone need to be concerned with my progress in that area anyway? Would it make me more worthy to them if I had some great Jesus story to tell?!

Bottom line, is that we all have to take on our personal challenges one day at a time and work it in our own way.

claud said...

You sure have some cool people visiting your blog, Angela!

Diva Carla said...

But the main reason I don't like it is because it will take an entire year of someone's life - most of it spent sober, productive and active, and focus on the one day you veered off the path. And it will give that day power instead of all those good days....

These lines are a true gift. I can use this.

nickycakes said...

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Also I've designed a cool sobriety time counter that you can add to your blog here: http://www.odatonline.com/sobriety-counter.

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Julie said...

This makes perfect sense to me, thanks for sharing it. I am printing your post and handing to to my dad, who struggles with the same things at his meetings. We tell him to just lie but it is against his nature.
Thank you!

Angela said...


Thanks for the invite. I added Eclectic Recovery to the list.

Angela said...


Yeah, it kind of defeats the purpose to go to AA Meetings and hold your tongue. I usually speak up and because there are plenty of tools I gain from AA that I use, I keep it balanced between what I find helpful and what I don't. But it's taken me a loooonng time to be able to do that. They don't mean it to be, but the pressure to conform is pretty intense.

claud said...

STILL thinking about this and how it impacts recovery, Angela. I really think you've touched on something significant here. At least to me you have!

Anonymous said...

You share gifted experience, strength and hope. All of us have today - anyway that is what I count for myself or anyone.
Keep up your wonderful thoughts.
From what I have observed, quality not lots of time signifies spiritual growth. Love, beej

The Dream said...

GREAT post! I don't know about you, but the first 24 hours were the hardest for me - it was about ONE SECOND at a time - no joke. Whenever I hear a newcomer say, "I ONLY have xx days of sobriety/clean time, I am all about sharing that it is a HUGE achievement - because it is!!! Being a re-tread myself, I so get where you are coming from. When I walked into AA (both times), I felt like garbage; I didn't need anyone else to make me feel worse.

Journey Through Life said...

Wow, what a post and what responses, Angela!

It is a topic that touches us all regardless of the type of addiction that we have. I am so hard on myself when I have one bad day, that that one bad day will lead to another and another. To have someone else monitor my progress just adds to the guilt and the pressure of trying to survive each day.

I am so glad you spoke out here. Such wonderfully inspiring words.


Stan R said...

On the other hand (and you just knew there had to be at least one dissenter out there, right?)...

When asked, I've always given an honest answer. In the early days, I wanted to make good and sure that folks knew I was a newbie hanging on by the skin of my teeth, no matter what the outside may have looked like. As time went on, it became a whole lot less important in that respect.

Now, as a cross-addicted kind of guy, I've spent more than a little time in a couple of Fellowships. After a couple of years' time clean and sober, I was just another drunk in the rooms at A.A. meetings, but I found myself the old-timer at N.A. meetings quite often. That's when I began to make a point of answering the question again -- when there's no local, you-can-shake-hands-with-one proof that anybody can hope for more than a couple of weeks or months clean, the hope for recovery can be a damnably difficult thing to find. I started noticing a difference in the newcomers' eyes, like they'd been given a license to breathe again.

As time has gone by, I've found that things still work about the same way. Only now I've got enough time that it makes a difference to people suffering the Terrible Twos or the Seven Year Itch.

Now, no-one knows better than I that I've really only got today. And no-one but I know how close it came to losing today in all those many unguarded moments. I don't see the accumulated days as a badge of personal honour. There have just been too many people on the team for me to even begin thinking I did it myself. I was usually distracted by something or someone at just the right minute. Now, if whatever's driving that luck could maybe do a number on my finances....

Nor should anyone who actually touched the burner start thinking in terms of failure. I've never thought less of someone because of a relapse. In fact, I need people to remind me that I'm that close, or I'm going to be the reminder for other people. I've been sober (post-use sober, that is) for nearly half my life now, and I tend towards complacency. I need to know that relapses happen, probably more than someone who can't hold a full cup of coffee needs to know that people really can stay sober (and be happy) for a year or twenty. I gotta love the ones who make it back, 'cause they're keeping me alive.

But then I'm just another drunk and junkie with one of those opinion things.

Angela said...


I really appreciate your comment, as I do all of them. You bring up so many good points and yet another dilemma in which I find myself when I enter "the rooms." I'm not a newcomer and not an old-timer. I'm just another person trying to stay sober one day at a time, but I don't really fit any of the accepted profiles. I'm aware that a lot of my angst is due to the fact that like it or not, I'm different. (And no I don't think I'm terminally unique.) But like our old friend, Popeye, IyamwhatIyam. . . . and finally, it's ok. I no longer think I'm any less authentic or honest or spiritual, or even sober, than someone with x-number of continuous years.

Thanks again for visiting. I hope you'll come back.

jennifergg said...

This post reminds me of something I wrote recently about my son, who has Down syndrome. For a while, he was evaluated every 6 months, and was basically judged by what he could NOT do. It drove me crazy.

You post makes me think of it because it seems similar: the question of length of sobriety reduces a person to a statistic, one that hinges not on all the wonderful things you DO accomplish, but on one thing alone.

People are more complex than that, always. I don't know how I would handle the question in your situation; I do know I would struggle with it, just as you do.

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