The drugs and alcohol may be gone, but there’s more to being sober than quitting use.

Being sober is a bit more complicated than the sober definition that you find in the dictionary, which is simply: “not drunk or affected by alcohol.” The dictionary sober definition is very narrow; but when people in recovery talk about being sober, they mean not using substances of any kind. They may also say they’re “clean.”

Not everybody who is in recovery lives sober and is also clean

The goal is to be sober and clean. But what exactly does that mean? It’s easy to give others advice in sobriety or share about how things should be in order for someone else to get and stay sober … however, it’s a whole other ballgame to practice what you preach.

Real sobriety is when you get the honesty memo

Recovering addicts with integrity and rigorous honesty are the “winners.” If you want successful sobriety, these are the people you need to gravitate toward. However, there are plenty of people in recovery that need to heed their own suggestions. They carry themselves one way, but act another in their day-to-day lives. The drugs may be gone, but the behaviors are not. They stand on a pedestal and share experiences that don’t wholeheartedly exist outside their recovery facade. Essentially they are sober, but still living dirty.

Here are some examples of living dirty

We all know a Sober Sam who has a year or two sober and is running a crooked phone room or flop house. How about a Recovery Rhonda who sleeps with all the newcomers? Or the notorious Abstinent Andy smoking his cigarette arrogantly by the “No Smoking” sign outside the meeting. These people may have the drugs and alcohol out of their systems but they are struggling with the basic foundations of staying sober: honesty and integrity.

Do the next right thing is a recovery phrase to remember

It’s hard, especially in early sobriety, to recognize these behaviors within ourselves and take responsibility. Doing the right thing when no one is looking takes practice and commitment. Sobriety doesn’t require perfection, but it needs an honest vow to change. It will be easy to fall back into old behaviors like lying and stealing, but true growth is catching those errors and doing something about them.

That’s where a solid support network comes into play. These are people who know us well and care enough to call us on our crap. However, the system works only as well as your own authenticity. If you are sharing your own version of reality with those looking out for you, the message they receive can easily get skewed. Your support network cannot help you unless you are open-minded and willing to help and be honest about yourself — or at least be committed to trying. If you don’t like your AA or NA group,

Cheating is not living a sober lifestyle

This reminds me of a girl I lived with in a halfway house years ago. After her one-year anniversary, Lily started sleeping with her coworker. Big deal, right? She had at least a year sober … sex is cool … but I am leaving out a pretty big detail, as Lily did when she told her sponsor. The coworker was in a committed relationship with his girlfriend at the time. Prime example of dirty living. This is not okay when living a clean and sober life.

Mentoring doesn’t always work right away

As Lily’s friend, I tried to talk some sense into her. It didn’t feel right that she was participating in that behavior. It was exciting and chaotic — I witnessed Lily driven by lust like it was a drug, which it was for her. I felt badly for her coworker’s girlfriend. I didn’t know her, but I’m sure she didn’t deserve to be cheated on.

Lily went about her business for a time, but finally her conscience caught up with her and she got honest with her sponsor. I remember her sponsor’s response so well, because I never wanted to be “that girl.” Her sponsor said, “Do you think girls are going to want you to sponsor them if they hear about these behaviors in the rooms?” Ouch, but so true! That is not someone I want to look up to in sobriety. She was working the steps and staying away from drugs, but living dirty.

The difference between abstinence and sobriety

You can get sober and not be honest, but is that true sobriety? Personally, I call that abstinence. As stated in my recent article about honesty, “The bottom line is, if you are committed to your sobriety, there is no way to avoid being truthful. Honesty in recovery is mandatory if you want to maintain long-term sobriety.”

So take away the honestly (integrity included) and you are an addict not using drugs or alcohol, with an active disease utilizing other avenues to satisfy the madness.

It’s easy to see this can be an endless cycle. If you are not ready and willing to change your behaviors in sobriety, then you are not ready to truly be sober. That being said, we are only human; this process is not meant to be perfect nor is it needed to be. We make mistakes, act impulsively, and hurt people. It’s how we own up to it and take responsibility for our acts that speaks to where we are at in our recovery.


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Alexandra Ashe
Alexandra is a sober woman who loves animals, writing, nature, horror movies, fitness, and self-improvement. After suffering a relapse in late 2016, she revamped her lifestyle and has been sober since March 2017. She is also the CEO and founder of Kinkatopia, which is the only kinkajou-specific organization in the world. Alexandra literally lives and breathes kinkajous — in addition to working a full-time career, taking care of her health, and giving back to the world in other ways. She is a woman on a mission ... the Mother of Kinkajous. Follow Alexandra’s articles to relish her experiences staying sober and running a kinkajou sanctuary. There is never a dull moment, that’s a promise. Kinkatopia.org

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