What does it really mean to be sober? Do you need to be free of all substances to claim the title? Does the designation kick in after a certain amount of time? What if you relapse? What if you are “white knuckling it”, and aren’t drinking but still want to?
It can be challenging and confusing to define what it truly means to be sober.
If we use the dictionary definition, the basic requirements are to not be presently drunk or in a state of habitual alcohol use.
But the waters can get a bit murky for those of us who have or have had issues in the past.
There’s more to it than that.
In a future post, I’ll share my thoughts on the use of other substances while abstaining from alcohol.
Today I’ll keep it short and sweet and tell you what I think about calling ourselves sober, in general.
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You Just “Know”
This may not be as concrete an answer as you were hoping for, but I think you just “know”. You know what is problematic for you and what isn’t. You know if your drinking is out of control or not. When you’re losing your grip on things that matter the most to you because of your alcohol intake, you know you aren’t sober.
That said, some of this must be taken into context, especially as far as time is concerned.
The latter part of the above definition says, “free from alcoholism, not habitually drinking alcohol”. For someone who has no troubled history with alcohol, I think they are “sober” when they aren’t drinking or drunk, even if they are habitually drinking alcohol.
For example, with someone who habitually consumes exactly one glass of wine with dinner most nights, but does not have an alcohol problem? I think they’re sober whenever the effects of the wine wear off.
If I were to do that, given my history? No, ma’am! I know better!
Moment In Time vs. State Of Being
For the non-problem drinker, sobriety is defined by a moment in time. For problem drinkers, it’s a state of being.
Your opinion may differ and that’s totally okay, but as a problem drinker, when I was successfully moderating my alcohol intake I didn’t consider myself sober. It affected my mental state so much, even though there weren’t any outside indicators of trouble.
Likewise, when I tried to quit unsuccessfully many times before, even for a stretch of time, I couldn’t really call myself sober as a state of being. Desiring and craving so much, I felt I was in a gray area. I wasn’t all the way “home”.
To me, it’s more of a mental thing.
Does Time Matter?
I don’t really think the length of time matters as much as the mentality behind it.
While in my trial period of 100 days without alcohol, I felt like I might go back to drinking one day, fully acknowledging that if I did there was a high likelihood I’d go off the rails again at some point. Just leaving that chance open was enough to make me feel uncomfortable with donning the label.
After I concluded that I wouldn’t go back to drinking, it still took a while before I got comfortable with the identity shift.
I’m just now starting to tell people I don’t drink and am just now comfortable attending events where liquor is involved. It’s new.
In my experience, it takes time to get stable footing within the identity shift, but it’s not the amount of time without alcohol in your system that gets you there.
It’s taken me 4 months to pull it together and really feel comfortable identifying as a sober woman.
If I were to mess up and have a slip, I don’t know that I’d immediately wipe that identity away. But some newly sober people might. I think both are valid viewpoints.
At this point, if I were to slip up, I’d consider myself a sober woman who made a mistake. Whereas when I tried quitting before I felt more like a drinker who was taking a break. Does that make sense?
But again, some people out there would say if you have a sip of alcohol, ever, you can’t call yourself sober.
Therefore, you must define it for yourself if you must define it at all.
Define It For Yourself
What someone else says is totally irrelevant here, which is one of many reasons I don’t vibe with traditional recovery programs. I think sobriety is such an individual, personal journey – one that takes lots of time and self-discovery as we change and grow. Any rigid structure or set of definitions or requirements doesn’t really help.
You must be honest with yourself. You know when it’s time.
Maybe It Doesn’t Really Matter
At the end of the day, the label doesn’t really matter that much though.
It’s the improved health, better quality of life, stronger relationships, and more organized finances that are important.
It’s just something that’s been on my mind lately since reaching the four-month mark a few days ago.
I was so uncomfortable with the label at first, but now I wear it as a badge of honor! It’s a really cool testament to how far I’ve come, and all the work and change and growth I’ve undergone to get to a much better place in life.
However you define sobriety or identify is totally up to you to decide. Just keep doing the work and self-evaluation it takes to stay on top of your goal, whatever that may be.
You got this!
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