Abstinence vs. Maintenance in Sobriety

The Differences Between Maintaining and Abstaining

There is a big difference between ‘white knuckle sobriety,’ and being happily and joyfully sober. Unfortunately, abstinence in sobriety is a pretty common thing, especially for those who haven’t found a program of recovery, and it can often lead to relapse.

Disclaimer: as someone who has tried to just practice abstinence in sobriety by just not using drugs and alcohol, to someone who has also worked the 12 steps, I am going to be very bias on this topic, because I have seen the life and the benefits of the latter, and recommend white knuckling to absolutely no one.

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Addiction & Abstinence: An Overview

Before I crawled into the rooms, I had tried just about every way to control my using that I could think of. Whether it be only using one substance or only using on the weekends or abstinence, the fact of the matter was that I never had control. I was always under the spell of using, and I literally COULD NOT live without having some sort of chemical in my system to make me feel okay.

There was a time in my life that I thought that sober meant just not drinking, aka, abstinence sobriety, but I had no idea what being truly sober, and working a program actually looked like. I assumed that people in recovery groups just sat around in poorly lit basements and complained about their lives and talked about Jesus, and I wanted none of that.

However, when it came to be my turn to enter a 12 step group, I saw that people were actually happy, the rooms were well lit, and people generally cared that I was there. It made me uncomfortable, but I stayed. For my first year, I didn’t work a single step, I relapsed all the time, and I was still miserable. I was only seeing abstinence in sobriety as a punishment, rather than as a starting point to a new life.

Things I learned during my white knuckling days:

  • I will never learn how to control my drinking and drugging
  • No one else forces me or causes me to continue using
  • It never gets better out there
  • I continue to hurt people, never on purpose, because of my use
  • Using is never the same after exposure to the 12 steps
  • The rooms will always be there, and the people will always be friendly
  • I am happier when I am trying to be better

The Steps of 12 Step Programs

So when the time finally came for me to realize that I was never going to be able to use like a “normal” person, or just have one beer or one life of coke (who only does one line anyway?) I became somewhat willing to try the steps.

It took me forever to find a sponsor because I was afraid to work the steps and to be honest, I was probably afraid that I would never be as happy as the other people who weren’t just being abstinent in their sobriety. I sort of just leached off of the message in the rooms for a little while, biding my time until I came dangerously close to picking up again.

Finally, I got a sponsor, and she started me into the book right away. I had no relationship to spirituality, I had no intention of “never using again for the rest of my life”, but the one thing I did have, was a complete understanding that I was completely powerless over drugs and alcohol. She said that this knowledge was all I needed to start.

Personal Growth and Abstinence from Mind-Altering Substances

The Growth and Abstinence

Weird as it was, the deeper I got into following suggestions from other members of the rooms and into my steps, the quieter the cravings got. I was no longer trying hard to keep abstaining during my sobriety, the desire to drink and get high actually stopped. At first, I didn’t even notice it. When I felt healthy in the morning, it just became routine, and I didn’t even think about needing to drink or drug to face the day.

After a while, I could go out to eat with friends on weekends, and even go to concerts. Sure, people were there getting messed up, but I saw how they looked when they were out of control, and I was actually GRATEFUL that I wasn’t in their shoes.

Today, I am one hundred percent certain that the problems and lessons I learn in my life, through maintaining a healthy and active program of recovery, are far better than the ones I had during my using, and even when I was just remaining abstinent in my sobriety.

It is kind of funny how the whole thing worked out, but they did always say that stopping using was only the jumping off point. From there, the steps only go up.


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So if you have found that you are sick of white knuckling, and are ready for some real growth, here are some suggestions to be not only abstinent in your sobriety, but to be true, gratefully, and happily sober.

  • Go to Meetings – stay at the ones that make you feel at home
  • Find a Sponsor – don’t worry so much about this person being “the perfect sponsor” for you, the only requirements are that they have been through their steps and are willing to take you through yours
  • Work your Steps – honestly, thoroughly, and with hope
  • Figure out whatever you want your Higher Power to be
  • Talk to that Higher Power, often – set an alarm in your phone if you have to
  • Make friends in the program – look for people who are wholeheartedly working a program of their own
  • Get involved in service work – even if it is as a greeter, coffee maker, or after-meeting cleaner
  • Find a healthy hobby! – having activities that make us feel good and confident and calm are essential in rebuilding a useful life

Recovering from drugs and alcohol doesn’t have to mean white-knuckling it, and any old-timer will tell you that simply abstaining in sobriety is going to lead you back to a relapse. If you haven’t tried it yet, what harm could full force, working a program really do?

Freedom From Addiction

If you or a loved one is suffering from alcoholism or addiction, understand that you are not alone in your struggles! If you are ready to change your life and finally be free of your addiction, then Find Addiction Rehabs can help. We can give you the jump-start you need in order to experience the recovery you have always wanted. Our holistic programs are unique in that they don’t just treat the addiction, but rather they treat the whole person, so if you are interested in finding out more information, please do not hesitate to give us a call today at 1-877-959-7271.

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