The First Year of Sobriety: What to Expect in Early Recovery from Alcoholism

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There are milestones in every person’s life that stand high above the rest — moments when we reach a goal that once seemed unattainable. Achieving one year of sobriety was the defining experience of my life. Early in my recovery, reaching five days without a drink seemed like a miracle. Now I had made it an entire year clean and sober, which seemed unreal. Somehow I had managed not to take a single sip of alcohol for three hundred and sixty-five days. When I woke up that morning, I was astonished to realize what I had achieved.

I eagerly rushed to my morning meeting, where I received my one-year sobriety chip. I stood before a room of thirty people and thanked everyone, especially the people who had the most significant impact on my recovery, Paul in particular. Instead of feeling stage-fright, I was proud to be standing there, eager to let my voice fill the room: no blushing or stammering, just words of gratitude flowing out of me.

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Over the years since that day, I’ve watched many people take five-year chips, 10-year chips, 25-year chips, and even longer. Every one of them is a massive accomplishment that deserves respect and recognition. But nothing fills me with as much joy and excitement as seeing a person take a one year chip. I get emotional every time. That first year is always the most difficult one to achieve, the time when we are most vulnerable to relapse and defeat. Watching anyone take a one year chip is also a great reminder of where I once was, and where I never hope to return.

After one year, I certainly wasn’t “cured” or safe from relapse; I never will be. I will always have to work consciously to protect my sobriety, no matter how long I remain clean. But on that day, I felt reborn into a new life filled with optimism and hope. I was ready to conquer the world. If I could stay sober that long, perhaps I could accomplish other goals. Maybe I could recapture some of the years I’d lost to drinking.

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For every alcoholic who’s managed to get sober, similar questions always arise: What have I lost? What parts of my life can I regain? Is it too late to recapture my dreams? How do I start over?

During that first year of sobriety, I was completely immersed in the process of staying sober. My life was placed on hold in order to concentrate exclusively on learning how to live free from alcohol and other self-destructive habits. Now, one year sober, the time had arrived to get back to finding what it was I wanted from my life, and how to go about achieving my goals and dreams, even if I was getting a late start.

I was 44 years old, and my life was just beginning.



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