My All Time Favorite Definition of “Good Sobriety”


In case you haven’t heard or somehow missed the post, a while back I relapsed after almost four years clean from meth. On the morning I got my 60 day chip (for the second time) at a favorite 12-step meeting, an old-timer came up to me and said: “Joseph, do you know what the definition of ‘good sobriety’ is? It’s being mostly sober over a long period of time.”

I was floored. “Mostly sober?”

This from an oldtimer in Alcoholics Anonymous? My friend shrugged, like it was no big deal, and said: “So how many days were you high over these last five years?” (For me, totaled? At most, three months. At most. Perhaps it was closer to two.)

“And before you first got clean?” (I’d used daily for years.)

“So, before you began your recovery, you’d been using every day. And, now, five years later, you’ve used for what? A total of three months?” I nodded, nail hit on the head.

Stone faced, my friend said, “Only using for three months out of five years is what I’d call great progress. Wouldn’t you?”

And then he reminded me of the crucial truth that’s so often overlooked after relapse: I did not lose all that hard-won knowledge and experience from my previous years of sobriety. That wisdom didn’t suddenly vanish in a puff of smoke, pun intended, when I relapsed. Sure, I had to reset my ‘sobriety clock’ back to day 1 for the purposes of my 12-step program, but that’s just a technicality. The fact was I still had many years of good, solid sobriety under my belt.

“We tend to idolize consecutive time in the program,” this old-timer continued. “Often focusing too closely on how many years someone has been sober, instead of focusing upon the quality of that person’s sobriety today, which is what really matters.”

He also added that, since I now had a deeper understanding of what it’s like to relapse and come back from it, perhaps I could be of help to the many other crystal meth addicts who come in and out of the rooms, again and again, struggling with relapse. I knew what that was like now, didn’t I?

“It’s all part of recovery,” my friend reminded me. “Your years of sobriety. Your relapse. Your coming back after. It’s the same big recovery. Learn from it so you can help others.”

I was blown away. Usually, it’s the oldtimers in AA who seem to be the harshest with we crystal meth returnees. It’s as if they seem to take it personally, as if we relapsed in sole defiance of them, to somehow test the limits of their hard-won AA serenity. (And, believe me, more than a few recovering addicts in both programs, AA and CMA, took a hardline attitude and were not welcoming to me when I returned; but that’s another post.)

Yet here stood this beautiful, gentle man from AA, with double-digit sobriety I truly admired, telling me that I was not only okay, but, by accepting my relapse as part of my recovery, I could turn the proverbial lemon into lemonade.

He ended with:

“You’re clean and sober today, right?” (Right.)

“And you don’t plan to use tonight before you go to bed.” (Absolutely not.)

My fried smiled widely. “That’s sounds like good sobriety to me. I’m glad you’re back, Joseph.”

I still get a chill sometimes when think of this story. From my experience in 12-step recovery – where, usually, only total abstinence is considered success – this perspective is radical. So I pass it on to you, my all time favorite definition of “good sobriety.” Once more:

Good sobriety is being mostly sober over a long period of time.

The journey of recovery is much bigger than imagined. Learning strategies to better maximize the possibility of truly quitting is what this blog and website are all about. And to that end, I hope my newly-discovered favorite definition of “good sobriety” has helped in some way.

Peace, my brothers and sisters.