road to recovery

Putting Sobriety First

“Putting Sobriety First” May Mean Putting YOURSELF First


It is generally undisputed that recovering addicts must “put sobriety first,” lest they suffer from relapse. This idea is theoretically simple to understand… but what does it actually mean in the context of day-to-day decisions that the alcoholic may face? Oftentimes, “putting sobriety first” means that the alcoholic must put themself firstin order to work a successful 12-step program of recovery. This may seem selfish to those who expect the now-sober alcoholic to be “fixed,” but in order to build a solid foundation of support and confidence, it is absolutely vital that the alcoholic prioritize the logistics of his AA program before meeting wants (and even needs) of others.

Take the most common example upon returning home from an inpatient rehabilitation facility, the alcoholic’s loved ones may expect him to be more physically present and/or emotionally available than he was while engaged in active addiction. Unfortunately, this is not often the case… and for many reasons. A large number of alcoholics are sent to out-of-town rehabs for an average of 30 days. This means that when the alcoholic returns home, he may have no AA sponsor, no AA home group, and very few sober friends. Thus, building a solid recovery network must become his #1 goal. If not, he will likely resort to his past solution for dealing with life’s daily stress (drinking or using). 

Sometimes, the alcoholic has co-existing mental disorders or addictions that must be addressed or worked through in counseling or therapy sessions now that the alcoholic is sober. Perhaps the alcoholic simply needs time to decompress or re-evaluate his life-goals. Whatever the case may be, the alcoholic shouldn’t feel guilty about prioritizing AA meetings, studying AA literature, keeping appointments with therapists/counselors/psychiatrists, meeting with sponsors, legitimate acts of self-care, or time spent building a sober support community. By the same token, families and loved ones of the alcoholic need not be discouraged if the alcoholic seems to be a little less “available” than you had hoped.

If the alcoholic moves into a sober living facility after inpatient treatment, the transition back to “normal” life will be much easier for both the alcoholic and his family to handle. The alcoholic will have space to himself to work a program, a built-in network of sober friends, and easy access to recommended meetings and sponsors in his hometown. The alcoholic’s loved ones will have peace of mind knowing that the addict has additional accountability along this new road to recovery. 

To the fellow alcoholic in early recovery: though it may seem counterintuitive, putting your own needs first will better allow you to meet the needs of others in the future. Just like you can’t save a drowning person without first knowing how to swim yourself, you can’t take care of other people’s needs if you don’t first learn to take care of your own. Do the “next right thing;” take advice from others, and put yourself (aka, your recovery) first!