Ask Ted

Why is sobriety so hard?


Dear Ted: I have just returned from a treatment center for issues pertaining to addiction. It was a long hard road when I was using, as I wreaked havoc on my family, community and myself. Now that I'm sober and have come home, I wonder how I ever got to such a tough place, as well as relapse and be back in that place of addictive misery. I have tried to be sober before and somehow have ended up "back in the bottle." Why does it seem so easy to relapse and so difficult to stay sober? Thanks, Matt

Dear Matt, I commend you for your efforts for a healthy and sober life. I believe that it is worth the "work" and over time, it becomes less work and great fun. You ask a difficult question to answer. I wish that sobriety was an easy path and for some reason, it is an ongoing human dilemma for everybody in different ways and forms.

Addiction is a neurobiological disease that makes it so enormous effort, discipline and continuous care are necessary to stay sober. Emotional sobriety is difficult for everybody, as the brain is always trying to avoid and delete any levels of discomfort someone is presently feeling. With addiction, the brain has found that "using" is the escape for someone who is not an addict. Other types of behaviors are still used to try to avoid or remove the discomfort. In other words, everybody works with trying to avoid and escape pain, but not everybody has the disease of addiction.

Addiction needs a higher level of discipline to be able to use healthy, self-soothing tools and resources to walk through difficult situations consciously. Within addiction, there is a part of the brain that, if triggered, says, "If I don't use, I will die." This may sound crazy to someone who does not understand the intensity of craving. To be in recovery, you have to be able to override the brain pathways and shift the focus to another aspect, such as calling a sponsor, going to a meeting, being of service and other healthy actions that distract the internal addict and allow the healthy you to take actions that allow you to not relapse.

Whenever you are able to do this successfully is a miracle, as you have been able to take an enormous leap of faith and go against your first thoughts and impulses. You learn that you are not going to die if you don't use your "drug/alcohol" of choice. This cannot be done on your own and that is why recovery takes continuous care and maintenance to keep your internal tools sharp while always adding more tools and skills to your toolbox.

We live in a difficult world full of stressors and disappointments, as well as beauty, miracles and potentials within life. I see life as a boat on the open ocean, in which you need to come into a safe harbor, make repairs and learn new skills in order to stay soberly upright. Working toward emotional sobriety will help decrease the potential for relapse as you keep your internal thoughts and body in a healthy state, which helps allow healthy responses rather than panicked reactions. I wish you well and I hope you find the supports that allow you a safe port and give you the opportunity to enjoy life.

Thank you for the question. I wish you well. Until next week, take care.

Golden Willow Retreat is a nonprofit organization focused on emotional healing and recovery from any type of loss. Direct any questions to Wiard, founder of Golden Willow Retreat, at (575) 776-2024 or

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