In our work with the legal community, we see a fair number of law students and lawyers who are somewhere in between the precontemplation and contemplation stages of change. The precontemplation stage is when the person is unaware of the need to change a particular behavior, has no interest in changing, minimizes the negative aspects of changing, and highlights the positive reasons for the status quo. The contemplation stage is when the person is aware that something needs to change, they might not know exactly what they need to do or what it will entail, but they have a desire to make a change in the near future.
A common example would be an attorney who has been drinking more and more recognizes that their life is not going as planned. They are not happy. Perhaps others have expressed some concern about their well-being. Others have explicitly drawn attention to the amount and frequency of alcohol the attorney drinks and links that to a decrease in their professional performance. The attorney has many stressors in their life so the cause of their unhappiness is obscured to them. The attorney might admit that they drink more than they used to drink, that drinking is not fun anymore, or that they use alcohol as a coping mechanism to deal with the pressure they are constantly under. Alcohol might be a problem, but to them it seems like a problem that doesn’t break the top 5 on the list of things they want to change. After all, the attorney thinks that since I’m not lying in the gutter drunk during the day, things are that bad.
A typical concern I hear expressed is, “I don’t want to give up drinking and become one of those sober people who constantly hang out at AA meetings and talk incessantly about their sobriety. Those people look miserable.”
So, let’s break down that misconception:
Myth #1 – Sobriety makes you miserable: Are there miserable sober people? Yes, of course there are. Misery is not an experience reserved for any one group of people. Were those people miserable when they were using substances? Yes. They just had the substance to dull their awareness or remove those memories.
The Reality: Sobriety allows individuals to regain health, mental clarity, and confront the things that substances helped them temporarily escape. Sometimes this results in experiencing negative emotions or memories that many people would prefer to keep dulled beneath a haze of intoxication. Confronting these emotions and experiences is difficult. Which is one reason why many sober individuals spend so much time in recovery support groups. These groups offer a community of understanding and encouraging people who can be there for you when you go through those difficult experiences.
Does sobriety make you miserable? I have heard some say that sobriety is the thing that allowed them to remove the fog and finally experience true happiness, contentment, and gratitude in life. Achieving and maintaining sobriety is difficult, but possible. Many have achieved sobriety through the help of others in sobriety who have walked the path before them. Here are some links to groups that might be helpful: AA, SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery.
Shawn Healy, PhD