30 Days Sober: The first major milestone in recovery

11-02-2022Recovery Tools

One of our favorite things as a recovery program is seeing the light come back on in a person’s eyes after they’ve attained some success in recovery. Despite an individual’s life circumstances, this moment often starts around 30 days sober.

We see it day in and day out in our own programs, as well as in local 12 step meetings we attend. Family members see it too, and they make comments to us about it all the time. Interestingly enough, we’ve noticed that often the newcomers themselves are the last people to notice the change. It reminds us of one of the classic passages in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

“Quite often friends of the newcomer are aware of the difference long before he is himself. He finally realizes that he has undergone a profound alteration in his reaction to life; that such a change could hardly have been brought about by himself alone.”
— Alcoholics Anonymous, Pg 567

Why a 30 day sobriety commitment helps

In our programs, we often discuss a 30 day sobriety commitment with newcomers right off the bat. However, we’re not the only program or 12-step fellowship to recommend this.

At first glance, this flies in the face of a quintessential tenet of AA: One day at a time.

However, we don’t think these two concepts need to be at odds with one another. The fact is, that to get 30 days sober, you’ll need to take things one day at a time (and sometimes one hour at a time!).

Getting sober is hard work! It’s uncomfortable, and it involves a lot of change. Some of the changes we need to make are expected, such as reevaluating our friend-groups and the places we spend our time to respond to peer pressure to get high. Others are not so obvious, such as changing how we communicate or taking a look at how we respond to fear.

This is exactly why making a 30 day commitment to stay sober can be extremely helpful. The first couple of weeks of recovery often involve physical changes – we go through acute withdrawal or detoxification processes, we get a much-needed change of scenery, and we even change our schedules to accommodate for things like 12-step meetings and phone calls with our sponsors.

Often, by the 30 day mark, we start to notice that these physical actions become slightly more automatic. We’re no longer struggling to find the time to hit a meeting every day, because we’ve been doing it every day for a month. Often the daily phone call with a sponsor becomes more habitual. We’ve started to form bonds with our new peer group, and we’ve often begun to feel better without drugs and alcohol.

For all of these reasons, making a decision in the beginning to stay sober for 30 days can be extremely helpful.

What to expect at 30 days sober

If you've made the decision to get sober, congratulations! As they say, rock bottom is when you stop digging, and quitting drugs and alcohol is a vital first step in that process.

During the first 30 days, we undergo many physical and emotional changes, and it can be very helpful to know what to expect. If you’ve made the decision to try and stay sober, here are some of the things you may not have thought of, but that are very common in the first month:

Strong emotional ups and downs

While strong emotions in early sobriety may go without saying, we still find it’s important to call out. Remember that drugs and binge drinking have a numbing effect on our emotions. When drinking and using, we don’t experience emotions the same way we do when we’re sober.

Upon sobering up, it’s normal to feel a wave of guilt, sadness, shame, and fear. This may be interspersed with waves of happiness, or a sensation that we’re changing our lives for the better. Often, we’ll have painful memories surface suddenly, and we can even sometimes feel worse sober than we did on drugs! Perhaps these will be spurred by someone sharing in a meeting, or just a simple drive through a certain part of town.

Whatever the case, it’s important to realize that these emotional ups and downs are normal, and that we should discuss them with our sponsors and peers in recovery. You may be surprised by how much they relate, and how much their direction can help!

Relapse dreams

An often overlooked effect of quitting drugs and drinking alcohol is relapse dreams! Commonly, these are dreams where you’re planning to get high, or you’ve already gotten high. These dreams can produce feelings of euphoria, or feelings of regret and shame.

Just know that they are common, and they’ll get better with time. It’s a good idea to discuss these dreams with your sponsor as well or share about them in meetings you attend. 12 step circles will commonly refer to this phenomenon as, “the subconscious letting go of the addiction.”

Changes in appetite & sleep

Depending on the drugs and alcohol we were using, we may be extremely hungry, or we may not be hungry at all. Similarly, we may feel the need to sleep all day for the first couple weeks, or we may barely sleep at all.

Changes in your appetite and sleep schedule are extremely common in the first 30 days of recovery. Over the course of a few weeks, you should even out in these areas, and you’ll start to feel better physically. Give it time, and stay close to your fellowship.

New relationships

No discussion of the first 30 days of sobriety would be complete without discussing the new relationships and bonds that form in those early weeks. If you’re attending meetings regularly, or participating in an alternative peer group of some sort, you’ll undoubtedly have people in recovery reach out to you early on.

When doing drugs, it’s normal to be guarded, suspicious, and skeptical of new people. In recovery, it’s the opposite: the people reaching out to you will often be warm and welcoming. They will offer to help you in various ways.

Remember that all the new people you’re meeting have been through what you’re going through. In general, they just want to help, and see you succeed. Let them help!

Tips for getting 30 days sober

Though we can expect major emotional and physical benefits after the first 90 days of recovery, it's often first 30 days of recovery that are the toughest. There are certainly ways to make it easier. Here’s a few helpful points that we’ve found helpful over the years:

Stay surrounded by positive influences

As much as it’s tempting to argue this point, all of us are influenced by our surroundings – the people we associate with, the places we go, the music we listen to, the movies we watch, and much more!

During those first 30 days, surround yourself with positive sober peers, be honest with them, and avoid parts of town you used to get high in (if possible), and try to watch the messaging you’re sending your brain with the entertainment choices you make.

Remember that early recovery doesn’t last forever! There’s plenty of time in the future to discover where and how you want to reconnect into the world. For now, it’s best to play it safe and surround yourself with recovery-related positive influences.

Get a sponsor and go to meetings

Getting a sponsor and beginning to find some regular meetings to go to are invaluable. In fact, it’s often recommended in 12-step circles to attend a meeting a day for 90 days!

Finding a daily meeting to attend will give you plenty of access to people who can help, as well as provide a daily outlet for you. It can also provide you with access to many different viewpoints and solutions to the hurdles you’ll face along the way.

Keep an open mind

When we're new to recovery, it's often baffling to try and understand how someone would stay sober for 6 months or more.

Remember, you’re deciding to change your life in a variety of ways. Whether you’re in a treatment program, 12-step fellowship, or other support group, you’ll be receiving lots of suggestions from those around you about how to proceed, and how to take each step. The benefits of some of these suggestions may not always be obvious at first glance.

Keeping an open mind is essential in the first 30 days. Remember, if you get 30 days and don’t like recovery, you can always go back to your old way of life. In general, there’s no downside to giving recovery a real shot at working. However, if we close our mind to certain suggestions, we can shoot our chances of seeing the benefits in hindsight.

Have fun

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, having fun in recovery is extremely important and can really make the difference for some people. We’re big proponents of alternative peer groups, if you can find one in your area. Regardless, one doesn’t have to look too far in the recovery world to find a group of sober, fun individuals who are involved in all sorts of activities, some recovery related and some not.

While it’s easy to look at early recovery as doom and gloom, it truly doesn’t have to be that way. You’re making a change that will positively affect every area of your life! That’s a great reason for celebration.

Remember, your feelings will catch up to your actions, and you’ll feel more energetic over time. For now, relax, stay close to your recovery community, and enjoy the ride.

Getting 30 days is a huge accomplishment

Getting sober from an alcohol addiction or substance use disorder is a huge accomplishment, and the first 30 days are crucial. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, remember that help is available. There are many resources out there to get you through this difficult time.

For more information on the sober life, take a look through the rest of our articles. If you’re in the Phoenix, Atlanta, Kansas City, North KC or Denver area and would like to discuss more about how to begin your recovery journey, please reach out to us.