Sober Birthdays are weird…

I just had one two weeks ago. On St. Patrick’s day, of all days! I love the irony of it!

It really doesn’t matter how many I’ve had…the APPROACH to each one has been different.

Perhaps for some people they arrive like it’s nothing, after awhile. For me, each one is a remembering.

*****Usually before I even consciously THINK about my sober birthday, I’ll have a “drinking dream”.

A “drinking dream” (or “using dream”) for me, involves being caught up in a scenario with some guy I used to sleep with, lying to my husband about it, and becoming suddenly wasted…OUT OF NOWHERE. The rest of the nightmare I have to figure out how I got into all of this and how I’m going to lie to everyone about everything I’d done AND manage to keep the “sober time” I’ve accumulated. I eventually wake up in a complete panic – thinking the dream was real – completely convinced that there was NO WAY I was able to put together as much clean time as I had in real life. This loud voice in my head is yelling, “See…I KNEW YOU WERE A FRAUD! Now you have to tell all those nice people that you lied! I KNEW there was no way you could stay sober THAT LONG!” As I wake up more, I start to realize that it really was a bad dream. I REALLY have stayed sober. And my life REALLY is not the shit-show it once was. Whew.  ALLELUIA!

I’ve had this same dream at one-month, one-year, 10-years, and 26-years sober. No shit.

No matter what is going on in my life – husband’s cancer, shitty job, difficulties with family – coming out of those “drinking dreams” ALWAYS makes me feel grateful for my current situation! Even newly sober is better than not sober at all.

Later that same day, it would dawn on me that my sobriety birthday was approaching. 

Here’s another sign that my sobriety birthday is approaching…

*****Some years  – depending on my spiritual fitness, current situation in life, recovery work, etc. – I get very “squirrely” leading up to my sober anniversary Other years, I can brush off the dreams and maintain a steady level of gratitude and sense of humor. It really is based on the “work” I am putting into my recovery and helping others with their recovery.

(I am a FIRM believer that I don’t get to keep my recovery unless I am constantly giving it away.)

Anyway, for those of you who are not feeling all Zen, let me break down what “squirrely” looks like for me:


  • Fucked up (in words, actions, and deeds…but not through use of substances, food, or people)
  • Emotional (yup)
  • Anxious (yup, yup)
  • Reactionary (oh yup)
  • Frightened (of people, places, and things…and any changes in people, places, and things…and schedules)
  • Unhinged (angry at the drop of a hat)
  • Lily-livered (I couldn’t think of a good synonym for “fearful” that starts with an “L”, so I wrote “lily-livered”.)

THIS IS “NORMAL”, especially in early sobriety!!! You are experiencing your first month/year/years of doing things sober! That is WEIRD and bound to cause some strange reactions. We know this is a fact on an emotional, spiritual, and physical level. (You can read the information in this convenient resource at this link “Drugs and the Brain” wallet card, or the full NIH study “Drugs, Brains, and Behavior: The Science of Addiction”, to prove the physical reactions to your addictions.) 

Now, this doesn’t give me/you an excuse to act like a crazy person around your sober birthday. It just gives an explanation for your behavior. In this recovery deal, I have to be accountable for my actions. This means I have to call someone, or go to a meeting, or see my counselor, or pray, OR DO SOMETHING POSITIVE, when I feel like doing one of the behavior listed above (next to the crazy looking squirrel). I don’t get a free pass to act a fool because I have a sober birthday coming up. Nope. 

*****What are these fucking coins/chips/key chains about??

If you attend a recovery program (Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, etc.), they give some token to mark/celebrate someone’s sobriety. These are in the form of a chip, coin, key chain, etc. 

ANYONE CAN SAY NO TO THESE AT ANY TIME!!  I’ve seen newcomers feel pressured into announcing their “sober time” and accepting these when they are too shy or uncomfortable. Their sponsors either mis-read or pressure them into a situation where the sponsee would rather leave their sober birthday…anonymous. I believe each person’s sober birthday is their business. (Please refer to my post “What Would You Do? Relapse and Birthdays…”)

Btw…if you don’t attend one of these programs, and you want to receive one of these anyway, you can ask or hint to your friends that you would like some kind of token to celebrate your recovery. There are tons of gifts out there for you! Check them out!

*****Is there a “right way” to celebrate my sober birthday?

FUCK NO!!! There were birthdays where I cried most of the day. My sponsor still dragged my ass to a meeting and made sure I got my coin (because I wanted it). My ego would NEVER say no to that much attention…no matter how emotionally fucked up I was! Other years, my husband invited ALL of our family and friends (in recovery or not) to a dinner party. We roared with laughter! The non-alcoholic drinkers drank and the sober people didn’t care. After the dinner, the drinkers stayed and talked while the sober people went to a recovery meeting. Many years (like this year), I didn’t get a coin on my sober birthday. I had to wait until I was at a meeting where they actually had a coin to give me. It didn’t bother me at all. This year my recovery has been “on point”! I’m feeling strong. So, the coin didn’t matter. All that mattered was knowing I was sober and I got to share that with other people in recovery. That felt so good!

So, to end, I just want to say that when approaching sober birthdays there are NO rules and I have to look at them like everything else in my recovery: DON’T DO IT ALONE!! If I take the advice of those who have the kind of recovery I want, I do the work, and I ask for help, my sober birthday will be a reflection of that. 

And, in case I forget to tell you…HAPPY SOBER BIRTHDAY!!.

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