Are you sober? Recovered? Recovering? Clean? Abstinent? What’s the difference between these? Do you think these labels matter?

I don’t.

If you’ve read any of my previous stuff, you’ve probably noticed that I’m not hung up on labels. Other things get my knickers in a twist. Just not this.

To me, someone saying they are “sober”, “clean”, or “recovering” means they are working toward the same goal: No longer consciously, actively seeking out the addictions that were ruining their life. 

Here is where I feel the need to break it down and provide some technical definitions for each word:

    • Definition of “sober” according to the Cambridge Dictionary
      adjective (NOT DRUNK)
      “having had no alcohol; not drunk”
    • Definition of “recovered” according to Lexico
      verb past tense: recovered; past participle: recovered
      “return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength.”
    • Definition of “recovering” according to Merriam-Webster
      adjective: recovering
      “being in the process of overcoming a disorder or shortcoming (a recovering alcoholic)”
    • Definition of “clean” according to (NO SHIT, there were FOURTEEN other definitions before the following…)
      “~innocent of any crime.
      ~not having a criminal record.
      ~carrying or containing no evidence of unlawful activity or intent, as controlled substances, unlicensed weapons, or contraband:
      ~not using narcotics.”
  • Definition of “abstinent” according to
    adjective: “self-restraining; not indulging an appetite especially for food or drink”

Ok…maybe I get a little juggernaut stuck in my throat about the word “recovered”. That’s only because I feel like it implies that I am DONE…like I don’t have anymore work to do. But, even the text of Alcoholics Anonymous (the Big Book) disagrees with me. It has the word “recovered” in it 16 times!  (The word “recovering” is only in there 2 times.)

I was shocked the first time I found that out. Then I started asking myself, “Have I RECOVERED? AM I RECOVERED? WHEN DOES SOMEONE TRULY RECOVER? How do they know? How do I know? Does it fucking matter?”

In my 26 years of sobriety, I’ve seen people with LOTS of sober/clean/abstinent time act like completely sick, angry, lost UN-recovered addicts/alcoholics. I have also seen people with less than a year of sobriety share the experience, strength, and hope of someone whose life has been completely transformed. (I can hang with these people all day long!)

Time in sobriety don’t mean shit. That includes my own…when I’m not doing the work to stay sober, recovered, clean, etc. I can look and act like someone with very little sobriety.

This is why these terms have come to mean nothing to me. I am a walking, living, breathing example of how they can mean everything and nothing.

For example…

  • If I had started this site/blog right after my brother died, I would have written the sad lyrics to sad songs and whined about losing my faith and hanging on to my recovery/sobriety by a string. I was SOBER. I was ABSTINENT. Would someone say I had  “recovered”????
  • If I had started this site/blog when I just started facing my sexual abuse, I would have been a rage-filled lashing out woman-child who would have posted the lyrics to every Ani DiFranco song and would have talked about physical safety in meetings. I was SOBER. I was ABSTINENT. Was I “recovered”???
  • If I had started this site/blog when I first got sober, I would have been an attention-whore…doing this only to get FOLLOWERS. I would have posted pictures of myself doing God-only-knows-what to PROVE that I was pretty enough, sober enough, enough enough. Now that I’m on social media every day, I see girls/women doing this. Are they SOBER? Are they ABSTINENT? I know I was when I first got sober; In new sobriety, is anyone “recovered”??? I don’t know if I was, or if any of these girls/women are, but if you’re quick to say that NO ONE in early sobriety is “recovered”, then you haven’t met some of the people I have. I’m talking about the ones who volunteer their time at homeless shelters; give out Narcan shots; sponsor people in 12 Step programs; and have gone through a spiritual transformation that has changed their lives in a matter of months, not years.

Who is ANYONE to say who is or is not “recovered”?

Here I am today…a woman who likes to swear a lot; talks about her faith in Love; writes Daily Gratitude Emails; prays and meditates; writes about all kinds of shit; and yes… I AM SOBER. I AM ABSTINENT.

Have I “recovered”???

If it’s based on someone else’s definition, I gotta tell ya…I don’t know. And, MOST days…I don’t care.

If it’s based on all the things I’ve learned through this journey, then here is what I DO know:

I am grateful that I am sober today. I feel blessed that I have recovered from each one of the horrific abuses that happened to me while I was growing up so that I could accumulate some time without my addictions running my life. I am glad that my recovery involves beautiful friends and family that have stuck with me through my bad behaviors and rough times. I am ecstatic that others who are recovering want to share their journeys with me. I am overjoyed that we can be abstinent during our hysterical Game Nights and remember the good times because we are clean from the addictions that clogged our ability to create lasting memories.

I hope you find the words that fit your journey and the meanings you seek.

With Love. ~Liz

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