Why You Don't Have To Be In Addiction Recovery To Learn From Brené Brown's 25 Years Of Sobriety

Photo: Randal Ford
Headshot of Brené Brown looking sassy in front of a red backdrop

Brené Brown has been sober for 25 years, and took to Facebook recently to talk about what her sobriety has meant to her life.

The bestselling author, podcast host, and speaker is inspiring multitudes once again with her words — this time about her own life journey. 

In keeping with her message of vulnerability, she’s revealing details about the challenges she’s personally faced in order to reach those who need to hear her message. Along with spreading the knowledge of her success, she’s shared tips for those who are also recovering from addiction. 

In true Brené Brown fashion, the insights and tips she shares in her Facebook post are relatable for many of us — not just people struggling with addiction or folks in recovery.

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How people stay sober in the long run

Fortunately for anyone struggling with addiction who’s been in recovery for several years, the statistics are on your side. After five years of sobriety, the chance of suffering a relapse plummets to under 15%. 

For those who are just starting out on their recovery journey, things can be much more challenging. Two thirds of those who’ve been sober under a year will relapse. After the first year, though, only 50% of addicts go back to abusing drugs or alcohol. 

The most important factor, it seems, is time and distance. Sure, staying away from something harmful for so long might continue to diminish the need for that thing going forward, but that’s much easier said than done.

So how do you get there in the first place? Brené Brown has some insights. The amazing thing is how relatable they are to all of us. 

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“The biggest learnings from the past 25 years”

Brown says that the first thing she learned is how to face the truth. She encourages us to “own the stories you’re trying to outrun.” 

“It will kick your ass at first,” she writes, “but then it will set you free.” 

The advice rings true because being honest with yourself is one of the most important thing that addicts can do.

For one thing, the “truth” about a particular story involves having knowledge of your own stresses and triggers. Once you understand how relapse can rear its ugly head, you can attempt to mitigate the effects. 

Many people are tempted to use drugs or alcohol to self-medicate for a number of reasons, for instance in response to relationship stress, professional challenges, or in response to past or ongoing trauma. Being honest with yourself means facing the reasons you were using in the first place.

Sometimes the signs of potential relapse are fairly straightforward, you just have to be honest about them. 

Repetitive thought patterns or intrusive thoughts, less-rational thinking, and seeking out situations where you might be tempted to use are all common patterns. 

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Brown says that the other thing she’s learned is that people weren’t meant to do take on this kind of pressure alone. And that's something anyone who has dealt with serious mental health or emotional challenges can relate to.

“We heal in connection,” she writes. “This is why it pisses me off when people shove my work into the self-help category.”

Of course, possessing a healthy support network is one of the most important predictors of addiction recovery. Peer support groups are a great way to maintain accountability and make sure you aren’t just going it alone. 

Having the backing of people who care about you and are invested in your success is important in all aspects of life, especially in the areas in which you might struggle. 

Brown on self-trust

Brown says that her self-trust was truly devastated by her addiction. As she points out, trust is built slowly over time, action by action, as opposed to all at once. And she’s had to build back her trust in herself just like that, over 25 years. 

In the post, she’s holding 25 marbles, one for each year she’s been sober. The marbles signify the slow building of self-trust that she’s undergone in that time period. 

Low self-esteem is certainly a risk factor for drug and alcohol abuse. It can also make recovery extremely challenging. And it’s a vicious cycle to find yourself trapped inside of — feeling emotionally ruined because of an addiction, and feeding the addiction because you’re feeling emotionally ruined. 

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Brown emphasizes the BRAVING tool to analyze your behavior and learn self-trust. She explains the tool in her Facebook post like this:

B - Did I respect my own boundaries? Was I clear about what’s okay and what’s not okay?
R - Was I reliable? Did I do what I said I was going to do?
A - Did I hold myself accountable?
V - Did I respect the vault and share appropriately?
I - Did I act from my integrity?
N- Did I ask for what I needed? Was I nonjudgmental about needing help?
G - Was I generous toward myself?

I can think of so many instances in life when this list of questions can be helpful. What a great tool for anyone to have at their disposal.

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Addiction has to be treated seriously

Finding people to inspire you while following your journey into recovery is wonderful, but it's usually not enough to simply be inspired. 

Make sure to find a great source for professional help and aftercare. We should all look to Brown’s example of someone who’s honest about her failings and hiccups along the way and as someone who has found the strength and support to overcome the big obstacles of her life. 

We should also do our best to get practical help when it’s necessary. And for a lot of addicts, that’s what can make the difference between managing substance abuse and spiraling even further. 

Support groups like 12-step programs and other forms of accountability can help you maintain your sobriety and keep you on the road to lessening your chances of relapse. 

If you need a place to start, try the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) national helpline at 1-800-4357. It’s confidential and free, and operators will help you locate personalized services that are local to you.

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Kevin Lankes, MFA, is an editor and author. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Here Comes Everyone, Pigeon Pages, Owl Hollow Press, The Huffington Post, The Riverdale Press, and more.