Decades Into Sobriety, Alcohol Tricked Me

What I learned from two close encounters with alcohol.

Alcohol tempting woman's sobriety Arina Krasnikova, AaronAmat | Canva

I am very grateful to have more than 30 years of continuous sobriety. It could have easily been different. Early in my sobriety, I heard someone with 25 years of sobriety share about their relapse. They described having a drink during their wedding reception. They just took a drink, no thought about it.

At the time, this story frightened me — the ease with which they lost their sobriety. I was concerned that something like that could happen to me. Then, after more than two decades of sobriety, I was confronted with the reality of just how cunning, baffling, and powerful alcohol is.


Two instances brought me right to the edge of taking that first drink. These events brought me face to face with the reality that even after decades, sobriety can be lost, and alcoholism is never cured.

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The first occasion occurred during a tough time in my life. Our marriage was struggling, and I had run out of ideas. In a last-ditch effort to figure out a way to connect, I suggested, “Let’s go down to the bar and get drunk.” 

My rationalization was drinking lowered his inhibitions, allowing us to connect in a new way. His more relaxed state would enable us to resolve one of our issues. Fortunately, he did not agree to this ridiculous suggestion. Quickly after saying it, I was appalled. What was I thinking? Alcohol has never solved anything in my life. Why did I think it would be different now? How could I even think about losing 20 years of sobriety?


Perhaps drinking would have reduced his inhibitions. It would also bring with it a whole host of other problems — problems which would more likely end our marriage. I reminded myself that there is nothing that will be improved through drinking. There is no reason, ever, for me to drink again. We both recognized the danger present, highlighting the desperate state of our marriage and informed later decisions about how to proceed.

The second close call happened several years later. This time, the entrance of the idea to drink was much sneakier. Instead of sadness, desperation, or fear, it was memorialization and celebration. 

I lived with a cohort of new colleagues for two weeks while we were in training. During this time, I had grown close to several of the women. One invited us to join her annual ritual to honor her deceased best friend. She described the ritual and invited us to share our own stories of friendship. Then, we would toast with their favorite cocktail.


I highly valued the friendship I was developing with her. The ritual sounded beautiful, and I looked forward to participating later that evening. I asked about the cocktail since I had never heard of it. I learned it contained a fruit juice I had never consumed and an alcohol I did not enjoy. Mixing those two ingredients sounded disgusting to me. I never had this drink before, and it sounds so terrible that I wouldn’t want to drink more, I thought to myself. Therefore, I could participate in the toast by taking a sip to honor this special person.

I was shocked when I realized where my thoughts had gone. How could I be thinking this? Of course, I could not have even a sip. Whether or not the alcohol tasted good was irrelevant. It has the same effect, whether flavorful or disgusting.

I called my sponsor and then my spouse to talk about what happened. I did go to the ritual, and it was beautiful. I decided against drinking the fruit juice and instead brought something for myself to drink for the toast. The next day, I shared my thoughts about drinking the cocktail with that friend. Her beautiful response was, “I would have swatted it out of your hand!” Thank you, my friend.

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These two occasions confirm for me, once again, that I am an alcoholic. 

Over the years, the thought has occasionally crossed my mind that maybe I’m not really an alcoholic. After all, I was only 22 years old when I entered recovery, and I have been sober much longer than I drank. But, there is no question that I am an alcoholic. These encounters (and many other things) remind me of that. My experiences have shown me that alcohol negatively impacts my relationships and life. No sane person with my experience would ever think consuming alcohol would improve their life.

These close calls remind me no matter how long I am sober, the lure of alcohol is just biding its time. Alcoholic destruction is waiting right around the corner. They remind me of how easy it could be to drink again and lose everything. My mind can create a justification for almost anything. It tried to make me believe that I could connect better with my spouse and friend through drinking, that my relationships could be improved, that consuming something unfamiliar is not really drinking, and that I could take one sip. None of those things are true.

Instead, I would ruin the lovely life I have now if I drank again. This reminds me to stay alert to how my mind tries to con me and to banish the lies. In both cases I described, I wanted to connect more deeply with those I love. Those types of connections can’t happen while I am drinking. In sobriety, I have developed real, authentic connections with others. These relationships are mutually encouraging, supportive, and soul-nourishing. 


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I live in an area where severe weather-related events are a reality. I have an emergency plan and kit ready for a potential loss of power, water, and shelter during natural disasters. My kit contains a variety of lifesaving tools for these contingencies. Similarly, having a plan or kit ready to maintain sobriety is lifesaving. My kit contains many tools.

Based on these close calls, two tools stand out as crucial to maintaining my sobriety. The first is learning to pause. Before sobriety, there was very little space between an action and my reaction. Something would happen, and I would immediately react, often with anger. This was an exceptionally difficult skill to learn. By observing myself, I became aware of how quickly I reacted. I then consciously tried to slow my reaction down, taking a breath before I reacted. Over time, I became more accustomed to pausing before responding.

Now, pausing comes quite naturally. This pause helped to save my life on those two occasions. Instead of heading to the bar as soon as the thought crossed my mind, I spoke it out loud. Speaking it out loud caused me to hear myself, and then I could reevaluate.


Similarly, there was a pause before my action regarding the toasting ritual. After which, instead of drinking, I called my sponsor. I more often respond to situations rather than impetuously react. Sitting still for a moment and taking a deep breath has kept me out of harm’s way on many occasions.

The second tool is a community of support. I have many people in my life on whom I can count and who are supportive of me and my sobriety. There are people I can turn to for emotional, spiritual, and mental support in both challenging and joyful times. I have had the same sponsor throughout my sobriety. He has been sober longer than I have been alive. We no longer live in the same state, yet we maintain a connection. I know I can call him anytime and receive the help I need.

@kathrynsauser Your support system can make or break your sobriety. Make sure that you're surrounded by people who love and understand you.No matter what, remember that you aren't alone and that someone is always there for you. You are stronger than you think!#sober #sobriety #soberjourney #soberadvice #sobertips #sobrietytiktok #soberliving ♬ Get You The Moon - Kina

I have others in my life I know I can count on for support, such as friends, family, therapists, and spiritual directors. I can attend an AA meeting anywhere and receive support and guidance. I am fortunate that I do not need to remain anonymous. Most people who know me know that I am in recovery. Their awareness offers another protective layer to my sobriety. 


I am grateful for the reminders that came out of these two events. Just as when I drank, alcohol may take any event, occasion, feeling, emotion, or thought as an opening to drink again. My sobriety cannot be taken for granted and must be treated with the reverence it deserves. My life depends on it.

Drug and alcohol addiction is incredibly common. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports that approximately 20.3 million people above the age of 12 have suffered from a substance use disorder in the past year. According to SAMHSA’s 2018 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, close to 2 million people of the same age bracket have suffered from opioid use disorders and 14.8 million from alcohol use disorders. 


Misusing alcohol and other drugs can be detrimental to your immediate and long-term physical, emotional, and mental health. 

Alcohol and drug addiction is something to take seriously, although often overlooked. Anyone of any race, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender can suffer from alcohol and drug addiction. Recovering from an addiction is more than just abstaining from drugs or alcohol. It’s about investigating the internal framework of your brain, rewiring your thought patterns, and actively changing behaviors over a long period of time. 

If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, there are resources to get help. 

The process of recovery is not linear, but the first step to getting better is asking for help. For more information, referrals to local treatment facilities and support groups, and relevant links, visit SAMHSA’s website. If you’d like to join a recovery support group, you can locate the nearest Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings near you. Or you can call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-799-7233, which is a free 24/7 confidential information service in both English and Spanish. For TTY, or if you’re unable to speak safely, call 1-800-487-4889.


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Michelle Pederson is a writer, spiritual director, labyrinth facilitator, clergy and sociologist. She can be found on Medium and at her spiritual direction practice.