6 Life Lessons I Learned From Getting Sober
Updated: Oct 5
Starting my sobriety back on April, 10th 2013 was undoubtedly the toughest obstacle I've ever had to overcome.
Addiction is difficult to understand, but from my own experience, I can analogize it as being close to the event horizon surrounding a black hole.
Overcoming addiction for me was like defying the laws of gravity much like the Wright brothers did in the early 20th century.
But much like how others followed suit and perfected the airplane, my first life lesson was as life changing.
1. Understanding that if it has been done before, it can be done again.
Before getting sober myself, I had read a Facebook post from an old friend of mine about him making the decision to go to treatment for his own addictions. Not long after that, I started seeing posts from him detailing the positive changes in his life. His mindset was different from before and he was successfully accomplishing the goals I could only dream of at the time.
I remember thinking to myself, "I wonder what I could do with my life if I duplicated his actions. Might I be able to accomplish similar goals if I wasn't held back from all the time I spent drunk, high or hungover? Could I too become a grateful and excited human being?"
Not long after wondering that myself, I went to treatment and began my journey of recovery. The first day in rehab I thought about that old friend and made it my mission to duplicate his actions.
Since then, I have been able to accomplish more than I could have dreamed of before. The understanding of duplication not only helped me get sober, but it has brought gratitude and excitement to my life, it has shown me that if I want to have something in my life, all I have to do is find others who have reached the same goals and do as they did in order to achieve them.
Getting my real estate license, winning a trophy for athletics, starting a business, moving to Florida, becoming a public speaker and a coach, organizing a major sobriety event...all of those things came from duplication.
My next major accomplishments will come from that as well.
2. Other peoples opinions don't matter.
For most of my life, looking a certain way to other people was near the top of my priority list. In fact, I started drinking alcohol at the age of 15 so that I could fit in. Most of my other priorities fell to the wayside for 10+ years of my life.
I would let other peoples negative opinions cripple me. Alcohol allowed me to become the life of the party which boosted my ego. That is when I started confusing ego with self-esteem. As my ego got bigger, my self-esteem diminished. Alcohol seemed like the perfect way of protecting me from allowing others to see my low self-esteem.
One of my biggest fears about recovery, was that I would no longer be able to mask my low self-esteem since alcohol would be out of the picture.
But soon after I started my recovery, I remember being passed a profound piece of wisdom which came from a person much older than me. He said, "Do you really think that I care about the opinions people had of me 30 years ago?" The only logical answer to that is, no.
My mind switched right in that moment. Why allow someone else's opinion make a huge impact on my psyche if it really won't matter at all later in life?
Live life for yourself, make yourself happy and do the things you want to do. As far as anyone knows, we only get one chance to live here on Earth, so we might as well do the things that make us feel most fulfilled.
Later in life, people tend to not regret the things they did do, but the things they didn't do in life. Most of those things didn't happen because of them succumbing to other peoples opinions.
I sure would hate to look back and realize that I was entrapped in a self-imposed cage of other peoples opinions.
One of my favorite quotes that I learned after that experience says, "5x5 Rule: If it won't matter in 5 years, don't spend more than 5 minutes worrying about it."
3. The toughest moments in life are our greatest teachers.
It's easy for me to say that leading up to my sobriety was by far the worst time in my life. I was at the point where I didn't even want to live anymore. I was mad at the world and hated myself beyond belief.
What could I possibly gain from that experience?
I learned the most valuable lesson from being sick and tired...I never wanted to feel that way again. That became my fuel towards strengthening each area of my life. It truly put fire under my feet and I made the definite determinative decision to keep moving forward.
This showed me that through each obstacle in life, we gain the opportunity to change course. We get to map out our life options and decide the route in which we can move far, far away from where we no longer want to be.
Since overcoming the obstacle of active addiction, I have been able to use that same experience to help me through the many other obstacles life has thrown at me. If I can overcome the lowest point in my life, I can overcome this or that.
I am proof to myself that anything can be accomplished.
Overcoming emotions? Check. Overcoming a financial crisis? Check. Overcoming a breakup? Check.
I've already overcome the worst, so my problem solving skills from that experience can be used for the next and so on.
4. Good nutrition and exercise has so much to do with our mental health.
Previous to my sobriety, I had been lucky enough to go through classes pertaining to nutrition and psychology. I knew that my brain had become dependent on drugs in alcohol in order to keep the "feel good" chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin flowing through my brain. I knew that as soon as I quit using and drinking, that I would be unable to produce those chemicals naturally unless I started doing two very important things, eat healthy foods and exercise.
I became my own little experiment during my three week stint in rehab. As soon as the withdrawals passed, I began exercising every chance I got. I also made sure to only eat the healthy options that were available during treatment. I noticed that my overall mental state was improving quicker than those who were sticking to sugar and other refined foods. I also started noticing my energy levels rise, my sleep improve and I was really able to focus on the things I needed to in order to turn my life around..
Again, I became my own proof to the power of those things.
Today, I can notice a significant difference in my mentality from when I have an unhealthy week compared to a healthy week.
My state of mind changes for the better when I remain active and healthy.
5. Conditioning is key.
When I think of conditioning, I think back to the workouts we would have to do before our football season began back in middle school. Conditioning was the toughest part of the entire season. It was stretching our limits to where we would be fit enough to endure the gauntlet of each game.
Now, to bring the understanding of conditioning into my first few weeks of recovery, I was able to push limits in other areas of life in which I have been able to take with me ever since.
Before recovery, I wasn't much of a studious person. I rarely took notes or studied which is one of the reasons why I had to drop out of college twice. With ADHD, my mind was always running away from focusing on what I needed to focus on.
But one thing I knew, was that recovery for me wasn't pass or fail, it was life or death.
Anything less than an A+ might be the death of me.
So, as much as I hated taking notes and studying, I wondered to myself if I could condition myself towards becoming a good student.
I made it a point to bring a pad of paper and a pen to each meeting in treatment. I wrote everything I could down on my notepad. I became good at taking the right notes during that process. Not only that, but I started to enjoy writing out the important pieces of knowledge and wisdom that I wanted to add into my life. Only a few weeks later, I became an excellent student and knew that I could use the same skills for the rest of my life.
Not long after treatment, I enrolled myself into real estate school to accomplish my life long dream of becoming a real estate agent.
With my notepad out, I used the set of skills I conditioned myself to have and not long after that, became a licensed agent.
Since then, I became the ultimate student of life. I began reading personal development books, acquiring coaches, attending seminars and studying how to live my best life.
What's stopping me from accomplishing any of my goals at this point? Nothing!
If I want to become a doctor or a lawyer, I can do that too. The possibilities are endless, all because of conditioning myself, not to mention the confidence I have gained through doing so.
6. Eliminate the negative and add the positive.
Whether it's a group of friends, movies or TV shows, the news, social media, books, etc. we are either filling our brain with negativity or positivity.
When I hated my life the most, I was watching main stream news, following negative people and pages on social media, hanging around some crowds where the conversations were primarily negative, reading into negative stories and watching negative movies.
No wonder why my self-talk was purely negative.
My surroundings directly effected the way I thought of myself. Talk about holding myself back...
Early on in my recovery, I gained mentors and coaches who tasked me with eliminating all of those negative things from my life.
No more news, no more negative associations, no more negative social media, books or TV shows.
Instead, I was tasked with adding things that made me feel good. It was tough finding those things at first, but hey, I like dogs so I began following puppy pages on my Facebook and Instagram. As foofoo as that sounds, it made me smile more than I did before. I stared hanging around people who were forward moving, encouraging and around those who never complained. My life began to light up from that point on.
There's only so much room in our brain and it's as if there's a balance of negativity and positivity. The more positive I add, the less room there is for negativity, and the more negativity I eliminate, the more room there is for positivity.
I take inventory just about every day now. I look at what I am implementing into my mind, and make my decisions based on what I believe will make me feel better opposed to worse.
The outlook I have on myself today is far different from what it once was. So much of that has to do with what I am putting in front of my face.
Life can be one big learning experience. As long as I keep my mind open and become willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal, it can be done.
Most of our fears are only figments of our imaginations. Once we decide to start living life for ourselves, this world becomes a playground.
What's next for me?
Oh, I don't know, star on a mainstream documentary TV show? Help tens of thousands of people start their own recovery? Publish a bestselling book?
Some of that may sound crazy, but once you start the process of duplication, you may see what I see in that all of those things are very possible.
The possibilities are truly endless.
As tough as getting sober was, it was by far the greatest experience of my life.
- Austin F. Cooper