While we all have different journeys in recovery, most will agree that accountability is a crucial component when it comes to staying clean and sober. Once we admit we want to rebuild our lives—whether it’s to a close friend, a family member or all our followers on Instagram—it becomes a lot harder to just pick up a drink or pop a pill. After all, who wants to risk having to come clean and admit we lost focus for a sec—or, er, three years? Accountability is how we stay on track and we all have people, places and things that have helped us reach our recovery goals.
This is how accountability has worked for Paul.
What does accountability mean to you?
Accountability isn’t a small part of my sobriety. It’s not something I simply keep clean and polished on the shelf, just for show. Accountability means absolutely everything to me. Well before I was even aware that I was an alcoholic, I’d spent my entire life being accountable to no one. I was convinced that I knew best. Rules didn’t apply to me: I could eat as much as I wanted, spend money I didn’t have, and abandon people at a moment’s notice. Whenever the noose of obligation tightened, I was out. Gone. Before finding sobriety, my life was a million popped sweater threads. Now, answering to others helps me understand just how shattered my life was. I don’t know better. I don’t have the answers. I need rules, limits and boundaries. Without them, I’m completely lost.
Does the fact that people know about your recovery play into you staying sober? How?
I’ve told everyone I’m a recovering alcoholic. Absolutely everyone. And not because I’m insanely proud of being one. It’s because I know me—and I know that my brain is always working some stupid angle. Even with years of sobriety under my belt, I know I’m deviously trying to figure out a shortcut. By telling others about my recovery, I’m robbing myself of any chance that I have of going back out. I totally respect the people who keep their recovery bottled up, secure, safe and insulated from the world. I get it. That’s not for me, though. In all the ways I told everyone how much I loved drinking, I’m the exact same about my recovery.
Who or what are you accountable to in your recovery?
You name it. It started with me being accountable to my wife and children, then the folks at my regular AA meeting, then my sponsor. Accountability eventually started to spread out like pond ripples. Facebook helps, too. For better or for worse, everyone knows I’m in recovery. It’s sort of like a slash-and-burn campaign. I scorched the earth when it came to my drinking days. I wanted no trace of them. Neighbors, strangers, colleagues at work. Everyone knows and, therefore, I answer to everyone.
How important is having a community to your staying sober? Why?
I’ll be totally honest: I really didn’t want a community when I first got sober. That was just about the last thing I wanted. I didn’t want that disgusting feeling of having to be connected with other people; being obligated to them, showing up and being present, having to share my feelings, worries and stories. Now, I find genuine comfort in the sober communities I’m part of. And I can turn absolutely anything into a community: Facebook groups; group text messages; three fellow drunks in a Starbucks line before a meeting. Communities give me the padded walls I need to protect me from myself.
Have you ever relapsed? Is there anything you could have done that might have prevented that?
You bet I did. Two weeks after I got out of a treatment center, I was sitting in a parking lot, chugging a tall boy of Labatt Blue. I’d never been more ashamed, guilty or miserable in my life. In fact, I still wasn’t convinced I was an alcoholic. That moment sits with me, too. I can still feel the cold burn in my throat and chest from that beer. I don’t think I could have prevented that relapse—and I don’t want to. Some part of me is really happy I relapsed. I need to hold onto that pitch-black despair. I need to remember what it feels like to throw everything you’ve worked so hard for right out the window.
What advice do you give someone who wants to get or stay sober?
I don’t really give advice so much as I start asking questions. The main question I ask is: “Why do you want to get sober?” Nine times out of ten (and I’m making that statistic up), the person is really struggling with some short-term problem in their life rather than seeking a long-term solution. Maybe they’re hungover or dealing with a week long stretch of depression. Doesn’t matter. The point is that they have to want to get sober. It’s no different than wanting to lose weight. They have to be prepared to commit to it for the long haul. For me, I couldn’t conceive of a sober life at all. When I tried envisioning my future, I just saw a black TV screen. I didn’t think I’d laugh the same way; I didn’t think I’d be funny; I didn’t think people would like me. I legitimately didn’t know how I’d live. Now, I realize I wasn’t living my life at all. So, I try not to give advice because what worked for me might not work for anyone else. I just ask why they want to get sober and go from there.
How important do you think transparency is in your recovery?
Great question. I always check my motives whenever I talk about my sobriety and recovery. “Who will this benefit?” is a question I usually ask myself. At the end of the day, I just want to help someone find their way to recovery and to navigate through all the bullshit on the way there. Being transparent, open, and honest (all of which were completely foreign concepts to me, as an alcoholic, by the way) is the only way I can achieve that. It helps me stay sober knowing that I’m helping someone by telling them some part of my story or telling them that I’m not feeling the best today. Whenever I receive a message from someone who reads one of my articles or someone who listens to one of my podcasts, it’s more fulfilling than almost anything else in my life. If I wasn’t open and honest, I’d be lying to myself—and that’s unacceptable. I’m doing no one any good by lying through omission or giving someone the 75% version of the truth. In recovery, not every day is full of green lights and sunshine—and I’m honest about that.
How does it feel to earn people’s trust back now that you’re sober?
I can’t explain it. I really can’t. “Earn” is the right word, too. I didn’t understand what that word even meant. I just assumed I had people’s trust when I really didn’t. I’m a completely different person now. Like, 100% different. I feel brand-new and showroom-ready. When everything was said and done, I’d ruined so many relationships that not having someone’s trust was an absolute given. The realization that I had no one’s trust was a sickening feeling. But when I got sober, I didn’t really have to do some huge campaign with people, lobbying for their trust. It just sort of happened. And if I’m completely honest, I trust people in recovery almost more than anyone else in my life.
For the ultimate in accountability Soberlink’s Share Program provides recovering individuals a technology to build accountability and structure. The program is designed for those who want to share their sobriety with their support network.
Follow Paul Fuhr on his website, Facebook and Twitter. He is the host of Drop the Needle and The Fuhrious Podcast. Paul is also a regular contributor to The Fix and AfterParty Magazine.
About the Author
Soberlink supports accountability for sobriety through a comprehensive alcohol monitoring system. Combining a breathalyzer with wireless connectivity, the portable design and technology includes facial recognition, tamper detection and real-time reporting. Soberlink proves sobriety with reliability to foster trust and peace of mind.