Clean is when the drugs have left our system.
There are three aspects to sobriety:
- Physical sobriety, where we are abstinent for a long enough time for our brains to begin to recover so that we can think more clearly and make decisions based on reality instead of confusion and fear;
- Emotional and spiritual sobriety, where we come to terms with who we are, what we have done, and what we must do to right the wrongs we have perpetrated (to the extent possible), learn to re-connect with other people, and begin to get comfortable in our own skins; and
- Social sobriety, where we re-enter the world by actually making things right with others, and develop socially so that we are re-integrated with the world outside the recovery community.
These things take time. Physical recovery alone can take a couple of years after we detox, depending on the damage we’ve inflicted on ourselves Sometimes it takes months before we can even begin to think straight.
We may need help from friends, counselors, even physicians, in order to get our neurological system and lives back in order.
We need to be working on our attitude toward life and toward ourselves and the things we have done. (This is where the support groups like AA, NA and the others can be of profound importance.)
And we need to become employed, make amends for the past, renew our relationships and grieve those that are not, for one reason or another, renewable. We need to remember — or perhaps learn for the first time — how non-addicts live and relate to each other, their jobs, their spirituality and the world at large.
As you can see, looked at this way, there is a HUGE difference between “clean” and “sober.” Sobriety is a continuum. It begins the moment we decide that we can no longer live the life of an addict, and continues to where we are again a part of society — and beyond. It doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t easy. It isn’t even especially simple — but it is possible.
Millions of us have gotten sober in the past, and millions of us will in the future — as long as we stick with the process until it is finished. If we forget our goals, or fail to continue to reach for them, we are soon on the way down the slippery slope of addict thinking, and a drink or a drug is not far in our future.