18 Months Sober and Still Not Happy?!

I’ve been questioned about my lack of happiness. Shouldn’t I, after 18 months without a drink, be experiencing some of the joys of recovery?

Eschewing a postmodern deconstruction of the definition of “happiness” – feel free to radically, relatively and tediously define it as you will – here are the reasons I think I’m not happy.

Bamboo continues to happenIt’s a time thing. A friend told me that she doesn’t want to relapse, not because she doesn’t want to do year 1 over again, but because she doesn’t want to do year 2 again. Dan Smith refers to 18 months sober as a “dangerous time.” A mentor says, “Time takes time.” I haven’t done year 2 before and I would describe it, generally, as hellish, a different kind of hell from year 1. I’m probably as far along as I can get. At this time.

It’s a brain thing. I’ve messed up my mind. Anhedonia – the inability to feel pleasure – happens to abstinent alcohol and drug users. Anhedonia + relapse happens. How to treat a decreased ability to feel pleasure (happiness?) remains uncertain. Time will heal some of it. And I can think and regulate my way to accelerated improvement. But I can’t will myself to be happy any more than I could will myself to stop drinking.

It’s a human thing. I can’t say alcohol made me happy, but it gave me a complex experience of relief, release and comfort. It ceased my distress. I am never, ever to have that again. What alcohol did for me is now not being done. I am not the self I was. And addiction makes me long for what I used to have. I have to handle distress, loss, grief, longing, all at once. That’s just humanly hard. And it’s hard to feel humanly happy when one has to work that desperately hard.

It’s a life thing. Life happens. My divorce – my second – will be final this month. My mother died three years ago next month. Bamboo invades the foundations of my townhouse. Will it give me a surprise through the toilet next? Eh, life.


I’m trying. I think trying will eventually work. I’m not sure how to define “work,” but I expect to be happier in the future than I am now.

I’m trying different things. A gift of being in recovery and working against addiction with other people is their help becoming more aware more quickly of when I am doing the same things over and over again and getting the same unwanted results.

Recovery from addiction requires a person to be his or her own treatment team leader, working 24/7/365, to create and execute a customized, individualized treatment plan. I live in a small town with limited resources for addictions recovery.  I’ve done my best to create days filled with treatment. Members of my recovery community give me feedback on my progress and create an intimate, expert Google. I can make queries and receive – given generously and plentifully without scolding or shaming – ways that have worked for others.

I am shoulder to shoulder with others. As a member of a recovery community and as a counselor working with other alcoholics and addicts, I spend my days sharing, working, talking, and listening with people who are also trying to be happier. Stopping drinking was too much for me alone; staying stopped feels like too much for me.  And happiness?! Some seconds, minutes, hours, days, months – happiness is impossible. I’m not the only one on the job, though. Being a member of a community that intentionally seeks insights and understandings, and who gives and receives to each other intentionally, soothes, warms and inspires me.

I am doing my best to use my gifts. I have a sense that addiction to alcohol worked on me like an inner solvent. Parts of my self, my mind, my essence got dissolved forever. I am trying to exercise what’s left, however, and build it. I am trying to open my half heart to loving more, to feeling more compassion. In my work, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to know closely, not dozens or even a hundred people, but thousands. Hence, I know a lot about people. I approach learning as a scholar, not as a hobbyist, and I know a lot about a lot. I remember having a passion to delve, then distill. I can still read and study and synthesize large quantities of complex information into little blog posts and stick figure cartoons – a former student remembers and terms them “stickies” which is balm for my sore heart – even into processes for apps.

Yeah, so maybe I’m not as happy as I would like or others would like me to be. But, sheesh, I haven’t had a drink for 18 months. I think I’m doing all right.

Update 9/25/19

I wrote this post in 2014 – just over 5 years ago – and it receives more traffic through search than any other post on my blog. The feedback I’ve gotten is that people are entering “sober but unhappy.”

In 2014, we didn’t know as much about substance use as we do now.

For me, the year of change was 2016 with the publication of Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction by Maia Szalavitz and Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health.

The research on addiction was now available for all to read. I learned that I am one of the 2/3 of people with substance use concerns who has experienced trauma. In 2014, abstinent from the substance that eased my mind and heart, I wasn’t just unhappy, but on fire with untreated PTSD symptoms.

Having been treated for trauma, this is now what it’s like to be me, a person in remission from the health condition of addiction. Here’s a typical day in my life following an evidence-based treatment plan. And here’s a plain language summary of what the research suggests can help people who want or need to abstain.

I’m now in private practice as a counselor and publish all the materials I create for my clients for all to use as they wish. I so hope they or other sources may help ease your way.

The views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my colleagues, clients, family members, or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.


  1. Ethan190590 says

    Just curious… have you relapsed since this post?

  2. I searched the web to find someone who felt like me. Though I’m only on 5 months, every thing I read talks of miraculous changes. I do not feel that way and I struggle with that. Yes, I notice difference that are good but in my AA meeting everyone talks of peace and contentment, huh? I’m heavier, its hard to motivate myself, I still feel alone. What is all this about.. I’m sober longer than I’ve been my whole life. I drank or did drugs for 40 years… Thanks for letting me vent.

  3. I love this post so much. I will have 18 months in 8 days from now and related to everything you wrote. The crazy ups and downs I felt in my first year, while nothing compared to the chaos that was my drinking and using life, were infinitely more exciting than this… flatness I am experiencing in my second year. Very low level depression. Mainly the realization that I still behave the same way and have the same character defects even though I’m sober now. Although I’m safe and grateful and have a lot in my life I miss that roller coaster of emotions sometimes! I went through a huge breakup when I first got sober, my sober boyfriend of 3 years dumped me by letter when I was in rehab. It’s. o nice to hear that I’m not alone in how I’m feeling. That, more than anything , helps me feel ok, to know that I’m not alone. Thank you for this post!

  4. Great, Anne.

    • Anne Giles says

      Thanks, Ken. 19 months yesterday. What a ride. I really appreciate your support.

  5. Thank you for your story, Anne…the first 2 years were the hardest for me, for sure. Much love to you. Don’t forget to laugh and have fun! (I have to remind myself of that a lot, ha) Christine

    • Thank you so much, Christine. Although I wouldn’t wish hard years on anyone, I feel comforted to hear they, too, were hard for you.

      >Don’t forget to laugh and have fun!

      I look forward to this! 🙂

      Thanks again!

  6. I think that “doing all right” is pretty damn good! * high five *

  7. Leah Clark says

    “I’m right where I’m supposed to be, which is never where I want to be.”

    Life on life’s terms can be a [email protected] Alcoholics are used to running from emotions, not feeling or dealing with them. I celebrated 18 years last month and I’m still challenged sometimes. I think, because I’m doing the deal, I should be happy, joyous and free. But that doesn’t men smiling, giddy, and everything goes my way.

    Some days, I settle for grateful, quiet, and safe. Hang in there, Anne. I promise, eventually you’ll look back and realize that this time, or Things I Must Endure, will change to Things I Might Enjoy.


  8. Dan Smith says


    ” I haven’t had a drink for 18 months. I think I’m doing all right.” Sometimes that’s enough. Happiness, like so much else, is a matter of personal perception, a choice. It’ll come on a more consistent basis as soon as you’re ready for it. I’ve known people in the program who would never let it in; being without booze was enough for them. I don’t see that happening with you. You’re too inquisitive, too sensitive, too courageous and too gritty to accept what is given that doesn’t please you. You’ll get it. And my guess is that’s coming soon.

    Dan Smith

    • Anne Giles says

      >to accept what is given that doesn’t please you

      Made me laugh, Dan!

      And thank you so much for your support and for your understanding. Your comments and emails strengthen me!