5 Ways Sober People Act Out
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5 Ways Sober People Act Out


Getting and staying clean can be hard work, despite what they say in the rooms about it being simple, but not easy. Lots of us struggle with “acting out,” even after we’ve given up our poison of choice. Here are a few of the most common ways you might find yourself behaving poorly (or even self-destructively) even if you’ve got some long-term sobriety under your belt…

1) Sex

Sexual acting-out is one of the most common forms I’ve witnessed around me during my own sobriety stints. Why sex? Because it’s universal, it’s free (uh, most of the time), it’s fun and it’s a release. It can also feel naughty, dirty, or wrong—all qualities “normal” people might be inclined to avoid, but not us addictive sorts! We eat up the gross, dirty and just plain wrong; it can even lead some of us into sex- and love-addiction programs like Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. If you find yourself seeking out casual encounters or tawdry hookups on the regular and you’re starting to feel like Slutty McSlutterson, take a step back to evaluate your behavior—and your motives. If you’re doing it to distract yourself from yourself, consider upping your meetings or talking with friends, counselors, or sponsors.

2) Food

As I’ve written about here before, substituting food for other addictive substances you’ve given up (i.e., alcohol and drugs) is a common occurrence. Why? Duh—because food (especially sweets!) tastes good, satisfies your hunger for a tangible source of pleasure and can even give you a natural high (again, see sweets). Of course, overindulging in tasty-ass things may help soothe you and provide a much-needed dose of fun, but it’s generally not the healthiest bet unless you feel like getting fatter and potentially unhealthier. So if you find yourself binging, eating compulsively to numb yourself out, or if you just generally feel outta control when it comes to moderating your munching, you might consider trying a sister program like Overeaters Anonymous. Or just getting conscious about the behavior and see if you can find some moderation.

3) Cigarettes

I’ve known so many people who’ve turned to smoking to help them cope with the weirdness of sobriety. It kinda makes sense, too—it can be a social pastime, just like drinking (smokers outside used to be the identifier for anyone anywhere searching for an AA meeting) and it tends to attract misfit types who are too cool for school (and a bit devil-may-care about their health). The problem, of course, is that smoking is desperately unhealthy; it’s basically begging the universe to give you cancer, and who really wants that? Don’t start.

4) Isolating

I recently read a fabulous quote along these lines: “Artists are perpetually torn between the need to communicate and the desire to be alone and sulk.” Okay, it didn’t say that exactly, but that sentiment is pretty right-on, no? And I suspect it’s a sentiment that tons of addicts and alkies can relate to. Most people in recovery—at least the ones I know—tend to be depressive and solitary sorts. Adapting to life without substances can be painful and awkward, and one easy way to dull the weirdness is to stay home and avoid avoid avoid. Holing up at home and obsessively watching the new season of OITNB may feel like a cozy, fun relief, and everyone should do it from time to time. But doing it too much—to the point that you’re actively avoiding getting out and seeing friends—can only make your sense of alienation worse.

5) Getting Pissed (Off)

Lashing out at others (or yourself) from a place of rage, frustration, resentment or irritation (think road rage, snapping at your mom, or cutting off your friend when she makes a harmless comment about your new boyfriend) can be almost as harmful as any of the other preceding behaviors on this list. Why? Because it doesn’t just hurt those around you; it also makes you feel worse about yourself, guilty, and ashamed. Why give yourself yet another reason to beat yourself up? Trust us, all aspects of everyday life tend to run more smoothly when you try to restrain yourself with both “pen and tongue.”

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.