Guinevere Gets Sober

Recovery news, reviews and stories, by Jennifer Matesa.

Words to say when someone gets sober

We’ve had some interesting search terms this past week:

Want to help my mom get sober

Letters of encouragement for a young addict

Words to say when someone gets sober

Addiction can be a prickly subject

Recovery from addiction can be a prickly subject

I love “letters of encouragement for a young addict.” I love all these, actually.  I think the best recommendation I could give is just to be as present as possible.

Being present: that means giving full attention. Having few expectations.

I just heard a 21-year-old woman tell her story a week ago as a way of celebrating her first year sober. Twenty-one years old: think about it. If she can stay sober, she has her entire life ahead of her. She’s still at university. Her story completely rocked… she gave up binge-drinking, pills, eating problems, everything.

I remember having coffee with her when she was about six months sober. She was afraid she was going to drink again; it was the middle of winter, all her friends were out partying on the weekends. What we talked about was faith. She was interested in my Quaker meeting. I let her ask me questions.

We talked about discernment, and about the idea that we could discern the spirit moving in silence—because Quakers hold silent worship meetings. My encouragement to her (more as somebody old enough to be her mother, rather than as someone with “more sobriety”) was to follow the intuitive guide that resides in all of us, that is our birthright. The big book talks about it:

What used to be the hunch or the occasional inspiration gradually becomes a working part of the mind. . . . We find that our thinking will, as time passes, be more and more on the plane of inspiration. We come to rely upon it.

That’s page 87.

The other night I drove a young woman home from a meeting. She couldn’t have been more than 25. I’ve seen this young woman from time to time at meetings. She’s tried to get sober for the past two years (maybe for more—I’ve only been coming around the rooms for two years); she’d put together a month or three months, then go out and drink. At this meeting, she said she had 30 days and was in an intensive outpatient rehab program. She said it very reluctantly because she was afraid she’d drink again.

Note well: both these women were afraid they’d drink again.

For family members who are wondering how to encourage their loved one in rehab or in outpatient programs: if you are afraid they’re going to drink or use again, multiply that fear by 1,000, and you’ve got the fear that your loved one has. They are more afraid than you are that they will drink or use again. Which is why we need to be present for our loved ones, and have low expectations. Piling expectations on top of fear just creates more fear. My AlAnon sponsor always says: High hopes, low expectations.

On the way to her apartment, the young woman said she wasn’t sure about how to choose a sponsor. I hear so many women say this. I had three sponsors in my first year—long story for another post—and my experience about choosing a sponsor is this: Look for someone who lives freely. And look for someone who has what you want.

“I really wish Q could be my sponsor,” she said with passion.

“There you go—that’s your intuitive voice that the big book talks about,” I said. “Q rocks. She works a great program. She’s free.”

But I’ve asked her before,” she said. “She said she has too many sponsees.”

A good sign: a sponsor who knows her limitations, I said.

“What about asking her one more time?” I said. “And if she says no, ask her for the names of some of her sponsees… Because if you like what Q has, chances are her sponsees are gonna have some of that. Or ask her for some names of other people she would recommend. This is a way of inviting the spirit into the situation.”

What words do you say when someone gets sober?


  1. hi g,

    i love this post so much.

    i’m afraid that i’ve probably said only the wrong things to my son while he was in rehab. he is in sober living right now and liking it. but i’m nervous on the phone with him b/c i’m afraid of saying the wrong thing. i try not to ask questions. but that is hard b/c with my other sons i can freely ask, so what are you up to? or what’s happening? with jack i know those are loaded questions. that is why i’m here, to learn. so teach me will ya!


  2. guinevere

    August 7, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    Daisy… Just sharing from my own experience here. I try to remember… there are no mistakes. As you can see from my previous posts, this is sometimes difficult for me to remember… But I am where I need to be today. Everything that I have done, every “wrong thing” I’ve committed, has brought me to this place, and I would not be able to be who I am without it.

    I would not be able to write to you without it.

    Easy does it… Cut yourself some slack. Jack is not the only one who has been through a difficult time.

    Just after I detoxed, conversations with my husband were difficult. I had a lot of guilt and fear that I would fail, and he had resentment and confusion. Recovery is a major life-transition.

    Does Jack call you, or do you call Jack?


  3. Hi G!
    Thank you for posting this. I wish I had read it before we went to visit our daughter for the first time in rehab. I can open mouth and insert foot in less than 2 seconds.. 🙁 We were both walking on eggshells trying to figure out what to say as to not upset her but in the end I managed to do so. I asked her about all of the bill collector’s that are calling our house and if she would be willing to let us pay them off and then we she gets on her feet and employed she could pay us back eventually. All that, and she’s only been in rehab 2 weeks. After we spoke about it, she got very quiet and kind of unresponsive. This is all in an hour. If we’d been there longer I’m sure I would’ve of said something else to upset her because we are not sure what to say to her. So much for high hopes, low expectations. Any advice for the next visit?


    P.s. Thanks for your blog! I read it everyday!

  4. jack always calls me. i ask him to email me because there are not those long pauses in conversation that i’m tempted to fill with questions or stupid comments. but he really prefers calling. we need some space from one another. he needs to embrace his new family in recovery and i need to heal, i think he calls b/c he is lonely or just wants to hear a familiar voice. i could really use a script or 2 of appropriate things to say.


  5. guinevere

    August 8, 2010 at 11:44 am

    Lynne and Daisy, thanks for being here.

    A script sometimes seems like it would make me feel safe…

    (how ironic: we call prescriptions “scripts”…)

    I remember wishing I had a script when I needed to talk to my parents, both of whom were affected by the disease of addiction. I just wanted to know what the hell to say so the discussion would go OK and I could know I wouldn’t put a foot wrong.

    My need for scripts comes out of fear. Also out of the need for self-protection. Also out of my need to control things.

    What if I put the control in higher power’s care? (it’s in higher power’s care anyway… it was pointed out to me this week that it’s a delusion to think the control is anywhere else)

    The expectations might change… Silences might become part of the process of getting to know each other again. … When my mother was sick, I would say simple things to her: “What did you do today?” “It’s good to hear your voice.”

    Also, a very important thing: “I love you.”

    I’m not a fount of wisdom… Just sharing my experience strength and hope… and hoping others will weigh in with theirs.

  6. Great post. I hope that she does ask Q. or who ever has what she wants. That’s the most important thing in choosing a sponsor. The person has what I want–peace, serenity, humility, willingness. Good stuff.

  7. I’m sitting here after reading this article and wondering with great frustration…what words can you use to convince your loved one’s (mainly my folks) that I really DID get sober when I went to rehab( for a whole 3 days) five years ago? Keep in mind that I have never relapsed once, but they are not a part of my daily life so they couldn’t really know for sure either way. I have talked until I am blue in the face, I know that it really only matters what I think about my own recovery, but I must admit it hurts….badly! Thankfully, my husband and son have seen the entire transformation and support me fully. Anyway, love your blog it is a wealth of information. Thank you for your time.

  8. I just found this page for the first time, desperately searching for similar answers. I have an on-again-off-again boyfriend who has finally decided to really work the steps and get sober (he has tried before, and I failed to support him correctly last time -piling on expectations and ultimatums). Most of our relationship problems are linked to who he is when he drinks (and certainly, my lack of patience… which I am working on as well).
    All I want to do is be supportive at this point, but our conversations have turned so cold. He gives me updates about his recovery, but beyond that, we’re barely talking. There are only so many times you can say “I’m so proud of you.” before it seems flat and insincere.
    When I ask questions, he similarly shuts up like a clam, the long pauses you talk about? Oh, I know those well.

    You posted this a year ago. Did you find anything to say that was more cathartic? That worked? Any advice for someone in a similar situation? I keep praying for magic words that will bring love and life back into our relationship during this trying time.


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