Good Advice to the Newly Sober: You Do Not Have to Be Good

Anytime someone quotes my favorite Mary Oliver poem “Wild Geese,” I react just like one of Pavlov’s dogs. My pulse quickens, I salivate, and I have to fight back the urge to jump up and down and squeal, “MARY OLIVER! I LOVE HER TOO! SHE SAVED MY LIFE! I STARTED A POETRY BLOG BECAUSE OF HER!

So when I saw Off-Dry’s recent post, “Day 778: You Do Not Have to be Good,” of course I was hooked. It’s a short but wisdom packed reminder to those that are newly sober and trying to change the world over night:

I’ve been thinking about this as I read the blogs of very newly sober people. Some of you are so ambitious! You’re getting sober and quitting smoking, or getting sober and quitting sugar, or getting sober and running for office and becoming professional decathletes. And–you’re very impressive, by the way–and it worries me. I get worried because I know the getting-sober part takes enough energy on its own, without piling another task on top of it.

As I kept reading, I remembered why I fell in love with Off-Dry’s writing; she’s witty and charming and funny too! And I relate to so much of what she shares:

Maybe you think you need to become good fast now to make up for lost time. So, I have two thoughts about that:

  1. You cannot make up for lost time. I know, I know. But you can’t.
  2. You do not have to be good. Not right now.

I tried to be good, too. The last few years I drank, it was all I tried to do. To be the best wife, the best employee, the best yogi with the cleanest diet (uh, the food part, anyway). The prettiest and the nicest and the smartest and the most helpful and the one who made it all look the easiest. All that striving for goodness kept me using wine as my escape valve long after I’d realized that without the wine I wouldn’t need an escape valve. And God, who could blame me? Who wouldn’t need a nightly glass of wine or four under the weight of all that oppressive goodness? I kind of want to hit myself with a hammer just reading about it now.

If you are newly sober, or hell, if you’re oldly sober, or somewhere in between, or if you know someone who is, read the rest her post “Day 778: You Do Not Have to be Good.”

And then be sure to read her post “Day 730: Two Years Today,” and congratulate her on over two years of sobriety. She writes, “If Today Me could have given Sober Newbie Me a glimpse into the future, here are some of the things I would have told myself . . .” I laughed out loud when I read:

You’ll also be shocked, shocked to realize that lots and lots of other people don’t drink, or only drink a little. They were there all along, but you never noticed them because you were off being all ring-a-ding-ding with the party people like a total fucking Holly Golightly jackass.

Yep. Can totally relate to that one.

Which one can you relate to? What advice would you go back to give your past self (doesn’t have to be sobriety related)?

Me? I have three pieces of advice that I would’ve shared:

  1. Eat the jelly beans. Eat the cookies. Eat the gallons of ice cream. EAT ALL THE SUGAR!  (Oh wait, never mind, I did all that.) How about EAT IT ALL WITH NO GUILT! YOU DO NOT HAVE TO BE GOOD!
  2. Treat the past like a rear-view mirror. Look, but don’t stare. If you’re living in the past, you’re not living in the present.
  3. Lighten the fuck up. Seriously. You take things way too seriously. I’m serious about this.

Have a great week everyone. Don’t forget to go read Off-Dry’s posts. Feel free to comment here or there.

Sadie and I wish you a great week. Remember, you do not have to be good. "Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination"
Sadie and I wish you a great week. Remember, “You do not have to be good. 
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.”


Mary Oliver reads her poem, “Wild Geese:”

For more of Ms. Oliver’s poetry, I recommend:

To listen to a podcast with the reclusive Mary Oliver, visit OnBeing with Krista Tippett and click “play episode” on the right side of the screen.

25 thoughts on “Good Advice to the Newly Sober: You Do Not Have to Be Good

  1. The advice I’d give my younger self would be to listen to my gut more. I’ve always let my brain decide things after lots of thinking. For most things that’s fine (and likely smart), but sometimes you just have to listen to your gut and go for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Yes, it was fab…both were! I’d forgotten how much I love Kristi’s writing. When I took my blogging break, I changed from following blogs by email to following by rss reader, and missed out on some great material. (PS- loved the yoga retreat photo on Twitter with J!)


  2. “I kind of just want to hit myself with a hammer just reading about it now”…oh YES! I’m one of those people who doesn’t drink, or drinks very little. But, as you have astutely noted before, we each have our own addictions. And, I’ve done this to combat my own demons. Be the best mom/wife/daughter/sister/employee to make up for all of the bad bubbling under the surface. Good combats bad, right? These “be good” habits started before I was in middle school!

    You are so good at capturing the best from our talented community of writers with topics, though anchored in sobriety, truly reach the masses.
    As for Mary Oliver – thank you for bringing her to me. Her sun was on my face this morning 🙂

    SWEET picture!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Love combats hate (maybe), light combats dark (eventually bc dark is just absence of light), but I’m not sure good always combats bat. Besides good and bad are so subjective…and they’re labels. Don’t get me going on labels.
      As far as capturing material, that’s sweet…thank you! I don’t get to read as often as I used to, but I never fail to be inspired by what I do read. I’m happy to give back that inspiration to others whenever I get the chance. The same applies to poetry and the very lovely Mary Oliver 🙂 Her words make this world a sunnier place, as do yours. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The advice I’d give to my past self is to soften into life instead of putting up so much resistance. Softness is not weak, it’s resilient. It doesn’t make me more likely to be victimized, it makes me more likely to survive. Softness allows for compromise and compassion. Much love to you and Sadie!

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  4. LOVE it!
    gotta go read the original post, bookmark it, and send it to all the newly sober folks who are so busy.
    I was a slug and ate and slept when i wanted to. My hobby was going to AA meetings and reading sober blogs and understanding that this was a huge change and i needed to be so very, very gentle with myself.

    and you know you had me at Mary….altho my sober journey was connected, first, with her poem..The Journey. The knowledge that the only one i can save is myself is a touchstone for me.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember I felt guilty at times because I was such a slug. I had to remind myself it wasn’t selfish, it was life-saving. If I didn’t do whatever I had to stop drinking, then I couldn’t be there at all for others. If I don’t put my recovery first, nothing else can come second.

      Mary….yes…”Mend my life!” We can only mend our own. “Starlings in Winter” is another that rings true (I am thinking now of grief, and getting over it), and “A Settlement” (therefore dark past…) and “Thirst”… (for a goodness I do not have…I am slowly learning) and “Heavy” and “Uses of Sorrow” and and and SOOO many.



    1. Sadie really is a ham. And I adore her!
      “All ring-a-ding-ding Holly Go Lightly….” still laughing over that one!
      Never understood the fascination with selfies in the car/while driving. Like, HUH?! But…the lighting is pretty good! I wasn’t driving, thank goodness. (Texting and taking selfies while driving is BAD, kids, don’t do it! I’m serious about that one! Always be good about that one! 😀 )

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Life is rarely exactly how we imagined it would be, but it’s interesting how often it turns out like it should. We can’t always get what we want, but if we try sometimes, we might find, we get what we need.
      Hey, that would make a pretty good song. I ought to write that down somewhere. 🙂
      Glad things are good. I know they were bumpy for a bit. Just stay the course. Life eventually smoothes out. Besides something about that irritation and rockiness that lends itself to pearls and diamonds….

      Liked by 1 person

    1. That is so true and a great reminder. Multi-tasking is a myth. Something always gives. Usually our sanity. Focusing on the task at hand, one thing at a time, one day at a time…such importance there.
      Hope you are happy and summer is going well!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Was making this a sticky post when I saw that I never replied to your comment. Excuse me for being a rude, or at least unobservant, or more likely totally scatterbrained, bloggy friend. You are so very welcome for the kind words. You deserved–and deserve–them very much. Hopefully some newly folks will see this again if they’re out looking for sober blogs. 🙂 Happy New Year, Kristi! x, c-

      Liked by 1 person

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