Rehab Reviews Australia

The First 90 Days Getting Clean And Sober

The first 90 days are truly a majestic feat for many people in recovery. Its powers can be utterly elusive, seemingly part of an exclusive club whose members are rewarded at the very least, in Narcotics Anonymous, with a beautiful red chip.

Sometimes this chip is shiny, other times it can be a deep matted red colour, almost the colour of blood, ever reminding us of mortality but also our so desperate need for that emergency transfusion of addiction recovery. The fact that the colour of the chip is red produces that automated response in our brains to instinctively be on alert, or at the very least to certainly notice it when another member of Narcotics Anonymous has it hanging on their keyring. It’s not uncommon for members to  have two or three of these chips on their key rings, sometimes even four or five.

It is the most sought-after milestone for people in addiction recovery. Whether they are in rehab, on drug replacement, blocking medications, attending mutual-aid groups, or commencing a natural recovery without the assistance of anything at all,. 90 days clean, or 90 days clean and sober, has a resounding ring of achievement. It is a proven commitment to something that previously seemed unimaginable, scary, and only for other people.

In many mutual-aid groups, it can potentially mean serious responsibility for individuals. They are suddenly being catapulted into a position of having the most ‘clean time’ (drug-free) attending a particular meeting and being viewed by others as having a qualification of addiction recovery experience. A mutual-aid group member at this stage of their recovery will become someone other members or new members might seek advice from. This can potentially evolve into sponsorship for other members or even a service position within the group.

Perhaps it’s also significant because ninety days roughly represents three months or because it’s so close to the number one hundred, which holds historical hints of perfection in our notational decimal system for counting. A 90-day commitment to a particularly difficult or almost impossible task is something to be truly admired.

While 90 days represents a fantastic achievement for many, it can also mean catastrophe for many other people in recovery. Sometimes discouragingly referred to as the ’90-day relapses’. These people get to 90 days clean in a mutual-aid group or through a treatment service and then inevitably find themselves in a destructive pattern of chronic cyclical relapse back into addiction on day ninety-one or day ninety-two.

This can occur for many reasons—the overwhelming sensation of making it to 90 days clean. Complacency can creep in because of the success and the idea that the addiction wasn’t that bad in the first place, and a person might begin to believe they can do this again if they need to. Or a combination of all of the above and/or many other unforeseen circumstances.

A type of transformation certainly takes place during this period, and a steady but slow awakening to reality accompanies it for most people.

I don’t remember much about my first twelve months in recovery. Still, for some reason, particular times and events during my first ninety days are completely vivid, like they happened yesterday.

I still remember sitting in a meeting and being roughly 40-odd days clean, which was about the most I had achieved in eight or nine years. A young man was sitting at the back of the meeting, and he casually lamented while laying comfortably over two chairs, “I’m 68 days clean today, and I’ve been asleep for the last two days.”. Everybody cheered and began clapping feverishly. I was furious and astounded all at once. My first thought was that this was some kind of deception or cheating. I thought, How the hell could you sleep for two days when I hadn’t been able to get any sleep for weeks?

My head and body were disconnected entirely. I was the very definition of discombobulated. My body felt like Jim Carrey on acid in full flight having a seizure, and the best I could do was try to contain my uncontrollable physical spasms in public. Or laughing inappropriately while someone was explaining to me their deepest personal trauma. I was completely fucked, or F.U.B.A.R.—Fucked Up Beyond All Recognition.

My head felt like a wind tunnel with no exits, and my brain was a ping pong ball just bouncing around indiscriminately from all sides. At the time, the best I could manage was just sitting in a mutual-aid group (AA/NA), trying to prevent myself from laughing or crying violently at anything. I remember looking at that ninety-day key tag and thinking it had foreboding powers. I believe that many people felt the same way.

Earlier in my first 90 days, I was sitting in a daytime NA meeting in a fairly dodgy neighbourhood, and it came to the end of the meeting, and the chairperson (person responsible for the meeting) asked if anyone would open up the meeting in a few days’ time because it was Christmas day and he was busy. I didn’t even know it was Christmas Day. He announced to the group that you had to be 90 days clean to open the meeting and asked if anyone was clean for that length of time. 

I had been clean and sober for three weeks, so I basically ignored his request. No one responded to his plea for help. He then said that sixty days would be fine also. 

Again, no one answered him. He then murmured under his breath, ‘thirty days’, in utter desperation. 

I announced I was nearly three weeks clean, and everyone cheered, and he looked at me and said, ‘Right, you’ve got the job; here are the flags, banners, and keys, and I’ll see you the week after’. 

I didn’t even actually volunteer, I was announced by proxy as being the closest thing he had to someone who was 90 days clean and sober. I was reluctantly honoured, excited, and terrified all at once. I didn’t know what I was volunteering for. It felt like a promotion.

A member asked me to go for coffee after the meeting, and I happily accepted. As we sat at the coffee shop at a busy intersection, he told me not to worry about opening the meeting, that it was not a big deal, and that I would be fine. He then proceeded to tell me he was in fact two years clean and sober, but Christmas time made him feel extremely uneasy and anxious, so he was checking himself into rehab just for protection.

My anxiety then accelerated into overdrive. I didn’t even know what anxiety was then. I just thought I was dying or going to die very soon. My heartbeat was thumping on the coffee table.


I instantly thought, I’m not opening a meeting on Christmas day; that’s certifiable! He’s going to rehab for Christmas, just for security. I thought maybe I needed an insane asylum or prison, just to be on the safe side over the Christmas period, too!

He went on to tell me the most important words of advice I had ever heard in my life. 

He said, ‘NA and AA were great, but they were not exactly a sea of mental stability, and at the end of the day, it’s every man for himself’. Never a truer comment had ever been spoken by anyone.

“Sea of mental stability”. I was a tsunami of lunacy; maybe there was hope for me yet?

After the coffee, I very quickly managed to find the guy who had anointed me as the new meeting opener for Christmas Day. I handed him back the flags, banners, and keys and said, ‘Sorry, I am busy that day also’ (busy being crazy on my own time). I wasn’t ready to be opening meetings; I wasn’t ready to meet these people for coffee, let alone represent the spirit of recovery. I didn’t want the promotion; in fact, I thought the whole idea was completely nuts. 1920x 2 1 min

One of my great resentments attending meetings in my first 90 days was seeing all these young, happy, beautiful, compassionate people laughing, smiling, and enjoying themselves (everyone seemed happy; what the fuck was wrong with them?). Seemingly appearing like they are having a good time. I remember thinking bitterly, “What the fuck are they all so happy about?”. It felt like the Truman show, and if I were to turn my back at any moment, they would all be wallowing in misery because of their current circumstances and just appearing to be happy, just to piss me off. I hated it. They were wearing clean clothes and chatting friendly with one another, almost as if they enjoyed this fucken prison of not doing drugs or getting drunk every day. I guess it’s always okay to take a break from the drinks and drugs, but what the hell was this long term commitment stuff? Agonising contemplation. Purgatory!


I seriously believed most of them were lying and secretly getting stoned or loaded every night, and this was just some bizarre social club for the seriously crazy. My addiction, in the end, was an extremely isolating experience. I had no one. While I didn’t mind being in the company of other people, I didn’t trust anyone, most importantly of all, myself. I used to always park my car far from any meeting. I wasn’t ashamed about attending the meetings; I needed to be there. I thought someone was going to steal my car.

Another night, while waiting outside for a meeting to begin on about day 60, clean and sober, a young man rode up on his bike and politely introduced himself. Within two minutes, he had told me his entire life story, including his divorce, his repressed homosexuality, a near-fatal car accident, and the death of his parents. He then told me 90% of NA members begin drinking between one and two years clean, and he asked me if I attended AA also (I wondered if that was printed in the literature; how did he know such accurate statistics?). I told him I was attending AA because there weren’t enough meetings for me to get to all day long. He then asked me what kind of drug addict I was. No one had ever asked me that before, but I replied by simply saying, ‘an every drug, addict’, no discrimination about getting high.

A week later, I was introduced to another young man outside a meeting who was wearing a business shirt and pants. I told him he didn’t look like the average member of NA. He said he was in jail for many years, but he has now been clean and sober for 12 months and manages the local supermarket. He said he had just gotten off work, which is why he was wearing smart looking clothes. I spent the evening in total amazement at his transformation. Even if it wasn’t true, it was a great story. He looked genuinely happy.

I remember very clearly the day when I reached 90 days of being clean and sober. It felt like an enormous achievement. Although it was only three months in length, the process had taken years, and the three months themselves felt more like an eternity. Many emotions and thoughts had culminated together to reach the milestone. My first thought was that, because I didn’t believe I could possibly make it to 90 days clean, my heartache and pain would finally be over, and I had done enough. (I thought maybe I could go back to drinking and using drugs safely this time, it might be different this time-pretty sure non drug addicts don’t think such things, not that often anyhow.)

I imagine that for many people, it can mark the beginning or the end of a recovery journey.

It was no fluke or accident.

Although my brain was a twisted mess of madness and I was incapable of coherent discourse, physical congruence, or even understanding what other people were saying or suggesting what I should be doing, deep down inside somewhere, I knew something was working. I really didn’t know what that was.

I was attending meetings every day, sometimes twice a day, and on weekends, sometimes three times a day, even four. I read The Basic Text, The Twelve by Twelve, and The Green and Gold Working Guide and answered all the questions. I read, researched, and watched anything I could find out about addiction and recovery. In the early 2000’s, there wasn’t much ‘online anything’, but I did manage to find a chat room online for people with mental illness, mostly from the United States, and I would chat with them all night until the early hours of the morning. Many of them had co-morbidity with alcohol and other drugs, and they made me feel very welcome.

I met a beautiful girl from Germany (actually in Germany) on an online dating website, and I would torture her each night with the inconceivable ramblings in my mind of the daily experiences of being newly clean and sober. Between 15 cups of coffee a day, two packets of cigarettes, and staying up all night watching black-and-white movies from the 1940’s, my early recovery was not exactly a Zen dairy masterpiece.

Shortly after reaching my 90 day milestone free from alcohol and drugs, I had what can only be described as an epiphany on the concept of what 90 days meant. It was identical to “The Quickening” from the Highlander movies. I was Connor Macleod.

It was partly delusional, but at the time, it appeared very real. Every time I turned on the TV, listened to the radio, or saw a billboard, it seemed everything had some kind of 90-day themed proposition. 


90-day weightless, 90-day workouts, 90-day financing, 90-day repayments, 90-day memberships, 90-day visas, 90-day holidays, 90-day refunds, 90-day repayments, 90-day rehabilitation, 90-day reporting, 90-courses, 90-day interest-free loans. Anything and everything I saw for that period was related to 90-days, and I started to believe that the world worked through a 90-day lens, and it was the precise period to begin something, or end it.

I also had enough awareness to know that although I was experiencing this great cathartic moment, it was probably only me, so I would only ever hesitantly draw anyone else into my experience in a modified way. I knew there was something unusual about what 90 days meant in the application of any behavioural change. Was it the new definition of change?

I began to feel some relief and more enjoyment from actually reaching 100 days, and the 90-day euphoria had quickly faded. This also leads me to believe that 90-days could be some kind of ruse or deliberate diversion from all the potential historical associated impacts of reaching 100-days clean and sober, which emotionally has a more significant impact without the fanfare—basically taking the sting out of the tail of reaching that magnificent number, 100, by celebrating the 90-day mark.

On the day I reached 100 days clean and sober, I telephoned my father, whom I greatly admired and respected and would turn to for advice or support whenever I had achieved anything of significance in my life. At 28 years of age, telling my dad that I had achieved the achievement of reaching 100 days clean and sober was truly the most significant thing I had accomplished in my adult life.

He was always very supportive of whatever I was doing, no matter how foolish or ridiculous. He was overwhelmed and filled with pride and, naturally, congratulated me and said, ‘This is a fantastic achievement’.  He then went on to say that perhaps I should get a beer with him to celebrate.

I paused and contemplated this generous request, which did come from a place of love and guidance. I had been down that road before—many times, in fact. Although I wasn’t a big drinker, I liked to consider myself a non-functioning alcoholic when I wasn’t using drugs, and, in the grand tradition of the lost soul, singing poetry into the bottom of a bottle with no one else around. At times, I would put on a show for people and pretend to drink regularly (whatever that means in Australia), but the only social drinking I enjoyed was being drunk with no one else around. When I would purchase alcohol from a bottle shop, it genuinely felt like I was in a pharmacy buying my pharmacotherapy for medicating my drug problem.

I quickly told my dad that I appreciated his support, but I should try and stay off the booze, and he quickly retracted the offer and told me he was giving up drinking for a while in support of my efforts. He lasted ten days, but I, in turn, was very proud of him and felt privileged that he would be so supportive.

Not long after that conversation, I began attending more AA meetings, which instantly quadrupled the number of meetings I could attend on any given day and exposed me to many more people in recovery. This also meant that when resentments accumulated in any given meeting, I had options abound to attend a different meeting far away with different people whenever I desired.

From my 90-day milestone to my 120-day milestone, something began to shift. Instead of feeling like I was on the edge of a cliff trying to climb a mountain made from quicksand, it slowly felt like I was coming down the other side. It wasn’t that I could take the breaks off, but I could ease off the accelerator, going at five times the speed limit. (This wasn’t just a metaphor because I lost my licence for speeding twice during these first few months, too.) Things just started to get more comfortable. Opportunities arose, and for the first time in a very long time, positive opportunities began to present themselves in my life. I could almost pretend to be some type of functional human being with something positive to offer society.

Even after 20 years, I still remember the first 90 days like they were yesterday. I could not have ever possibly imagined a life without at least one drink every now and then, or at least the occasional joint, but I can honestly say the thought never crosses my mind. 

As you get older, you naturally develop all manner of different health problems, and many are a direct or indirect result of my active addiction, so another drink or drug would simply make life more difficult. I have a very low pain threshold. 

I remember my early recovery very fondly (in a strange way), and one important takeaway about my recovery is that I know 100% that there is no one orthodox way to get clean and sober. But never giving up on it is the key. I haven’t been to a meeting for many years, and I stopped attending meetings regularly when I was about 5 years clean and sober, but I am very grateful for the fellowships and the people in them who have inspired and supported me unconditionally over the years without wanting anything in return. Living in recovery is the only way to live, for me; life is much too complicated as it is.

Last Drink: December 3, 2003. Last Drug: September 17, 2003.

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