Sobriety Can Do’s

In case you haven't heard there is some hot debate in the recovery community right now involving two seemingly small contractions; can't and don't.

To anyone on the outside looking in, it seems like a petty issue and it is, in fact, a small matter, though to those of us in sobriety, the 'can do's' have become somewhat of a biggie. Much of our sobriety journey is centered around being firm in who we are and the choices we now make.

If that is the case, how can two contractions cause such a big wave in the recovery community? What is the big difference between the two and why is it such a touchy subject?

  • can't

-contraction of the word 'cannot'

"It can't be!"


  • don't

-contraction of the words 'do not'

"they don't know"

Can't vs Don't

Sobriety is as much of a commitment as working out every day or learning a new skill. We pour our time, effort, and our lives into this sobriety and our future hinges on it. Much like any well-practiced skill, we take pride in our ability to navigate our lives in an otherwise intoxicated world.

'I don't drink' is a proud and bold statement in the face of a society that tells you alcohol is a prerequisite to fun.

Society says you can't have a good time without being drunk, however for those of us in sobriety, 'can too,' is our answer.

Whereas, 'I can't', denotes a sense of wanting, as well as sending the impression of zero self-control. The word itself is the definition of incapable, "can't", sends the message that you have no power in the situation and are otherwise putting the decision in someone else's hands.

Let's be honest, you could drink, and in fact, the only thing stopping you is your self-control; on some level that needs to be applauded.

Saying, "I don't drink," puts the power back into your hands.


Excuse me?

For many recovering addicts, this is why the question can come across so backhanded when people ask, "So you can't drink, then what do you do for fun?"

Woah! Hold your horses right there!

Proceed to back away with caution: any sudden moves will be considered a hostile threat.

Brace for impact.

I'm sober, I can do anything I want! <-- is usually the bold statement we wish we would give

Many of us who are in recovery tread carefully to not say that we can't drink. In fact, a lot more of us would rather not talk about it, specifically to avoid these types of questions, so we are extremely careful about the information we do and do not volunteer.


I won't even address the handful of other reasons that question, though well-meaning, can really be offputting.

Please don't forget that recovering addicts fight every single second for the sobriety we have accomplished; even it's only 24 hours. We don't want a pat on the back or a gold star for it. We want some respect for it.

gray nails beside beige wooden planks and hammers

Sometimes, hearing, 'so you can't drink that sucks,' is such a detrimental statement. It's like you wake up every day and go to work, but all you make is enough to buy a 2x4. So every day you buy a single board, and you begin to slowly but surely build a house. Before long you have a frame and it's really starting to look like a house, when a neighbor stops by.

"Nice clothesline you have there," he says, triumphantly thinking he is doing a good thing applauding your work. Your hopes are dashed and you feel your hard work has gone, for not.

It's not so much the statement/ question itself, but more the lack of consideration for the real labor that goes into this work.

I purposefully say work because recovery from addiction is no easy task.

Sobriety can do!

"I can, I just choose not to."


I'm not sure about you, but I was and still am empowered by saying this. There is a lot to be said for someone who could do something and chooses not to. Stating my sobriety in these confines gives me a sense of having some of my power back; like the ball is back in my court.

'Don't' and 'can't' are two very different contractions with very different connotations. Your list of sobriety can do's are a lot longer than the few things you can't.

Empower yourself accordingly.

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