• Sober Blessings

Finding Sisu

“You’ve got sisu, Maria” my father would remind me, a Finnish word he learned from his own father. He loved this word.

And, if ever there was a word to describe someone who has fought the battle against the demons of addiction, this is it.


As a little girl, our family vacations were spent in the upper peninsula of Michigan. All seven of us would load up in our family station wagon and head north. Very far north. To the UP of MI.

Summer after summer, we’d head back to my Finnish grandfather’s childhood homeland surrounded by Great Lakes and tall pine trees, where the sky shares its sunny warmth in Summer and scowls its cold and freezing fury in Winter. The locals here call themselves Yoopers and they have sisu.

Sisu? Wait, what?

Sisu, a word engrained in Finns meaning something that can’t easily be translated into English but, in its short version, my father would tell me sisu means having guts, bravery, gusto.

Yoopers must have sisu, in order to survive and brave the ruralness of being in a peninsula surrounded by water, but that has only 3% population. The isolation and oooooh, the brutal winters here that can easily begin in September, yep, that takes mega amounts of sisu.

Sisu is having persistent courage in the face of adversity. It’s fighting against all odds with everything you have, becoming exhausted to the point of feeling you have no more breath, nothing left to give, and yet, somehow, finding one more breath to push on. It means having extraordinary courage in the face of adversity.

It’s a difficult word to transcribe because the true essence of sisu, goes far beyond hard work and determination. Sisu is fighting, pushing, and fighting still harder and sticking to one’s beliefs and honor despite the odds stacked against them. Sisu is hanging on until the bitter end, and then doing whatever needs to be done again, regardless of the cost.

Sisu is that last whisper of desperate persistence that you absolutely do not think you have inside of you, yet, somewhere, somehow, your sisu shows up. You did what you thought was absolutely impossible. You conquered the beast! You win!

Does this sound familiar to you?

Those of you who have an hour

or a day

or a month

or years of sobriety.

Isn’t this exactly how it felt to find recovery using all of your inner sisu?

Absolutely, it does!

Sisu. It’s the “second wind” of mental toughness after we think we have nothing more inside us to be able to put down that drink. To say no to alcohol. To fight through those horrible cravings. To want for yourself a better life. To find that lost version of yourself that you thought was gone forever. To love yourself again. To find joy and confidence and acceptance for who you are. To whisper to yourself “I.Can.Do.This. Alcohol will not win this battle!”

That’s sisu…and every sober day, life gets better than you ever thought if you just find your sisu.

Finding sobriety ~ your sisu~ its out there…waiting for you. You’ll need your sisu because recovery is going to take all of the guts and bravery and determination and courage and strength you can muster. Recovery is going to take finding that last whisper of push within you that says “I am stronger than alcohol. I don’t need this. I have sisu.”

Your sisu is there if you just look around a bit. Go find it.

“You’ve got sisu, Maria.” ~ those might be the equivalent to hearing “I love you” from a Finn.

Dad was right. I do have sisu.

So do you.

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