Merriam-Webster defines “sobriety” in six ways:
- a) sparing in the use of food and drink : abstemious
b) not addicted to intoxicating drink
c) not drunk
- marked by sedate or gravely or earnestly thoughtful character or demeanor
- unhurried, calm
- marked by temperance, moderation, or seriousness (a sober candlelight vigil)
- subdued in tone or color
- showing no excessive or extreme qualities of fancy, emotion, or prejudice
This list highlights that the meaning of sobriety goes beyond being free of substance abuse, though that is the first layer.
Unhurried, calm, showing no extreme qualities – how many of us long for the serenity and deep peace implicit in these words? Not all of us, certainly. But many of us who have experienced periods of time where we felt too close to the edge, too close to danger – and too far from stability – may know the inner craving for sobriety.
I’ve noticed a pattern: once we start looking at our addictions honestly, the first layer of sobriety is often not the last.
For example, I’ve met a number of folks who “got clean” from drug addiction and/or alcohol addiction, and then down the line, realized they were using food in a way that felt addictive as well.
I’ve met folks who gave up their food addiction, and down the line questioned their addiction to arguing, or defensiveness, or denial.
Only once they had peeled off the more superficial layer of addiction, were they able to see the deeper, more subtle layer.
From a spiritual perspective, we can see how “getting clean” from food is more complex and demanding than getting clean from alcohol or drugs. The latter addictions are socially stigmatized, and total abstinence is possible. For the food addict who still suffers, there is often a complex battle inside that pits inner knowing that something isn’t right against cultural conditioning that all but condones using food addictively.
We even joke about food addiction, cravings and “food porn.”
Becoming sober from alcohol and drugs is certainly a hero’s journey – AND, it may not end there.
What is getting sober but waking up and growing up? What is addiction other than taking an escape route from reality – from the myriad responsibilities of being human?
Like any spiritual journey, waking up and growing up do not happen overnight. It’s a perpetual process – a never-ending series of choice points – in which we get to either face reality head-on, or cope. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here, at least, that’s not the purpose of this post. Each choice will bring with it its own set of outcomes.
What I do wish is to normalize the arc of becoming sober.
How many of us are ready to truly become grounded about what is going on in the world? How about even just our personal lives? Perhaps we know that to be truly sober means to give up wild elation and stay more or less rooted in the equilibrium between bliss and despair. To walk the middle ground and hold it all.
For me, this is one of the qualities I most appreciate in our truly wise elders. A human who has lived long and become more unflappable. Perhaps they are a testament to the journey – that this work of sobering ourselves never ends.