What is Inner Sobriety?

It’s been nearly two years since I drank my last drink—September 21 to be exact—and this could be cause for celebration. If there’s one thing sobriety has taught me, though, it’s that pre-mature celebrations are precarious things. At this time last year, I was breaking my arm to pat myself on the back when the old dog of desire came nipping at my heels. I crossed the threshold of my one year anniversary, and on September 22, my thirst for a stiff drink sent me to shivering. I was with a good friend when the jonesings got pretty bad, and he verbally smacked me across the cheek, told me to snap out of it. His words were something to the effect of "stop living out of your identity of 'addict' and start living out of your identity as a beloved child of God." Sometimes a good verbal smack will set you aright. Spare the rod, spoil the addict, they say. Or at least, they should say.

Here I am. I’ve come limping around the bend on anniversary, and my sobriety—at least as it relates to alcohol—seems less fragile. But is sobriety all about abstaining from our personal addictions? Does quitting the sauce a sober person make?

The new house is remote, a good piece away from any highway or major thoroughfare. In the mornings, it’s dang-near silent, save for the crickets outside and the occasional refugee cricket hiding out somewhere in the living room. If the coffee pulls me out of bed, some mornings I sit with the crickets for morning prayers. "Dear God," I might pray and the cricket chatters in response.

With some frequency, I get no farther then the God part of Dear God before my thoughts chase a cottontail to my todo list, or a particular money problem (dang that old tax man), or to the sounds of the scraping and crunching of my dog's teeth against a ragged bone in the kitchen. The dog is ever and always finding a bone, or a scrap of a bone, or a soggy old rawhide, and she works it over with the fervor of any marrow addict. She's in a bad way and could use a canine twelve step program, I think.

As I was saying, I pray Dear God, and sometimes even make it to "thanks for today,” which reminds me of the day. There’s a fella I’m meeting for lunch, and and dang if I don't have to review his contract before we break bread. I consider whether I’ve emailed him, or whether he responded to my email. I consider taking a note of the thought so I don’t forget it, but I’m in the middle of prayer, and prayers should not be interrupted by people. It's only this: they frequently are.

I course correct, drag myself back to the prayer I was praying. I was praying, right? Maybe not. At which point I often shame myself for the inability to add up words of thanks, or praise, or confession, or any old thing. Shame, shame, shame. Shouldn’t I be better at this prayer stuff? I’ve only been practicing it since I was six. But prayer isn't an instant existential transcendental spiritual experience for me. Some days, prayer feels something akin to carrying water uphill while wearing ankle weights, and pushing a wheelbarrow full of rocks, and searching my memory for that lost line of E.E. Cummings’s poem, “Next to of Course God America."

This is the point (I think): so often, my ability to communicate with and in God is thrown askew by the silliest things. It’s all crickets, fantastical canine recovery programs, and to-do lists. There’s clutter in the noggin, and it gets in the way of cogent, prayerful thought. And what is sobriety if it’s not the ability to engage in unhindered communication with God, even the simplest of communications?

If I’m honest, and sometimes I try to be, I’d admit that it’s sometimes easier to white knuckle through alcohol cravings than it is to have the sobriety of spirit that creates an unhindered connection with God. Maybe you know this, too? Is it easier to cruise Amazon or the dancing naked pixels and one-click your way out of depression than it is to communicate simple prayers? Is it easy to white knuckle your way out of addiction than to pray, God help? I wonder whether these are the different sides of the same coin called un-sober. 

The way I see it, the ideal is a sobriety that feels less like white-knuckling and more like connection to the Higher Power (to borrow an AA phrasing). The ideal sobriety leads me deeper into authentic, connected, effectual, simple prayer. This is inner sobriety. And maybe this kind of sobriety isn’t all that complex. Maybe it’s not hard-efforted prayers in the wee morning hours. Maybe it looks more like a simple prayers on the hours, prayers like “thanks,” or “help (me, or him, or them),” or “gee, that was pretty cool.” Maybe it looks more like reading scripture like a kid, like a story that’s more ancient and bigger than us. Maybe it looks like recognizing God in the myriad of ways he shows up in the world outside my front door—where the crickets are; where the dog finds a spare deer femur; where the fella waits at the table for me, contracts to review.

Hey, God. It’s me Seth. Would you help me learn this kind of inner sobriety?



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Recovery Room: A Sobriety Hangover

It's been a quiet season of recovery. Since September, I've written very little about addiction or the undergirding anxiety of it, and have opted instead to reflect upon and examine the quality of my sobriety in offline spaces. "Why?" you might ask. Because in September, my sobriety seemed weak-kneed on shaky ground. Sunday, September 21, 2014, marked the anniversary of my coming clean. For 365 days, I’d beaten back the hankering for a slug of gin. I'd reached the mile-marker on which I’d had my sights set. And though it was occasion for celebration, that celebration was short-lived. On Monday, September 22, I looked in the proverbial rearview mirror, then looked ahead. I felt a rising anxiety. I’d conquered the bottle for a year. What next? I had no next significant goal. That's when the realization came to roost--[tweetherder]I was suffering from sobriety's achievement hangover.[/tweetherder] And in that moment, all I wanted was a stiff drink.

In the days that followed, my thirst for gin and whiskey was so strong that I considered burning down the recovery room, walking into the a boozy sea, and then starting over with the recovery process. "Isn't it easier to set new goals from ground zero?" I tried to convince myself. (Yes, the mind of addiction is a terrible, fascinating thing.)

Before giving in, I bumped into a friend at the local coffee dive, and he asked how things were. I told him I felt the pin-pricks of anxiety in my fingertips, that when I thought of having no new sobriety goal, my breath drew short. I told him that I’d considered grabbing a drink and starting the whole shebang over from day one. No stranger to addiction, he smiled and said, “I know the feeling. And as awful as it may be, you have to sit in the craving; rest in it; feel it. Then ask yourself whether you really want to go back to anesthetizing your life? Do you want to numb it all, or would examine your anxieties and sit in them with God? Would you rather live in the bottle or in the redemption of the Gospel?”

It was a jarring bit of unsolicited counseling from a recovering sex addict who's lost career, security, and great deal of power in the fallout of his transgressions coming to light. But addicts cut to the chase with other addicts. There’s no pulling of punches, because the truth is, the occasional thud of a verbal right cross—dern you, unsolicited counseling!—sometimes serves as a recovery wakeup call. Thankfully, on that day, a friend and fellow recoverer spoke that jarring wakeup call to me.

It’s a simple truth--those who have failed, when operating in their gifts, help keep other friends from failing. When used in conjunction with their Spirit-giftings, their resume of humiliation gives them a special sort of authority. As Richard Rohr puts it, “[u]nless a bishop, teacher, or minister has on some level walked through suffering, failure, or humiliation, his or her words will tend to be fine but superficial, OK but harmless, heard by the ears but unable to touch the soul. It is interesting to me that twelve-step programs have come to be called the 'Recovery' movement. They are onto something!”

Thanks be to God for the wounded prophets.


It's been a quiet season of recovery because I've been sitting with my anxieties and considering my thirst. I've come through that season of weak-kneedness, though I assume I'll always struggle with thirst to some degree. I've considered the words of my recovering friend--would I rather live in the bottle or in the redemption of the Gospel? I've focused less on goal-setting and resolutions, and more on sitting in the thirsts, the cravings, and then casting my cares upon the God of the easy yoke.

I can attest--this is the work of redemption.

And though I could leave it at that, I'll go the extra step. Are you willing to sit in your anxieties, you fears, and your thirsts this year? Are you willing to contemplate them, then cast them upon the God who cares for you? Are you willing to walk into inner sobriety? Will you come along?

(Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.)


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