“A life of sobriety, for the sake of sobriety only, does not a contented person make.”
The first time I quit drinking I did it on my own. I simply stopped drinking. The physical act of drinking is easy, a person can drink, or not drink, simple as that. I chose to not drink, and lasted for over a year.
It was a terrible year. The first week or so was good; knowing that I bested the thing that was besting me gave me some needed confidence. I was ready to take on the world, sober. As the weeks went by, and my satisfaction at having conquered the bottle ebbed, I was stuck with myself, an alcoholic who wanted to drink, but didn’t. I did not realize that alcoholism reaches far deeper than the physical act of pouring a drink into my body and the longed for effects that result from the act. I kind of understood that my problem was a mental one as well. In my case, I knew I needed to address the recurring deluge of negative thoughts. I realized that I went to drugs and alcohol to numb my mind and body and ultimately change the landscape I lived in. And so when those thoughts crept unbidden into my sober mind, I did all I could to combat them.
Sobriety is not a Treadmill When I’m at the gym, I can’t help but notice the people on treadmills. It appears as if everything is in place, their bodies are in great shape, sweat pours from them as they step into another step, and their minds appear clear; free from being bogged down with unwanted thoughts. As the mechanical movements put them into a trance, seldom is the outcome joyous or spiritual. It actually looks painful. Running in place, with nowhere to go and nowhere to come from is simply movement for movement’s sake. I have never been a treadmill fan. Lacking a goal or purpose beyond maintaining physical health makes time spent on the thing drag, and the exercise soon becomes a test of will rather than a journey. Hiding the timer puts me further into limbo, and suddenly the exercise is one more task to be blindly checked off a list. I suspect a lot of people feel this way about the treadmill.
I think sobriety for the sake of sobriety sets up a similar dilemma. Without a purpose-driven life, being sober loses its magic. Then the temptation to bring back the magic — and it’s so simple, just crack open the bottle and let the genie out — becomes overwhelming. Soon the path to healthy, contented sobriety goes out of focus and disappears into the blur. Thinking I knew the disease, I honestly believed that I had pulled recovery off just by quitting substances. After all, I was still standing, sober in spite of the one-two combination dealt by physical addiction and mental compulsion. What I neglected to understand is the spiritual component of recovery. We humans are composed of the physical body, the conscious mind, and the oft misunderstood and maligned spiritual nature. When all three aspects of our humanity are in synch, life is good, simple and well lived. When one member of the gang goes AWOL, everybody suffers.
Most of the people I know who struggle with addiction struggle with spirituality as well. I’ve come to believe that it is the lack of spirituality where most of our problems begin. In sobriety I have learned to be comfortable with my understanding of a higher power and not feel pressured to believe what everybody else believes, or wants me to believe. I owe this comfort to the strength of character and conviction I found in other alcoholics and addicts. Putting myself among these mentors, by way of meetings, led me to my present healthy relationship with the three parts of me that need my continued efforts. Seeking health across all three areas helps maintain my interest in remaining sober.
It comes as a fringe benefit
I’ve developed an ability to lighten up and have faith that there is a power of good, and I think this is what has enabled me to remain sober for the last fourteen years. The oppressive weight of the idea that I alone bore the brunt of my life, my thoughts, my health, and my very existence has been lifted. The power that emanates from the healthy people who shared my life with has been contagious, and without me realizing it, I was given the gift of spirituality. I did not seek this peace of mind; it came my way as a bonus of sobriety.
Seeking help for problems with addiction is a courageous move. Sharing your perceived weakness with another human being is surrender, but it’s also a choice. Our society has demonized the idea of surrender, and the mindset we need to dive into emergencies contributes by correlating any surrender with weakness. It wasn’t easy to see through the bias against surrender. Nor did I come up with it on my own. I needed help. That’s a hard, and I daresay courageous, statement, but it opens a gateway to that something we all feel we are missing – even more so for those who are seeking it in a pill or bottle.
I was missing the key ingredient of spirituality. Lucky for me, the power emanating from the healthy people I shared my life with was contagious, and I was given the gift of spirituality almost without me realizing it. I continue to learn from and share my life with those healthy people.
I am forever grateful that my hibernating spirituality woke up in time to join the rest of what makes me whole; a body that is as healthy as I can make it, a mind that veers off course now and then but ultimately knows how to find the center, and an unshakable belief that there is a reason for my existence. I hold my sobriety, expecting that reason to be made clear when the time is right.