Many are Clean, but are they Sober?

Many in the recovery community claim to be “Clean and Sober” But, what exactly does this mean? Clean refers to living without using drugs. Sober is used in the same context. However, the definition of “Sober,” also reveals a path, and a desired character. A path, and character, prescribed and modeled, by the founders of the 12 Step Fellowships. A path, and character, prescribed for spiritual living. Let us begin with the basics. Following is the dictionary definition for “Sober:”
1. Habitually abstemious in the use of alcoholic liquors or drugs; temperate.
2. Not intoxicated or affected by the use of drugs.
3. Plain or subdued: sober attire.
4. Devoid of frivolity, excess, exaggeration, or speculative imagination; straightforward: gave a sober assessment of the situation.
5. Marked by seriousness, gravity, or solemnity of conduct or character. Marked by circumspection and self-restraint.

The first, and second, parts of the above definition are about abstinence. The other three parts describe attributes. The person that displays these attributes is Sober, not just abstinent from chemicals, not just clean. His, or her, Sobriety is manifested in “all their affairs:”This person practices Sobriety, with a capital S.

This Sobriety with a capital S is manifested in the way people live their lives, not in what they say. Sobriety is life lived in the pursuit of simplicity, and “serenity;” a way of life that avoids “excess.” For excess is the way of addiction. Addiction is excess in everything. Excess in using chemicals, and in exaggerated thinking, and behaving. The addict is addicted to extremes, and drama, as much as he, or she, is addicted to a chemical. To incorporate the above described attributes into a Sober character is the antidote for addiction. And, the acquisition of this character is the foundation of recovery. As well as, the goal of any program, or therapy, that seeks to treat addiction.

To counter the addicted character, an addict must be confronted with a person that has developed a Sober character. A person that is capable of modeling what this character is. That is capable of displaying it in daily living. Capable of showing the addict how life can be lived Sober. Modeling for the addict new ways of dealing with the challenges of life from a Sober perspective.

Then, by observation, and practice, an addict begins to substitute old patterns of thinking, and behavior. Through exposure to a Sober character, they can begin to live “as if” they had this character. By ‘faking it, till they make it,” they get a sense of what Sober life is. When their new behaviors begin to yield responses that reinforce them, they become incorporated into a new pattern of dealing with life. Through this process, a new character is formed.

In the process of this new character formation, the presence of a Sober sponsor, mentor, or therapist is fundamental; the presence of a person that personifies Sobriety. If the sponsor, mentor, or therapist has not internalized, and manifest the attributes of Sobriety, all that the addict is exposed to is another role to play: The role of “recovering person.” Because addicts are adept at role playing, the modeling of a person who is clean, but not truly Sober, will invite the addict to create yet another persona, or mask. Recovery becomes a new way to act, speak, and relate to others, without true change, without authenticity.

Many in the recovering world have adopted the persona of a recovering addict. A person can become “clean,” if this is the price that he, or she, pays for sustaining new friendships, lovers, work, or status. For, they now belong to a community where respect, admiration, business opportunities, and popularity are founded on “clean time.” However; such a person is clean, not Sober. This kind of recovery is dangerous. It is dangerous to those who practice it, and for those who are seeking recovery.

A person with “clean time,” regardless of character development, is in a position to be a sponsor, a therapist, or even to run a treatment center. They can be in a position to dictate the process of addiction treatment. They can place themselves in a position of authority. They can be in a position of power. They can be in a position to do harm.

For, without the grounding influence of a Sober character, power, money, and status, become tools of the ego. They become tools for exploitation. They become means that allow the clean, but non-Sober addict to indulge in their addictive character traits. Under the guise of recovery, and “helping,” a clean, but non-Sober person can indulge in drama, chaos, blaming, and self-righteousness. They can exercise control over the lives of others, for self-gratification. They continue to act from the basis of their “defects of character,” even if they are not using chemicals. They harm themselves, and others.

The goal of the 12 Step programs, therapy, and all interventions of addiction treatment, is to “remove” these “defects of character;” not to find a new way to manifest them under the disguise of being “clean.” According to the founders of the 12 Step programs, in order to remove these defects of character, a person must engage in a spiritual path, seek a “spiritual solution.” A spiritual solution that is ancient, and Universal. A spiritual solution that has been taught by every spiritual master in history. This solution is to become free from the “bondage of self.”

What is this “bondage of self?” It is the bondage of a flawed self that the addict has constructed through the process of his, or, her life. Once this self became chronic, the addict constructed a character to protect it, to defend it. But, this self, and character are false. They were constructed as protections, and maladaptive strategies for survival. They cover up the true Self: the Self that was created by a Higher Power. So, every true spiritual path seeks the return to this true Self. Every true spiritual path offers a way, a method, and a program, to return to true living; to return to living life on “life’s terms,” to live Sober.

For, in Sobriety, life is again experienced, as it is. When the false self no longer rules a person, its demands for power, money, status, reputation, excess, drama, etc. no longer rule that person’s thoughts and actions. As a result, the person becomes free. The person is free to enjoy simplicity. Free to recognize the mystical of the everyday. And, through this recognition, a free person can find joy, pleasure, contentment, and fulfillment in the ordinary. They can again embrace life with the joy of a child at play, not because everything is perfect, but because it is all part of life; and life is good enough in its own terms. This is spiritual living. This is Sobriety.

This Sobriety is hard to attain. It is not easy to live Soberly in a culture that is increasingly hysterical. In a culture that prizes image above substance. We live in a culture of hysterical “personalities.” A culture of dramatic, “reality” television shows, screeching religious leaders, flashy gurus, “spiritual guides,” and shocking, instantaneous, psychotherapies. It is not surprising that the development of a Sober character is not a modern, or popular quest. However; for a recovering addict it is the essential quest. Just as it was for the suffering addicts that found their salvation in it, and prescribed it to future generations; as all spiritual seekers before them had done. In order for many to stay clean, many have to become Sober.

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J. E. Lesende

Sober Definition From