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–I was suffering from sobriety’s achievement hangover. 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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  • pastordt

    There it is — ‘inner sobriety’ – the key to addictions of all kinds, I do believe. Thank you for hanging on, Seth. Praying you always will – for your sake, first and foremost. But also recognizing that grace never runs out. Never.

    • sethhaines

      I agree. The acts of white-knuckled outer sobriety can be maddening. The inner sobriety? That the “key,” as you say, that unlocks the door.

  • Wow, Seth. Dude. This was good.

    • Sorry – as soon as I hit publish, I realized that this comment was pretty much the opposite of deep and profound.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Tsh. You are a good one.

  • I wasn’t surprised reading this. Had wondered. We see so many fearful of success not knowing the “what now?” part of sobriety. One thing I find most freeing is the blunt terms used in recovery. They are, perhaps, the most feeling words used though their sound is harsh. Your friends words are the same for all of us, whatever we’re recovering from, sit in the craving. Grace for the sitting.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Debby. And you’re right. Blunt words are often a gift.

  • Jenn Jesmer

    I’ve only just recently looked my addictions in the face. They terrify me. And I don’t have a goal ahead, so I have been going one day at a time. But sometimes doing it one day at a time is daunting, knowing I am going to wake up and fight the same fight. But thank you for this, for the reminder. For your writing. And for being faithful to the good work God has called you to, one day at a time.

    • sethhaines

      “One day at a time.” Sometimes that’s the best we have. Even when it feels like a cliche.

      Keep on plugging along. Much peace in your one-day-at-a-time journey.