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?
***TINY LETTER AND COMING CLEAN***
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