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?

 

***TINY LETTER AND COMING CLEAN***

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  • Kelly Hausknecht Chripczuk

    I have my own similarly ineffective (or are they?) experiences with prayer. I guess maybe inner sobriety looks like a willingness to return, repeatedly, to ground zero. Blessings on your journey, Seth.

    • sethhaines

      I like that analogy–returning to ground zero. And yes. I agree with that.

      Thanks, Kelly.

  • “Maybe it looks more like reading scripture like a kid, like a story that’s more ancient and bigger than us.” Yes, love this.

    • sethhaines

      When I was a kid, I was rolling down a dusty Texas road with my mother. I looked at her and said, “don’t you get hacked off at Adam and Eve sometimes? I mean, if it hadn’t been for them, the world would be perfect.”

      The story was bigger back then, see.

  • Dang. This is spot-on, Seth.

    Thank you….

  • “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.” Ouch.
    Sobriety of spirit – you do have a way of getting to the heart of things. Thank you.

  • Ben Wilson

    I used to live
    in the most glorious house. It protected me from the cold and dangers of the
    world. In this house were large windows, glorious windows. Through these windows, some brown tinted,
    some with liquid crystal, I could view the world. I could wave and smile at the
    people out there.

    Sometimes I would venture out, but not before donning
    the appropriate clothing. A suit of debt, or my coat of others expectations, neither
    fitting very well, but they protected me. Gloves to protect form the sting of
    the wind, and glasses to make sure to see things as I needed to. I would have my
    script in hand, making sure to say all the right things.

    But eventually the clothing got to heavy to
    put on and the house to stuffy and hot to live in. the words of the script
    turned to ashes in my mouth.

    I stayed there longer than I should have, and
    one day could take it no more. I chose the exit that would allow me to stay in
    the house, but feel no pain. The others would do the feeling. I was ready to leave, then was convinced, by
    a friend, to try the door instead. Having nothing to lose I stepped out into
    the cold, naked and afraid.

    What I discovered was
    this, the world, which I supposed to be a cold and dangerous place, was full of
    light. The fresh air at first stung, but I drank it in with reckless abandon. For
    the first time, I tasted life.

    Then I sought out the
    naked people. I surrounded myself with people who wore their nakedness with
    pride. I also helped others shed their clothing of fear, and shame, and
    expectations. After a while, the air wasn’t as cold, the world’s dangers as
    something to confront rather to avoid.

    I still know how to
    get back to my house. I could walk there in my sleep. I have been sore tempted
    to return, but I know that the cool, clear air of the world in the only place
    to live.

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