Recovery Room: An Anniversary of Inner Sobriety

On Sunday, September 21, I will celebrate my first anniversary of sobriety. I suppose some see their sobriety anniversary as a sort of birthday, an event worthy of candles, party poppers, and groovy house music (all things of which I am decidedly for). I’m choosing a different analogue, though; I’m choosing to celebrate Sunday as my own personal Easter. That being the case, this week constitutes the consummation of a personal Lent, a season of reflecting on the death of addiction and the resurrection to new life.

Though it may seem counterintuitive at first, I have not centered my reflection in the celebration of being drink-free. Instead, I’ve turned inward, beyond the obvious point of celebration. I’ve examined the condition of my inner sobriety, asking whether I’ve dealt with the things that led me to over-imbibe in the first place.

Mr. Webster defines sobriety a number of ways, including the way in which it is most colloquially understood—“not addicted to intoxicating drink.” And though that is certainly one aspect of sobriety (often the most difficult to accomplish), if we stopped there, the quality of our sobriety would be judged by our ability to modify behavior. We are more than Pavlov’s dogs, though, more than animals to be trained.

When one practices sobriety through the lens of the Gospel, one is reminded that that Jesus didn’t come to prod us toward behavior modification. He didn’t preach white-knuckle accomplishment or celebration of right behavior at the expense of the heart. In fact, the primary focus of his teaching was on the heart of the inner man. Consider his examination of adultery, how it was not centered on the act itself, but rather on the lust of the inner man. “Everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” he said. (Matthew 5)

The quality of my sobriety, then, isn’t marked by mere abstinence from a particular vice. Instead, the quality of my sobriety is only as good as the quality of my inner sobriety (i.e., am I free from the addictions of the heart, from lust, anger, or greed?). Has my inner man been transformed into something resembling the shape of an olive branch, something carried in the beak of a great dove? This is the crux of inner sobriety.

“How do you examine your inner sobriety?” you might be asking. Our processes may differ, but this week, I’m giving space to these questions:

Have I dealt with the pains that led me to over-drink?

Are there new pains that threaten to consume my heart?

Are there areas of fear, anxiety, or anger that consume my thoughts?

Do I think of death or disease more often than life and the possibility of healing?

Have I confessed my darker thoughts to my wife, therapist, or a trusted friend?

Am I walking in forgiveness with those around me?

Am I actively pursuing peace with those with whom I disagree?

Are there addictions I’m using to self-soothe, to numb the pain, anxiety, fear, or anger?

Am I honest about the state of my frailty, about how close I am to reaching for the bottle (or sex, or shopping, or religious certitude)?

It’s my strong suspicious that avoiding the work of examining my inner-sobriety creates fertile ground for relapse. And even if I could white-knuckle my way through abstaining from alcohol, I’d simply manage to transfer my addiction elsewhere—eating, drinking, Xanax, sex, consumerism, purging, feigning religious devotion, over-engaging in social media, or all of the aboev. This is the way of my wayward heart. Sound familiar?

Jesus left us with this grand promise:

“Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

This sort of world-transcending peace marks the character of inner sobriety, I think. And so today, I’m asking myself, “is that peace rooted in all areas of my life?”

Yes, I’m moving toward my own personal Easter, and this is not the Easter of externalities. It’s not about broken bottles and modified behaviors. It’s not about one-year AA chips, or rounds of applause. This is an Easter of inner rebirth. You’re invited to come along. Do you want to?

**Note: Join me in walking through the inventory of questions above. If you find yourself high-centered on one, sit with a piece of paper and write your thoughts. If you find yourself high-centered on either of the last two questions (no matter the coping mechanism), consider seeing a trusted therapist, priest, pastor. There’s no shame in coming clean.

*****

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  • Seth, Many congratulations! Your perspective is a good one. To seek the peace that Jesus offers. A lighter yoke. Amazing how often our sinful tendencies come back to heart issues. Thanks for your honest sharing.

    • Seth

      You are so right about tendencies coming back to heart issues. It’s been a struggle, even as I’m celebrating one year! (Oh how fickle we are.)

      Thanks for commenting.

  • I want to sit here and type out my congratulations but I am now too focused on myself!! This essay is excellent. I am definitely going to be joining you in walking through your inventory of questions. I am 18 months sober and I know I will never pick up a drink again but I also know that there is still a place of “unrest” within my soul. I want to find that; dig it out & heal!! Now on to you…congratulations my friend. A YEAR of living.

    • Seth

      That unrest is so real. (See my previous comment to Traci.) The digging is the hard part, getting to those roots. But it’s worth it. I think I know myself better today than I did a year ago.

      Congratulations to you on 18 months! See you next year, where you’ll be working on month 30!

  • So spot on. Yes, it’s not about restraint it’s about indulgence in life. I love this post and knowing folks who have been sober, this is their struggle too. And there are so many things we can be addicted to, whether anger or food or whatever where we can all use this post to liberating ends.

    • Seth

      Thank you, Ed. Your encouragement and identification means a great deal.

  • Those questions pack a punch when we’re willing to answer them honestly. Thank you for continuing to write in this vein, Seth. Proud of you!

    • Seth

      Thank you, Leigh. You are one of the good ones.

  • Wow, great questions that could really change the trajectory of life were we to engage them honestly. Well Done and thank you for sharing this.

    • Seth

      Thank you, Leanne. I hope I keep engaging those questions. Hold me to it!

  • Beautiful, well said, and congratulations, friend.

    • Seth

      Thanks, Troy. You are in the “couldn’t have done it without…” category.

  • pastordt

    So very well done, Seth. And I’m copying out those questions and putting them into a document to think on and respond to. Thank you.

    • Seth

      I’d love to hear your thoughts as you work through them. You’re so thoughtful.

      And thanks for the encouragement over this last year. I really appreciate you.

  • Sharon

    Yes, you are correct, the automatic response is to pat you on the back and say “Congrats”. And while that IS a deserving response, there is much more to be said. Thank you for being vulnerable enough to share your story, so that we all can observe and learn. And for keeping it real and authentic, the world needs a lot more of that! But most of all, for being that beacon in the darkness for so many others, and you know better than I just how many there are out there in that darkness. They see your light, Seth, even though their darkness is so dark you could not see them if you tried your best. But they see, and they are fighting like mad to get to that light; keep shining and soldier on.

    • Seth

      Thank you, Sharon. Your words mean a lot.

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