I’ve always been kind-of-a-word-guy. I like learning new ones, knowing their origins and how their meanings have changed, which is known as etymology. The word literally is a wonderfully humorous and current look into etymology. Googles definition of the word literally dates back over 200 years, so when in addition to its original meaning – “In a literal sense or manner” – it included in a sub-definition, in 2013, – “used to acknowledge that something is not literally true but is used for emphasis or to express strong feeling.” Etymologists literally had heart attacks. I like to imagine processionals by “word professionals” lamenting the death of words. Sudden faints at the work places of Webster and Oxford. Signs being hung on the doors to great halls of literacy, – Closed due to the unexpected death of English – they would read. The whole uproar made me laugh the way a Monty Python skit would.
So being the kind-of-a-word-guy that I am it shouldn’t surprise that I’ve spent a lot of time pondering certain words associated with recovery and am of the firm resolution that we spend far too much time focusing on the wrong words –alcoholism, addiction, disease, abuse– and not enough time on the right words –sobriety, temperance, empowerment. This claim can certainly be made in reference to our culture as a whole. There is a low, but constant resonation through television and print, that focuses towards the tragedy and supposed “moral corruption” brought by addiction and alcohol. They present the sordid actions, of a select few, succumbing to the temptations of the insatiable. The problem is, it isn’t a select few who succumb. It is a select few who don’t and a select few that triumph, and a select few who realize that the story should be less about addiction and more about the exulting achievements that can be accomplished with sobriety, not just the occasional feel-good-moment on your favorite daily talk show.
The false story that you are an alcoholic first and sober second, shortly put, is infuriating. First, just that word, alcoholic, keeps us focused on the negative, on labels, and societal constructs that distract us from improving the relationship we have with ourselves and how we want to define our relationship with alcohol. Many good writings have been done on this and I will refrain from what could be a lengthy digression on the topic and simply suggest you read the following, by the auspicious Holly Whitaker, instead of listening to me recirculate already well presented ideas: HI, MY NAME IS HOLLY. AND I’M NOT AN ALCOHOLIC*. (*BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUCH THING.)
Today however, I would like to look at the other side of the fence, where the grass is greener, and where a word, for me, has evolved into so much more than its etymology. That word is sobriety. The word is derived from Latin, like most words, but comes directly to us via mid-14th century Old French. Sobriety being defined today as –the state of being sober- and sober meaning –not affected by alcohol, not drunk, or serious, sensible, solemn, or muted in color. Sadly, this is what people think sobriety is: a drab, serious, fun stopper, who doesn’t drink. Ouch, how do you sell that? Being sober, my sobriety, is not this, and for so many other people it isn’t either. I think it is high time we redefine what sobriety is, what it really means to be sober. Sure it means not to drink, but why is that seen as a solemn, serious, and muted affair? Here are some new definitions I propose.
- A permanent state of not feeling the pressure to constantly drink in order to have a good time.
“John felt so much more relaxed in sobriety, then his coworkers, who always had to have a drink after work to unwind.”
- A deep understanding of one’s innate abilities and inner strength.
“because of his sobriety it seemed he could do anything he put his mind to.”
- Having the ability to move around freely and uninhibited, not being held back.
“With sobriety she could take a spontaneous weekend trip to the beach to learn how to surf.”
- Desiring knowledge, in the pursuit of truth.
“Sobriety kept them asking the right questions.”
- Possessing the mental faculties to make mindful decisions.
“With sobriety she could always be counted on by her friends.”
This is what sobriety means to me. It means searching for truth. It means daily opportunity. It means freedom from societal pressures. It means making conscientious decisions. It means knowing peace in a way that is hard, if not impossible to obtain, when you are actively drinking. It means changing how we look at things and giving life renewed meaning. It’s time that we wrest the idea of sobriety from the hands of 14th century Europe and start redefining our words. Sobriety isn’t just the state of being sober, it’s a way of life. Sobriety has more to offer us in a day than alcohol could in a lifetime.