There are two complicated concepts behind the word “sober” that I want to breakdown: First, the way that the word is generally perceived, and second, the uncertainty surrounding what may qualify as sober.
The perception of the word “sober”
What do you think of when you hear the word sober? Maybe things like “boring,” “alcoholic,” “addiction,” “dull,” or maybe “staid.” Because I never really thought too in depth about the word sober before I actually began getting sober, my own mind would always jump to those very descriptions when I heard it floating around.
I do not think that you can fully understand the beauty of sobriety until you or someone close to you goes through it. It seems impossible to believe that a life without alcohol could possibly be brighter and more colorful than a life filled with cocktails, bright lights, and blurred nights. It does not even seem possible that you could go to birthday parties and weddings without having alcohol in your cup. These unrealistic thoughts were what held me back from going alcohol-free for so long.
The process of getting sober is something greater than us. It is such a beautiful process of self-awareness, and it should not be seen as something that is inherently negative. Sobriety is not someone restricting themselves because of their inability to control the use of a deadly substance. It is someone giving themself a life that is filled with true connection. Also, why is being able to “handle” your drinking something worth being proud of? Newsflash, it is not.
Something worth being proud of is deciding that your will to give yourself a chance at a new life is more powerful than the temptations or fears keeping you trapped in your old ways. It is the hard work that goes into learning how to make genuine connections with people. It is the courage it takes for you to re-build a connection with your soul. It is taking back your control from a substance that rips you of your control.
I was worried that if I called myself sober, people would just assume I am an alcoholic or that I was forced to get sober for whatever reason. After doing research on sobriety and living alcohol-free, I found so many conflicting articles about what being sober meant, and it was not until I went through the process myself that I started to realize these perceptions did not at all align with what sobriety came to mean to me.
What qualifies as being “sober”
“Can I call myself sober if I smoke weed?”
“Can I identify as sober even if I have to take prescription medications for my anxiety?”
Let me preface this by saying that the dictionary definition of the word sober states: “Not intoxicated or drunk. It is not being affected by alcohol.”
Some people and programs believe that sobriety requires abstaining from anything and everything. Oh, you quit drinking because you realized you have a drinking problem, but you smoke weed? Yep, you cannot call yourself sober. Some even go as far as believing that you cannot take medications like Lexapro that you are legitimately prescribed or ingest any sort of caffeine.
Do not get me wrong. I know enough about addiction and substance abuse from my own experiences and from watching those with whom I am close to know that this all or nothing approach is an absolute necessity for some people to have any success in their recovery. I also know that it does not have to be that way for everyone.
There seems to be an infatuation with this all or nothing mentality, and I do not believe that is the only approach to navigating the realms of sobriety. Insinuating that one must never again take any kind of consciousness-altering substance if they want to be to identify as sober is absurd. I think that the perception that this is the only approach turns people off from the idea sobriety as a whole.
What I have discovered about sobriety is that it is truly personal. There is no one rule to determine whether someone qualifies as sober or not. If alcohol is or was the problem in your life, then focus on that. Use resources in your toolbox to combat that relationship with alcohol. You are under no obligation to eliminate things that are not causing destruction to your life in order to meet some magical standard of sobriety.
Sobriety can be overwhelming, and the thought that someone has to eliminate everything in their life can push some people away from getting rid of that one thing that is the actual problem. This is your journey, and you get to choose how you do it. That is the true beauty of sobriety.
For me personally
I embrace the absolute shit out of the word sober. I am so proud to be able to identify as sober. There is something so empowering about identifying with a term that clearly indicates I took my life back. I saw a problem with my relationship with alcohol, and while it took a lot of courage, I finally decided to do something about it. I did not wave a white flag, rather I realized that the best way to win the battle with a substance that was slowing taking over my life was to simply choose to end the fighting.
While I call myself sober, I am still the same loud and goofy person I was before I stopped drinking. I am no less fun, no less appealing, and I am sure as hell not boring. If anything, I am brighter, more aware, and an all around better version of myself than I was when I was drinking.
Alcohol was the toxic boyfriend I kept running back to, and that is the substance that I have spent my sobriety abstaining from. I still drink (a lot of) coffee, take prescription medications, and have an occasional edible, and I still proudly call myself sober.
If you are thinking about going sober, just know that there is no “right” way. You can make your sobriety and your journey through sobriety exactly how it needs to be for you. There are so many resources and so much support out there that you do not have to follow any one method of navigating sobriety. Only you know what you need, and that should be your focus. You do not need to compare your journey to anyone else’s, because sobriety is so personal.
I am forever rooting for you.