I stopped smoking pot on January 19th, 2014, and sometimes I feel like my parents talking about The Marijuana Cigarette (seriously they called it that). Like, I used to know the cool words that actual pot-smokers use but time moved forward without me and now I say dank like people in 1980 said grass.
I digress. The question at hand is: are you really sober if you still smoke pot? What about if you take anti-depressants? Are you sober if you use Antabuse? Or what if you used Nyquil last month (for three days in a row!)? If you drink Kombucha or caffeine, smoke cigarettes, get your forehead pumped up with Botox, or use laughing gas at the dentist - are you sober? What if you get in a car accident and take a Vicodin? Does that mean you’re half-sober? Temporarily not?
The first time I stopped drinking was in October 2012. I read Allen Carr’s book, The EasyWay To Control Alcohol, and on the train back to San Francisco from my cousin’s wedding, I had what I hoped would be my last glass of wine. I went out that very night to a bar, downed ½ a dozen diet cokes, and explained to my non-non-plussed friends I had quit drinking for good. I liked the word sober, even then. I liked what it meant, I liked that it was now mine. When I started drinking again in December 2012 I missed being able to use that word, and when I stopped drinking for good in April 2013 I welcomed it back with open arms. I. Am. Sober.
The word sober comes from the Latin word seberius, from “se-” which means “without” and “-eberius” which means “drunk” or “intoxicated.” In other words, it just means “not drunk” or even “not toxic.” It never occurred to me back then that because I still smoked pot and cigarettes, used molly and cocaine, binged and purged, consumed coffee and green tea, or used people/masturbation/my iPhone compulsively, that I was not officially sober. One time on Instagram, in 2014 when I was no longer using drugs but was using men and social media and coffee in deep excess, I read a post from a man I was following. It said: “Don’t call yourself sober if you’re still using drugs: you are not sober.” I wondered about him and that post, about what would make someone say such a thing. I wrote back to him that I – the official holder of the @hipsobriety handle – had used drugs to help me stop using drugs. I had used pot, Chipotle, nicotine, cocaine, a very unfortunate man named Justin, and half the coffee Starbucks produced in 2013 to stop drinking. But that shouldn’t matter to him, should it? Unless he owned the word and I was missing something.
I used the word sober while by all accounts I really wasn't because it was MY word. Because it made sense to me, it instilled a sense of pride, and an intention. Here is where I am headed. It made sense when my last few addictions were down to social media and coffee as much as it did when I was smoking pot all day every day. And fuck anyone who told me something different.
Recently, a woman posted on my Facebook page in a comment on a post about feminist recovery. She said she hadn’t had a drink for some time, maybe a few months, and she was still smoking pot. “Does that mean I’m not sober?” She asked this to no one in particular, she was simply addressing the random people of my Facebook page, which I am guessing she presumed to be the Sober Committee. I was surprised at most of the comments (most now deleted); they said, in summary: No girl, you are not. They might as well have said: No girl, we took a vote, sorry to inform you but you don't get that certificate just yet. Come back when you're more perfect.
There is a thing, albeit one I've only read about and not one I've experienced, wherein some of the more fundamentalist circles of AA individuals are told that the use of anti-depressants means they are not sober - if one is on Prozac, one is not sober. Most recently, there was an article in The New Republic titled Rejected by AA, which highlighted how those recovering from Opiate addiction who are on some form of LIFE SAVING Medically Assisted Treatment (MAT) like Suboxone or Methadone are withheld chips, or otherwise rejected by the only support group available to them, their local AA or NA. Which is, of course, is not only complete and utter bullshit, but is for some an outright death sentence; it's refusal of treatment, essentially, based on what amounts to a moral imperative.
On the other hand, I distinctly remember meeting a woman when I was freshly clean from all drugs and cigarettes who told me that she’d had a bout of addiction to pills in her twenties and was sober now; she only drank alcohol. Guess how much I didn’t want to lunge at her and smack (what I thought to be) her not-really-sober face? Meaning: I get it. All of it.
The point of this is: I don’t remember going into this with the belief that I’d stop doing All The Things, as in all the drugs and the cigarettes (and the people and the coffee and the whatever-else we do that becomes addictive which is basically everything). I wanted to escape from the hell that was drinking, and so I embarked to stop drinking. I wanted something to fucking make that not drinking thing real, and one of the things that made it real was calling myself sober. Calling myself sober, and the life afforded me by not ingesting ethanol on the regular, led to greater clarity, and also a mad desire to break through all the shitty limitations I had accepted for my life. Sobriety from alcohol led me to want more sobriety. Or rather, freedom led me to want more freedom. Sobriety begets more sobriety, the same way liberation begets more liberation, and love begets more love.
When I think about whether or not someone should use that word or who decides what sobriety is my eyes start to roll back in my head because it’s such a boring conversation. Seriously, let’s talk for hours about how my use of coffee, sugar, and Juvaderm somehow means I am not really sober or how that chick over there does ayahuasca so she isn’t or how people who use anti-depressants aren’t. That sounds like a great use of time and not full of the same patriarchal bullshit shame-cycle that drives us to need to numb our fucking faces off in the first place, right?
You could decide what you are you are and what you will and won’t be called because you have to live with yourself, and I’ll do the same, and we can tell anyone who wants to argue with us about it to go fuck themselves.