Recently, I have heard a lot of talk about what exactly it means to be sober. Somebody mentioned they were sober because they had stopped using drugs, but they still drank. Somebody else argued that they had never drank or used in their entire life, and they understood what it was like to be sober. Finally, a non-alcoholic friend asked me about caffeine, smoking, and prescription medication, and their relationship with sobriety.
This example of somebody who quit hard drugs and just drinks is very common. I did this myself for years. Although some people benefit from this tactic, it is absolutely not sober. My personal experience was that I was simply no better off switching drugs. As my sponsor puts it, it is like switching seats on the Titanic. I still repressed feelings and pain. I didn't look within or grow. Although marijuana may physically be less harmful than methamphetamine, it is no better for my spirit.
However, it is not for me to judge how other people choose to live their lives. If somebody can quit using crack but continue drinking alcohol, then I support them. My personal Buddhist beliefs are that I should not ingest anything that leads to heedlessness, but I would never push this on somebody else (just as I don't want somebody pushing their religion on me). Just because I wasn't able to continue using one substance while quitting another does not mean everyone will have the same experience. However, this simply does not make one sober.
Having an Addiction
Although the word sober actually means not intoxicated, there is a different connotation in recovery circles. Being sober implies that the person once went through an addiction. If somebody never picks up or uses in their life, they are technically sober. However, they are not sober in the same way that somebody is who has gone through an addiction. This does not make their sobriety any less valuable or important. However, it is just not the same.
I was recently in a position where a non-alcoholic was speaking to a newcomer. The non-alcoholic said they had never used, and understood what the newcomer was going through. Because this person had never used, they had experienced much pressure and desires to try drugs and alcohol. However, this is completely different from trying to get sober from an addiction. Although the non-alcoholic here had a valid point about choosing not to use, the non-alcoholic simply cannot understand the addict's feelings. When we get sober, our brains are suddenly without substances they are accustomed to. We have been spending much of our lives running from every feeling. Suddenly, we are confronted by our feelings, and are often overwhelmed. However, the non-alcoholic has had many years to face their feelings....