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.
As I am writing this, it sounds a bit exclusive or elitist. I don't think alcoholics are better than non-alcoholics. I don't think non-addicts don't suffer from social pressure, cravings, or desires to escape. I also know that non-addicts have many things to offer us (as everyone does). I simply think that nobody can help an addict like another addict. Although a "normie" may have great advice to offer, their advice on sobriety and recovery is often not from personal experience. Sharing from personal experience is one of the greatest gifts addicts can give to each other. However, I personally do not shut non-addicts out of my support network.
Addressing other mind-altering substances is tricky. These include caffeine, nicotine, sugar, etc. All I can share here is my personal experience and opinion. I am not an authority on the issue. I have found that all of these substances do affect me. When I was new, I drank a ton of coffee, chain-smoked, and ingested a lot of sugar. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I was using these substances to numb my feelings a bit. They're not quite as strong as other drugs, but they do affect our brain. I truly believe that cigarettes and caffeine helped me to stay sober in the beginning.
As time went on, my needs changed. As I became more able to meet life on life's terms, I became less concerned with these substances. I rarely drink caffeine, gave up coffee completely, and have been smoke free for about 3 and a half months now. I don't think this makes me more sober or better than anyone else. Nicotine and caffeine were of great help to me. As they helped me get sober and stay sober for a bit, they allowed me to get to where I am. Now that I can look at my craving and attachment to pleasure more deeply, I can change my relationship to these substances.
However, those that smoke cigarettes, drink a lot of coffee, or eat sugar are still sober in my opinion. They do not alter the mind enough to truly be considered a relapse. However, I encourage everyone to take a look at your relationship to them. I thought I drank coffee becauseI enjoyed the taste of coffee, but it turns out the caffeine made me feel good for a bit.
Finally, we come to the issue of prescription medication. This is a touchy one for many people. I have heard many stories of people who have had legitimate reasons to take prescription medications, only to eventually relapse. My opinion and experience on this is that if a doctor prescribes medication for a legitimate issue and we take the medication in a healthy manner, we are in the clear. However, we must be very careful. We must make sure we are taking medications because we legitimately need them. Our minds can trick us into thinking we do, so it is probably best to speak to others about it.
A few times a year, I have kidney stones. The pain is usually excruciating, and doctors often give me pain medication in the hospital, as well as a prescription. I try very hard to get through it with ibuprofen and rest, but sometimes I do need medication. I like to ask myself what my intentions are and if I truly need medication. I don't need to be a martyr, but I do need to be safe. I call my sponsor, and often ask my sober girlfriend for her thoughts. In the hospital, I talk to a sober addict before taking any medications. When I leave the hospital, I generally decline and painkillers. If I do need to take them, I ask the doctor for a low quantity. I tell my sponsor before I take even one.
In my opinion, we can absolutely take prescription medications if we need them. However, we have a problem that centers in our minds, and we must not deceive ourselves. If somebody is taking prescription meds without a medical issue, this is probably not sober. If you are in a situation that meds are a possibility, I would recommend you:
-Ask yourself if you absolutely need the meds
-Call your sponsor or some mentors
-Remember that just because you take the meds as prescribed doesn't make it healthy or not a relapse
-Be aware of withdrawal effects
This is the first ranting post I have written in quite a while. I just had this on my mind, and find that this is a great way to get my thoughts out! Let me know if you have any experience or thoughts with these issues! I have two conclusions from this. First, an addict is bodily and mentally different; being clean your whole life is not the same as sober. Second, if somebody else drinks coffee, smokes, takes meds, or is drinking instead of using hard drugs, it is not our business. We can offer support and love, but one path does not work for everyone!