Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sobriety vs Lucidity: What’s in a Word?

Writing a blog about freedom from addictions has brought me very quickly up against a semantic road block - I’ve realised that I have real issues with the language used to talk about this subject. Just think about the words we use to describe the quitting of drugs or alcohol: 
Abstinence. Sobriety. Temperance. Boring, boring boring. 

The dictionary defines ‘sober’ as 
1. Not intoxicated or drunk 
2. Habitually temperate, especially in the use of liquor 
3. Quiet or sedate in demeanour 
4. Marked by seriousness, gravity and solemnity 
5. Free from excess and extravagance 

In its strictest form, in the context we would most commonly be using it, sober means not drunk. Fair enough. But as you can see, the words we use have so many hidden (or not-so-hidden) meanings that we pick up on and associate with the things we’re discussing. So sober also means dull, grey, serious, sedate - not words I would use, or want to use, to describe myself and my lifestyle. 

So I’ve been struggling along, trying to write about being sober without using the word sober, which has been challenging to say the least. Then last week, we went to a workshop in Berlin called Design Your Own Cult, run by Mark Angelo of Spiral Tribe, one of the most famous free party sound systems of the 90’s, one of Ryan’s heroes, and all-round lovely guy. We got to chatting about the FREEDOM junkies (which was pretty surreal, talking about not taking drugs with a legend of the ecstasy era), and I mentioned how frustrated I was getting with the language and symbolism of sobriety. Everything feels so negative - it’s all about rejecting rather than embracing. Think of the big black X’s Straight Edge-ers draw on their hands, which just remind me of school, getting things wrong and maths tests covered with red crosses. 


The Lotus grows in the mud and blooms into a gorgeous flower, rising above the murk and becoming something stronger and more beautiful because of the struggle - the perfect symbol for this journey.

And then Mark gave me a linguistic gift that has changed not just how I can write about this, but how I feel about it too. He said “I prefer to think of it as lucidity.” As soon as he said it, I thought, Hells yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Lucidity. Clarity. Focus. These are the words I’ve been looking for. 

When I looked up ‘lucid’ in the dictionary, I knew I was on the right track: 
1. Easily understood, completely intelligible or comprehensible 
2. Clear perception or understanding, rational or sane 
3. Shining or bright 

It’s also helped me see my own journey in a clearer way. When I stopped drinking alcohol 9 years ago, I was the dictionary definition of sober. But almost as soon as I stopped drinking, I started smoking weed. I never really addressed the reasons why I drank a lot, I just stopped doing one thing and started doing something else. So I might have been sober, but I definitely wasn’t lucid. 

I smoked weed all day, every day for nearly 10 years, and the only breaks I had were because of lack of supply. Four months ago, I stopped. I had finally realised that I could tell myself I was ‘sober’ all I liked, but I was still addicted as hell to something that was starting to affect my life in ways I didn’t like. One of the first things I noticed was how much clearer I felt. I could finally hear the thoughts in my head that were no longer being obscured by smoking, and these thoughts needed changing. So I started meditating. I read about mindfulness. I went to counselling. I became more motivated, I had more energy, I felt like I was starting to shine in a way I hadn’t for so long. I’d forgotten how good it felt to just accept who you are and just be. Perhaps I’d never known. 

Quitting drinking and stopping smoking were totally different challenges for me. When I decided I wouldn’t drink any more, I hated alcohol and what it did to me so much that I kicked it out the door without a second thought. Weed was like a lover who was treating me badly so they had to go, even though I didn’t want them too. Which is tough. There hasn’t been a day in the last four months when I haven’t thought about smoking. What keeps me going is not thinking about all the negative things that I don’t want, but moving towards all the positive things that I do. 

Which is why the language I use to talk about it has changed. I want to feel empowered, focused and clear. I want excess and extravagance in my life - an excess of understanding, to be extravagantly perceptive. No sombreness or solemnity here…I want to shine like the motherfuckin’ sun. 

So, any of this making sense to you? Are you thinking about quitting something, but don’t want to be a quitter? Is the ‘sober’ in ‘sobriety’ putting you off? Change the language you use, and it will shift your perception. Words are powerful, so use the ones that motivate you the most. And good luck! 

-Ems-

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