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Against Sobriety

August 28, 2012

Sobriety is a myth, and even if it weren’t, it’s dangerous and bad for us all.

It’s a myth because these days, in the real world, most of us no longer inhabit the real world on a full time basis. We spend multiple daily hours in virtual reality, and probably living differently than we did even three or four years ago.

For me, when I have a spare moment, my default action is to pick up my iPhone to check for voicemails, emails or texts. Or the latest news or weather. Or to listen to my iTunes. If I were active on Facebook, you’d probably never hear from me at all…except on Facebook.

Technology has become so powerful and enthralling, it’s slowly rewiring us. It’s not your mother’s television anymore, and it’s not your dad’s porno either. Net, porn and video and computer game addiction are becoming scourges we’ve only begun to awaken to.  And the ten year old who texts all day and night? You call that sobriety? Or the guy playing Max Payne 3 or the woman playing Farmville three hours a day? If we believe these things do not intoxicate us, change our brain chemistry, or alter our states, then I say they got us just where they want us.

Sobriety is a myth, and culture has become our drug of choice. It alters, inebriates, and addicts us. The only ones in society who Just Say No are the Christian Scientists, or the Amish who live on the land and off the grid. God bless ‘em both, because they’re not hypocrites. Everyone else who thinks they live a sober or unmedicated lifestyle just because they refuse to indulge in illegal substances is just kidding themselves. Who really Just Says No these days? The guy in the dentist’s chair about to have a root canal? The mom with the splitting headache from screeching kids? The person who’s so anxious or depressed they can’t function anymore? The office worker after a 55 hour week, at 6:00 pm on a Friday? I don’t think so.

But what I’m trying to say here is that sobriety is not only a myth, it’s dangerous. Sobriety today means doing nothing to counteract the day-to-day, moment-to-moment impact of technology-infused urban or suburban living, or the processed food and processed information we’re constantly being fed. It means doing nothing to counter a culture that encourages materialism, self-obsession, conformity and spiritual deadness.

Speaking of which, religion can be an antidote to culture, but let’s not pretend that fervent prayer to He Who Is Most High doesn’t make a person completely snockered. Indeed, that may be the idea, as people have been altering their consciousness, usually during religious rituals, for thousands of years. (Today, think Ramadan, Purim, Yom Kippur, revival tents, etc.) It seems to be one of our fundamental human needs and inclinations. 

So-called sobriety means doing nothing to counteract the impact of simply waking up in the morning, having your cup of black speed and reading the front page of the Times. I mean, speaking of mood-altering substances, there’s two of them right there! Compared to your state of mind when you woke up, you’ve just acquired a chemical imbalance. (By the way, I discourage clients from drinking colas or coffee during a session, as they tend to skew chemistry and emotion towards anxiety, excitement, over intellectualization and away from more vulnerable feelings.) 

In other words, our culture has now become inherently intoxicating, and if we don’t take it upon ourselves to take charge of our personal chemistry, we leave it to others to do so. Because these days, it’s not a question of whether you’ll be altered, but how, and by whom.  

So if nobody’s sober as I contend, then it’s a matter of where you draw the line.

And when it comes to that line, I do draw it. I’ve had to, because I’ve struggled on a very personal level with this issue for decades. As the son of an alcoholic (although my father, never a common anything, was a drinker who neither slurred nor stumbled) I know I carry the “A” gene. In the 70’s I struggled for a short time with amphetamine addiction, ultimately flushing them out of my life. In the 80’s I medicated myself from time to time with cocaine, a substance I would give to my worst enemy. I still can’t allow myself to be anywhere near it.

To this day, I love to drink and smoke grass.  But I found over time that the more I’d do either, the less I’d enjoy it, and the bigger the price I would pay. Years ago I had to face reality: If I didn’t draw boundaries around my usage, I would certainly fall into addiction, and its debilitating aftermath, sobriety.

It turned out I so liked a good drinking or smoking high – especially one that would come after abstaining a while – that I decided to limit my intake so I could keep taking them in. There are just too many benefits they offer me: a new perspective on things I’m thinking about; a way of flushing out the work week; of losing my rigid and structured mindset for a few hours, like taking a brief vacation; and the sheer physical and psychic pleasure they bring me, including a heightened appreciation of all things sensual, especially sex, art and music.)  So I set rules for myself: I allow myself to drink a fair amount, but only one night every two weeks. I allow myself to smoke as much weed as I wish, but only once every six weeks. And I have followed these rules assiduously for the past 15 years. 

And there’s more to my story, as some of you know, but that’s for another post and time.

And don’t get me wrong, I have nothing but respect and admiration for those who have pulled themselves up from the dark pit of addiction and have instead chosen life and have, usually through a 12 step program, saved themselves. Thank God I can control my drinking and smoking, just as I could not control my snorting, without such a program.

So for me the solution has been to follow the middle path between the two extremes of addiction and (so called) sobriety. Because, I contend, each holds a great danger, and a similar one, which is the trap of entrancement, be it chemical or cultural. 

Or as the Buddhists say, “Everything in moderation, including moderation.”

So where do you draw the line? If you draw it, all the way down the line, according to  Food and Drug Administration-approved substances only, what in heaven’s name are you doing? Are we really supposed to believe the federal government or the corporations that run it (including Big Pharma and the alcohol companies) have our best interests at heart when they determine who gets legally high and how? (Consider, say, Ritalin; Vicodin; Oxycontin.) Do we really want them to decide for us what our personal chemistry should be?  Or allowable states of mind?

Reclaiming one’s body chemistry is not only an individual right, it’s a social duty and obligation, because what we’re talking about here is cognitive freedom, which we all need to be exercising now and in every way.

Or, as the man said…

                                                                        — Terence McKenna


Preaching or promoting a Just Say No sobriety is tantamount to believing one can Just Say No to being involved in politics, which of course is a political position, one that favors and furthers the status quo. There is no No.

I’m against sobriety because it’s a lie, and because to not take control of my own chemical destiny (you heard me right) forfeits it to other forces with their own agendas. Making wise and well-educated choices about how I alter my mind and body is a way of fully participating in my own life.


16 Comments leave one →
  1. Dan W permalink
    August 28, 2012 1:34 pm

    A list of addictions that are rampant and destructive in society, that we are largely oblivious to:

    The internet
    Insight (ever heard of an “insight junky”?)
    Thought patterns
    Simple Carbohydrates (grains)
    Bad news
    Pictures of adorable animals

    Anyone else want to add to the list?

  2. Richard permalink
    August 28, 2012 1:40 pm

    Your most powerful post yet. Great article.

  3. Shelley Wininger permalink
    August 28, 2012 4:32 pm

    I know people who play FarmVille and other computer games for hours on end, every day. What a sad life (IMHO)

  4. August 28, 2012 8:31 pm

    Bravo! well said! The key to solving society’s “drug” problems is education, not prohibition, so people can make their own well informed and responsible decisions about whether they should intoxicate themselves with “drugs” and how they should do so. Within broad but objective parameters those choices will vary from one individual to another. For myself, the health dangers of binge drinking, for example, outweigh the benefits, while the risk-reward ratio for other intoxicants is more favorable. The biggest reward, in my opinion, is that shift of perspective that you mentioned, allowing you to step back for a moment from the hypnotic brainwashing trance of mainstream culture. However, the insights gained from such a shift in perspective can alienate you from mainstream culture, which brings with it its own dangers. That’s why political work must be done to make the culture more respectful of intoxicants as a means to achieve insight–and better yet, more respectful of those insights themselves. We’ve got a long, hard road ahead of us.

  5. August 29, 2012 5:08 am

    You REALLY find that Purim alters your state?

  6. dave abramowitz permalink
    August 30, 2012 6:34 am

    You make some good points about the way we’re conditioned and, most, more than we know, but you pose a faulty analogy between a pseudo-sobriety and what you perhaps imagine is a reality high. Your comment using words like “chemical destiny” or “taking charge of your personal chemistry” I find personally unworthy of who you most truly are. I pose another alternative other thanthe two choices you have so conveniently constructed. Christ consciousness is not a myth, nor is clarity, a zen-like clarity and being grounded and balanced. Drugs, of all kinds, though they may at times seem to free us and loosen us up and lighten “our load,” can so often take us into dreamland, lala land, and badly fuck with our God-given brain chemistry and nerve system. and even create another kind of conditioning.
    The photo you show looks like the man has had a personal encounter with his demons and perhaps gone to hell and back. He looks a little frozen, dead, sad and somewhere scary too.
    “Managing one’s occasional highs, as you put it, sounds nice and perhaps you can bring it off to some extent, but ,again, my feeling is perhaps our essential purpose is to realize God in the most personal way and, for that drugs and psychedelics and hallucinogens of all kinds are not necessary for God has given these amazing miracle bodies, created, designed for us over billions of years of evolution to be able to expressly know and commune with our Creator naturally and freely and easily, and all that’s required is clarity, courage, caring, trust and faith.
    We don’t need to eat of the apple in the garden or take drugs. We need to forbear and stand a witness and an example to the youth, especially, who are only too willing to be seduced and get “enlightenment” on the cheap. I love you, brother, but put these thoughts distilled into another kind of “pipe” and smoke it. God made us perfect as we are. We don’t need to improve on what Our Creator has made.

    • August 31, 2012 7:16 pm

      Well one thing you say intrigues me: Achieving a natural state, “a zen-like clarity and being grounded and balanced.” Meditation of this sort is something I’d like to pursue. This would seem to be another way to detox from the daily cultural onslaught.

      But being a Christian, as you encourage, or a teetotalling Baptist, doesn’t appeal to me.

  7. dave abramowitz permalink
    September 1, 2012 2:58 am

    I’ve never been baptised but our lack of love and trust in Our Creator is the general societal problem. It is mostly not “in” in these times in much of the so-called counter-culture to be a person for whom our relationship with God is the most important challenge and opportunity of our lives, demanding all our courage. The fact is the people who should know better don’t really love God enough. We love our “idea of freedom” more. We don’t really trust God at all. We depersonalize God so we don’t have to change or look at our “New Age” conditioning. You said something to me once, in reaction, which I am grateful for. In essence what you said, challenging me, was to “love God” without having the courage to open oneself to intimacy with people is to remain somewhere in hiding. I had to reexamine my life, to some extent, because I saw the truth in what you said. challenging me. However, for many, the opposite or converse is true. They think they love or like people and nature but can’t see in people and nature the obvious, the reality of God right there with them or in it, As far as your comments about my evangelizing, I believe in Christ consciousness is much larger than Christianity and certainly the way it has been practiced, in large part, for much of its history, but the whloe mythology that has been built up about drug taking being cool and a viable even therapeutic lifestyle is dangerously misleading. I remember in the’60s how much it was okay and would make a “revolution,” but it created, like in the hedonistic ’20s, a lost generation, for the most part, desparately searching for years … this and that, and saying they were “working on themselves,”and going everywhere but to the real place that would truly connect them. It is time to look beyond generational mistakes and look another way . . . You have taught me much in my life by your example and often by your fierce curmugeonly toughness. I hope that I’ve often been a catalyst for you.

    • September 4, 2012 5:24 am

      David I thank you for your kind words of acknowledgement.

      And…I have to say your first sentence is patently false: “I’ve never been baptised but our lack of love and trust in Our Creator is the general societal problem.” That may look true living in hedonistic, pagan New York, but throughout a good deal of the country there are tens of millions who love and trust in God and I don’t see those sections of the country treating their poor or underpriviledged with anything approaching mercy, compassion or kindness. To say nothing of the fact that those very same parts of the country oppose with the most vehemence any organized effort to take care of the planet He gave us dominion over.

      If you were as critical of them as you are of the counter culture you would have more credibility in my book.

      • Dan W permalink
        September 4, 2012 4:51 pm

        For one, the “God” the people you speak of love and trust in is a God with human emotions and a nasty punishing streak. Second, I think it’s unfair of you to judge how they treat the poor and underprivileged. Have you recently witnessed this first hand, or are you going off of what you see on your TV screen and computer screen? I think there are tons of generous republicans, sweet southerners, etc. that refuse to discriminate and oppress. But that’s beside the point. The people you speak of aren’t exactly trusting in God himself–they are worshiping a mental construct of God that sends evildoers to Hell. But who are we to judge? (hah!)

        I think it’s more than a lack of trust in our creator; it’s a lack of trust in the general order and harmony of the universe/the way things work already. Us humans like to alter everything around us to fit some preconception of the way things “should” be–whether it’s changing one’s own breast size with plastic surgery or changing one’s own state of mind with a mood-altering substance, the common thread is that we are unsatisfied with the way things are going and do not trust that things will turn out okay, nay, AMAZING, without struggling to change the natural flow.

        That said, I don’t think I would *have* this amount of trust in the universe without having altered my perception with various forms of intoxication, so it’s a catch-22. A tricky dance.

  8. Bill permalink
    September 6, 2012 5:02 pm

    An article that aims to reground the development of internet technologies in the overarching purpose of technological development: freeing us up for more meaningful activities. We’ve gone pretty far astray, thinking of the developments themselves (and addiction to them) as the ends of their own development.

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