The Religion in Sobriety

This morning, I woke up with a tear in my eye not because I had consumed whiskey the night before, but because I hadn’t – for the 365th day in a row.

It has been an incredibly exciting and scary moment as I looked at my calendar and saw the date of February 17th – one of my sobriety dates – get closer and closer. Today I can finally say: It has been one year since I have consumed a drop of whiskey, vodka, or any other liquor.

The last time I took the decision to remove a substance from my life was when I quit smoking, on February 11, 2018. I am not a religious person, and yet I often find myself describing the moment as Divine – or at least the closest I have ever felt to Divinity. It was a random moment when I looked at the cigarette in my fingers and suddenly decided to put it down, never giving in to the temptation to pick up another. The feeling was almost as if someone was intervening, guiding me to a healthier future. I have written about it on my personal website.

I wish it were the same for my journey free from liquor, which has been a conscious and constant challenge. The stories of those who took the decision to be sober – be it from drugs, alcohol, or any other substance – are hardly as exciting or memorable as people might expect. In fact, it is more likely that they are made of up lots of little moments of fear, anxiety, regret, or conflict that ultimately lead to someone deciding to save himself and those around him. I did it one year ago because that last moment, that night before, proved to be a turning point in my life – and that’s all I’ll say about that.

One year has gone by and I’ve learned a lot about what it means to lament something, regardless of how much I once loved it or how much pain it would inevitably cause me. My decision, or duty, to remain sober from liquor has offered me a new way of seeing responsibility in the world around me and has helped me with my self-esteem, my personal relationships within my family and community, and my work.

In some ways, it reminds me of Jocko Willink’s saying, ‘Discipline Equals Freedom’, which shows me that the less I relied on substances, the more I could truly flourish. Perhaps the closest thing to this I can think of is the practice of keeping Kosher (something that I personally do not do). I have spoken to many people in my circle of friends who follow a varying level of Kashrut. They live within the boundaries they set themselves, whether it be separating milk and meat, eating vegetarian out the house, or keeping entirely Shomrei – all of which require diverse levels of discipline. And yet each of them may also lament the cheeseburger they once ate, or fanaticize about the one they’ve never had.

And so, my devotion to my own lifestyle has offered me insight into how challenging it must be to uphold a variety of Judaic practices in the name of values and tradition. My sobriety, which is not a religious tradition but a personal choice, has shown me the power that discipline has when holding myself, my words, and my actions accountable to something greater.

Some may say that the practice of sobriety and religious traditions should not be compared. And they may be right. But after a year of trying to lead by example, of keeping dietary restrictions, and taking personal responsibility within my community, I feel closer to Divinity than ever before. 

About the Author
James Spiro is a journalist and editor at CTech by Calcalist. With degrees from the UK and USA, he has a background in journalism, public relations, and political analysis. He has a weekly newsletter that goes out on Fridays (www.JamesSpiro.com/subscribe) and is active on Twitter: @JamesSpiro
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