500 days of… sobriety? Abstention? Let’s talk terms

comment-bubbles-elements-glossy-icon_M1QpahL_Over the weekend I remarked on five hundred days without a drink on my personal Facebook page. It’s an accomplishment I feel pretty proud of, and it wouldn’t have happened without the support of a lot of people. At the same time, there was some disagreement on my use of the word “sober” to describe the achievement. A friend of mine wrote a very thoughtful comment here on the blog, which, I’m going to re-post here, but it’s also important to consider her comment in light of the specific post she’s referencing: “Can marijuana help with anxiety issues? It helped mine. Let me explain…

So here’s the comment:

I truly respect your continued commitment to abstaining from alcohol, but I take serious issue with continuing to self-identify as a sober person. To post publicly, “I have been sober for X amount of days” is a lie so long as you continue to count time from your quit-drinking date. A stoned person is not sober– end of story.

I realize that recovery is different for everyone, but sobriety is not. It is by definition abstaining from mood and mind-altering substances. Are psychotropics prescribed by a doctor different? Maybe, but that’s not even relevant in light of the fact that you self-prescribed pot. It is dangerous for people who are still suffering with addiction to look at you and be charmed by what I think is skillful rationalization and self-deception.

It is my conviction that you CAN in good conscience celebrate time away from a drink by changing the way you speak and think about your journey. For example, “I have not had any alcohol in 500 days,” or, “I haven’t had a drink for 500 days,” or, “I have been sober from alcohol for 500 days.”

Smoking weed and then calling yourself sober is insulting to sober people.

I hope that is an appropriate place to post my criticism, because, as a fan and follower, I really needed to get this out. If you need to delete it, I will understand and not take it personally.

First of all, I’m OK with criticism. If anyone disagrees with me on here I’d rather hear about it and why than have them grumbling about it and moving on to something else. Second of all, I want to say that there’s a lot here worth considering and I want to give it a well-thought out response.

I think that for the most part given the context of this blog and people who know me through the personal Facebook page know that when I use “sober” I’m using it within the context of being free from alcohol, and I don’t intend to insult anyone by pretending otherwise. I’m also not trying to charm or deceive anyone who is struggling with an addiction into thinking that what I do as part of my own recovery is the right thing for everyone and that if you are struggling with addiction or with a mental health issues you should always seek professional help. While support communities and forums like this can be useful, they are not a substitute for therapy or substance counseling or other professional services.

For the past year (and change) I’ve been observing the conversations taking place within the mental health community- from patients, practitioners, advocacy groups, etc. and one thing I’ve noticed is a sensitivity to language. Hell, I’ve been sensitive to it myself. So if my colloquial use of sober/sobriety rather than abstain/abstention is something that I can be more careful with, I’m perfectly willing to do so, with the caveat that I’m not perfect and may occasionally use it if I’m writing in a hurry. I may also still tag posts dealing with the topic of alcohol, alcoholism, etc. with “sober” or “sobriety” to make navigation on the blog easier and to tie certain posts to one another by category.

Anyway, 500 hundred days without alcohol. I’m happy.

5 thoughts on “500 days of… sobriety? Abstention? Let’s talk terms

  1. Congratulations! We do seem to be moving quickly toward hyper sensitivities to words. A society ever ready to pounce on the “offended” band-wagon. Kinda sad to me… as she said in her comment, she knew what you meant. I’m sure most of your regular readers knew what you meant. The purpose of words is to communicate meaning. If you do that, you have done your job.


    1. My instinct is to be empathetic to someone’s concerns, so if it’s no burden to me to tweak the language I use then that’s OK, but yes, generally I think people understood the context of the use.

      Certainly from a strict definition perspective I have not been sober for 500 days- but then neither has anyone who uses any kind of mood/mind altering substance- be it marijuana, caffeine, nicotine or even sugar (to say nothing of substances like my daily anti-depressant).

      I suppose from my perspective I look at sobriety vis-a-vis control over my life. When I drink I don’t have control over my life. That has not been the case with the other substances I use- in fact, you might argue that they actually help me maintain a semblance of control.

      But again- I have no interest in needlessly antagonizing anyone, so I don’t mind using words like “abstain.”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I understand your position and it’s sweet of you to try to ease the way by choosing another word… Just be careful or you’ll end up without any words to use. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I continue to use the term sober about myself although I occasionally smoke marijuana. I could change it to abstinent from alcohol but I don’t think I am going to.
    One thing I occasionally mull over is the whole purpose of the blogging world. For a lot of people it is something they do to share and support and to offer help to people who are new to sobriety or thinking about it and if you look at it as more of that kind of public service then I suppose the use of language like sober might need to be carefully considered. That whole supportive approach is really admirable and probably serves far more purpose but people are in it for different things and I think that needs to be respected to. So for me my blog is more of a diary and a place to dump my thoughts and keep myself accountable to myself for what really matters. In that context I think I get to decide what language I use and for me sobriety from alcohol is THE BIG THING – so big in fact it can be reduced to the short hand term ‘sober’. I shall continue to use that term with no reservation as long as I don’t drink.


    1. Thanks for the comment. I really like your point about accountability- at the end of the day each of us has to live with ourselves and we’re the only ones who know what is/isn’t the definition that’s right for us.

      My blog is sort of a hybrid between a diary and trying to build a supportive community around the issues of mental health, alcoholism, etc. As I wrote, while I’ll commit to trying to be more conscious of the words I use I can’t make any promises.

      Liked by 1 person

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