The good folks at Alcoholics Anonymous have an extensive collective of acronyms. Like “KISS” (Keep it simple, stupid.) And “DENIAL” (Don’t even notice I am lying.) How about “ALCOHOLICS” (A life centered on helping others live in complete sobriety.) I’m not even scratching the service here. These people have oceans of acronyms.
But my all-time favorite AA acronym has to be “SOBER.” Translation: “Son of a bitch! Everything’s real!” That one makes me LOL (Laugh out loud.)
I laugh because of the self-deprecating, naked humility. I laugh with the relief that only humility can bring. And I’m relieved and happy because the emergence of humility is one of the most accurate measures that the addict/alcoholic is getting well.
You see, life is real. Well I’ll be.
Addiction/compulsion is an attempt to put off your date with reality. It is a strategy to self-medicate symptoms of depression. It is a twisted effort to soothe oneself. Twisted, because the ‘soothed vs. anxiety’ ratio is always a diminishing return. You find you need more and more of the drug or the compulsive behavior for a soothing of shorter and shorter duration. Not to mention that the economic, physical and social consequences of addiction/compulsion inevitably provoke an even longer list of things about which to be anxious – divorce, estranged relationships with your children, terminated employment, dwindling bank accounts, cancer, cirrhosis, prison – ah, the hits just keep coming!
The “SOBER” acronym is the addict’s self-parody of the above paragraph. It’s a full and complete confession that addiction/compulsion is Grade A insanity, denial, distortion, delusion. And it expresses a new willingness, in humility, to throw oneself headlong into life as life is – real.
The late M. Scott Peck (“The Road Less Traveled”) said “mental health is a commitment to reality at all cost.” Singer/songwriter Alanis Morrissette sings about it:
I recommend getting your heart trampled on to anyone/ I recommend walking around naked in your living room/I recommend biting off more than you can chew to anyone/ I recommend sticking your foot in your mouth at any time/ You live you learn/ You love you learn/ You cry you learn/ You lose you learn/ You bleed you learn/ You scream you learn
Yep, everything is real. You are born. You live. You celebrate, you suffer, you die. Real choices have real consequences. Some of the consequences are rather nasty. And you won’t ever be entirely in control of the consequences. You might never get a DUI. Then again, you might slaughter a family of five the first time you decide to drive drunk.
Son of a bitch! Love is real. Hatred is real. Virtue is real. Sin is real. Goodness is real. Evil is real. Pride is real, as is its antidote, humility. Agony and ecstasy are both real. Laughter is real. So is joy. The earth, the oceans, the sky, the cosmos – it’s all real. The plants and the animals, all joining us in the reality. Death is real.
Fire is real – and it’s happy to give warmth, light, and cook your dinner. Equally happy to burn your hand or burn your house down with you in it.
Relationships are real, which means intimacy is real. Though be forewarned: intimacy has much in common with the aforementioned fire. Intimacy provides warmth, light, and meaning. Intimacy feeds and grows the soul. But sometimes, despite our every hope and effort, intimacy burns our house down with us in it. In the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Even as love crowns you, so will it crucify you.”
Intimacy is reserved for S.O.B.E.R. people, for people who can and will bear the discomfort of exposure, the risk of trust, the rigor of service and sacrifice, dependence and interdependence, not to mention the humility to let love in.
Wielding the acronym “SOBER” means a willingness to be surprised – again – at the mystery of it all. The brief, fragile holiness of The Now. Being born is no claim of merit; rather, a gift. Are there beans in your bucket? Is there love in your sheets? Than you are already rich beyond measure.
Son of a bitch! Everything’s real! Yep. Everything. And one of the things that is real is you.
Oh, yeah, forgot to mention: clocks are real, too. And yours is ticking. Just like mine.
(Steven Kalas is an author, therapist and Episcopal priest. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)