Sobriety and Social Justice

I have been thinking a lot about the intersection of sobriety and social justice. Seven and a half years into this journey of recovery, I know I could not do any of this work in the world without my sobriety. It comes first, and I must protect it at all costs.

I feel like so many of my friends and others in the world are waking up right now. To be sober is to be awake. You wake up on that first morning after your last drink or drug, and you look around with bleary eyes. “This can’t be right? Is this what the world really is like?” You are slow and sluggish. You are hungry for knowledge and a way forward, but you tire quickly and need rest. Your energy is frantic and fleeting, but when you’re in the midst of it you barrel through trying to fix everything that is broken. You look back at who you were yesterday and all the days before that and feel such guilt. Such shame. You want to make amends. You want to beg for forgiveness.

That time will come. But I learned very early on in my journey that the best way for me to atone is through living amends. I do this by waking up every day and living my life in a way that allows me to make amends to those I’ve hurt. My service-focused life is an amends to the people I love.

In his book, “How to Be An Anti-Racist,” Ibram X. Kendi talks about how being anti-racist is a lot like recovering from addiction. You have to do it one day at a time. You have to wake up each day and say, “what will I do to stay sober today and what will I do to be anti-racist today.” And you don’t do it once, but every day, sometimes every hour. You won’t be perfect and it will be hard, but you have to keep going.

In recovery rooms we have a saying: Once you’ve become a pickle, you can’t turn back into a cucumber.

In terms of sobriety, this means once you realize you have a substance abuse problem, you can’t go back to being a “normal drinker.” You will always feel that guilt in the pit of your stomach if/when you drink again, even if it’s just a glass of wine with dinner. I’ve been lucky that relapse has not been a part of my story, but I’ve heard from enough friends in recovery to know it’s not pleasant.

When it comes to social justice, the same saying applies. Now that you see the systemic and racist system around you, you cannot unsee it. Life will never “go back to normal.” It shouldn’t. If this is your first step, you may not realize it yet. But you are forever changed. You are newly sober in this world.

Do you sit in the guilt and shame of being a part of this system? Do you keep drinking the poison that won’t only kill your light, but also entire communities? Or do you actively recover? Do you dig deep and find the courage to make change?

The choice is yours. Have courage. Make the right one.

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