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Redefining Sobriety: When You Don’t Fit in the Recovery Box

by Cassendre Xavier

The other day on my Inspiration Line I spoke about what sobriety meant to me.

First of all, I’ve begun using the word “sobriety” in place of “recovery”. For me, the former implies a positive state of being, and the latter implies a slightly more negative experience of doing. 
Sobriety, to me, is being, and recovery is doing.

In my message at the time, I said, “Sobriety for me means not doing anything to harm myself, in any way.”
I shared that I’ve been a compulsive eater and food addict my entire life, and have 27 years as an “old-timer” in the 12 Step movement, having attended since my junior high school years, Overeaters Anonymous (OA). I also shared that some time ago, I left that program.

I have so many needs and challenges, and have had such difficulty finding resources that addressed my specific issues that I’ve created many of them myself.
For instance, when I couldn’t find a peer support group for women survivors of incest with a special focus on compulsive overeating, I created one, and called it “Sisters Healing Together”.

Since December 2015 I have attended a day program at a center for mental health and addiction treatment. Almost every single time the word “addiction” is used, the examples given are drugs and alcohol. Occasionally mention will be made of some compulsive behaviors like gambling and shopping, but very rarely is overeating mentioned, or codependency.

When I first began receiving psychotherapy treatment in the early 90s, at some point I was involved in so many 12 Step groups my therapist actually said, “Cassendre, do you think [attending 5 or 6 programs] might be too much?” So I promptly dropped all but one 12 Step meeting. But this is to say that I have a lot of issues, and even when I attended OA meetings and AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings to supplement my OA meetings - even though I’m not an alcoholic, and that all of these groups didn’t really address my needs adequately.

One of the things that has helped me recently, in allowing myself to see all of myself as whole and healthy, and with issues that need attention and regular maintenance, is to develop a plan to address all of my issues (compulsive overeating, romance/relationship addiction, self-sabotage, codependence, recovering from child/sexual abuse, living with Bipolar 2 Disorder [BP2] and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD] and more) at once. 

The only thing I have found to be effective is this: Focus on sobriety. Not on how to deal with all of my symptoms in all of the areas of my life. Not how to apply the 12 Steps to my entire life. Not using someone else’s “program”. Not focusing on the symptoms or the addiction or the compulsive behavior, or the problem Focusing on the wellness, focusing on how to be good to and gentle with myself at all times. Focusing on first doing no harm to myself and to others.

That is what sobriety means to me.

What does sobriety mean to you?

What are your addictive/compulsive behaviors?

Are you kind to yourself, in all ways?

Are you kind to others?

How can you add more love, health, and wellness to your life?

If you are aware of your most serious life issues and challenges, have you taken steps to address and/or manage them?

What are you most proud of about yourself in general?

If you identify as a persun in recovery, or as someone attempting to live a life of sobriety, what are some of your successes in those efforts?

What does the word “sober” mean to you?

I’ll close by answering the last question. Sober to me doesn’t mean stodgy or the “sobering thought” implication of dull and unfun and being a so-called buzzkill or killjoy (interesting that the word “kill” appears twice, especially when one considers how addictions and compulsive behaviors of all kinds actually rob the suffer of life - and also negatively impacts the lives of the sufferers’ loved ones).

To me, sober living is juicy living.

It means loving clear, and pure, from your heart. Living from your heart. It means being open, and able to communicate with your friends and other loved ones. 

Sober living is learning how to be lovingly assertive.

It means learning how to support yourself so you never “use” again - whether that’s overeating, drinking, shopping, gambling, cutting, being codependent, relying on others for anything you ought to be doing yourself, or allowing others to use you in that way, denying yourself the joy of doing what you love, holding back on pursuing your dreams, being inauthentic in any way, living in fear - all of those behaviors block the big, gorgeous life you want to life and that you’ve seen glimpses of when you’ve been unconditionally self-loving.

I invite you to think of sobriety as a juicy way of living. I invite you to consider your life as one in which self-love is paramount, and that as you focus on self-care at all times, you achieve your goals of sobriety, as you define it. One glorious, self-love-filled day at a time.

Cassendre Xavier is a $15,000 Leeway Transformation Award-winning self-described “multi-media healing artist” who writes, records music and guided meditations, and creates community cultural arts events. She has written for Wisdom Magazine’s webzine since 2009. Visit Cassendre at http://cassEndrExavier.com

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