What is "inner sobriety," and how can it help free us from self-delusion? Rabbi Rami Shapiro reflects upon his own experience with food addiction to explore further.
I’m a food addict. I eat compulsively (though not today, or at least not so far), and I have found refuge from my addiction in Overeaters Anonymous. I find the Twelve Steps to be a powerful tool for sobriety and have written about my understanding of Twelve Step spirituality in two books: Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice and Surrendered—The Sacred Art: Shattering the Illusion of Control and Falling into Grace with Twelve-Step Spirituality. I share this with you to explain that my attention is triggered when I hear people write or talk about “sobriety” especially when they do so in ways that are new to me. This is what happened when I read Emilia Elisabet Lahti’s wonderful essay “The Unsung Beauty of Ordinary Enlightenment” in the July/August issue of Spirituality+Health Magazine.
The phrase she used was “inner sobriety.” You can read what Dr. Lahti meant by the term in her essay, and listen to her unpack the term in conversation with me on the S+H podcast, but what I want to share here is what the term means to me.
Sobriety, as I understand it, is being free from delusion. When I’m caught in the grips of my addiction, compulsive eating is the symptom, the addiction itself is what Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, called “playing God.” When I play God, I pretend I’m in control of my life which means I pretend that I’m in control of the lives around me. When this proves to be false, I must make a choice: I can stop playing God or I can double down on playing God. If I choose the latter, I become anxious, depressed, and give-in to self-loathing and despair. Eating is how I self-medicate.
If I choose to stop playing God, I choose sobriety and begin to see things clearly. This radically paraphrases St. Paul—when I see the world through the dark and distorted lens of my addiction I see myself alienated from life and the Greater Aliveness who lives it, but when I am sober I see face to Face: I see my face, and each face as the Face that is every face; in the grips of my addiction I know myself apart from the Whole, but in sobriety, I know the Whole even as I am known as a part of the Whole (I Corinthians 13:12). This is inner sobriety: the inner clarity that comes from wiping our minds free from the delusion of separation that pits self against other, us against them, people against planet.
The question now becomes how: How can you achieve this inner sobriety? The answer is stark and yet hopeful: You can’t. There is nothing you can do to choose sobriety; all you can do is not choose the delusion of addiction. If you choose not to play God, you choose to sit in the confusion that comes with not being in control. You sit powerless over your life and the lives of those around you. The “you” I’m referring to is the ego, but there is a greater “you” that the ego denies but cannot resist when yielding to addiction ceases.
When I choose not to eat compulsively, it isn’t my ego that so chooses, it is the Self, the Divine, the I Am revealed to Moses in Exodus, the I Am that is Christ in the Gospel of John and Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. This is the I Am of Buddha who says in the Dona Sutta, “I Am awake.” In fact, from the point of view of I Am there is no choice at all. Knowing what is true, the I Am simply acts in harmony with Truth and addiction ends and sobriety—inner and outer—happens.
You are already this I Am. You cannot become I Am or cease to be I Am for there is nothing other than I Am. The reason it is so very difficult to realize your true nature as I Am is because you have convinced yourself it is so very difficult to do so. Convinced by society that inner sobriety is difficult to achieve, we have made what comes easiest into what comes hardest. Perhaps this is the greatest addiction of all.
Listen to the podcast that inspired this essay here.