Let's Get Clear on Something
Am I Sober?
“sober" (12th century), from Latin sobrius "not drunk, temperate, moderate, sensible," from a variant of se- "without" (see se-) + ebrius "drunk," which is of unknown origin. — etymonline.com
On Friday, I watched an old episode of Norm Macdonald Live hosting Marc Maron. We know that Maron has had his own history with drug and alcohol abuse, and Norm worked that into his questioning. He also used the topic to tease straight man Adam Eaget, as he is wont to do.
Macdonald, a savvy jester, is known for having a gag ready at all times, and often will be two or three steps ahead of his conversant, ready to walk them into some kind of trap where they’ll wind up the butt of his joke.
For some reason he didn’t do this with Maron.
It might have been because Maron is quite obviously a very self-conscious person. Macdonald is the type who is compassionate, intelligent, and empathetic enough to see that the anger expressed by this addict-in-recovery is in part due to constant self-criticism. Norm didn’t really tease him at all until the very end of the show — and when that time came around, it was done simply by giving him silly jokes to read.
We wonder how addiction has touched Norm in his personal life. I have some theories, but they are pure conjecture. One thing I know for sure is that Adam Eget has had his struggles with drugs and alcohol, and Norm brings this up in this very episode — partly in order to provoke an exchange between his guest and co-host.
This exchange was fine enough (not particularly revealing), but something Norm said in passing rather intrigued me. Rather than using the word “sober,” Norm instead used the word “clear.” “You’re clear now, aren’t you?” he asked Maron. “Eget was clear for a while but he went back out.”
This reminded me of a time when I was running a Recovery Dharma meeting, and one of our members also chose against using the word “sober.” This gentleman didn’t have an alternative for it, but he seemed to be against the dour associations the word “sober” can carry. To be “sober” for him was to be boring, stiff, uninteresting.
I am of three minds, “like a tree in which there are three blackbirds.” On the one hand, I really like the word “clear” as an alternative. A great deal of ambient static has been removed by my abstention from sousing the house floor. Additionally, I like this idea that one can still lead a life of mystical inspiration free from mind-destroying toxins. One can be in this sense, both clear and drunk — but drunk on life and its delights. Little Richard once said he was “High on Jesus.”
But I also know that Moderation/Temperance/Balance/σωφροσύνη, Sōphrosýnē is a cardinal virtue, and contributes to Eudaimonia. Being a wild and crazy guy is good in certain circumstances but, as Margaret Cho’s mother taught her, “You have to have ass in moderation. You cannot have ass all the time, because then it’s not special.”
Furthermore, the actual word “sober” just means “not drunk (on alcohol).” What’s wrong with that? I think that the negative connotation, the one my friend is afraid of, is probably leftover residue from the push to repeal the 18th Amendment. But whether that stigmatization of sober people is fair, accurate, or helpful could be a very fruitful debate. We don’t seem to have a shortage of knee-jerk passion in this country and I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing the needle shift a little more toward Reason.
Either way, I like the word “clear.” Whether I’m sober or not, I’m going to play around with it.
Sophrosyne does not have to entail boredom. Vervaeke talks about it more in terms of being desirous of the appropriate things. And though, in our time, the word “stoic” is often used to mean “stone-like” and “emotionless,” this, too, is a pejorative attributed to it after the fact. The Stoics themselves were not boring at all. They simply knew that emotions could become uncontrollable, and so they had exercises to prevent the negative consequences and preserve their clarity.
Without clarity, Wisdom seems absurd. Or, at least, it seems impossible. That said, Wisdom is always impossible, although it's essential to strive for it.
Whether I'm sober or not remains to be seen. I certainly like to sing, dance, and play raucous music. And a lot of my religious practices probably seem flat stupid to others.
At the risk of ending on a cliche, it is what it is. At least I'm clear on the nature of the problem.
And with that, Cheers.