Ed: Your first book was your story of finding sobriety. What is your new book, The Book of Waking Up, about? Do you see your journey to sobriety differently than you used to?
Seth: I see my sobriety journey so much differently now, six years into a season of being undrunk. Coming Clean was a real-time journal, one I wrote in the anxious process of quitting the bottle. In those early days, I wasn’t sure whether to call myself an alcoholicor to use more palatable language like “I’m dependent” or “I have a drinking problem.”
As I walked deeper into sobriety, I realized the precise language around my relationship with alcohol mattered less than the truth of that relationship. The truth was, I was using alcohol to numb my pain instead of opening myself to the divine love and healing of God.
Now, I don’t worry so much about monikers and nomenclature. I don’t apply a “do or do not” definition to sobriety, either. Instead, I ask myself whether I’m marked by inner sobriety, or the sobriety characterized by connection with God’s divine love above all else.
Ed: You write that we are all “people of coping mechanisms ranging from the illegal to the socially acceptable.” Why do you think we all have addictions of some sort? What do they have in common? And are all addictions equal?
Seth: Addiction—it’s such a tricky word, isn’t it? Through my general observation of human nature, though, I’ve come to believe we all tend to have some kind of coping mechanism, something we use when the pain comes calling.
Some use booze or oxycodone when they have emotional pain. Some turn to over-consumption (whether shopping or eating) or over-working when scarcity sets in. In their loneliness, some turn to codependency or Tinder or porn or social media. Some might even turn to knowledge about God instead of toGod.
These coping mechanisms have one thing in common: none can bring spiritual healing. And no, these coping mechanisms are not all equal. Some affect the body is more drastic ways (e.g., heroin, alcohol, and porn). Some take 12-step groups or professional help to overcome.
But even if your coping mechanisms are less destructive to the body, if they aren’t ordered under God’s grace, they’re destructive to the soul.
Ed: You write that it’s essential that we identify the problems underlying our coping mechanisms. How do we do that, and how can we identify what our coping mechanisms are?
Seth: Let me ask the questions in reverse order. First, what is the coping mechanism or behavior you can’t seem to shake? If you’re not sure (meaning, if it’s not booze, or cocaine, or pornography), carve out an hour for silent spiritual retreat. Ask God to reveal the habits, compulsions, attachments, or addictions you need to leave behind. Spend time listening, and as you do, write down your inclinations.
As for the problems underlying those coping mechanisms, it might require a little professional help. (It did for me.) Visit a good therapist and speak with an emotionally aware pastor, priest, or spiritual director. The why work (identifying the problems under our addictions) is better done with a community of support and a handful of professionals.
Ed: What is the role of pain in addiction? How can we learn from our pain?
Seth: The Book of Waking Up draws from so many sources, including the work of physician and addiction specialist Dr. Gabor Maté. In his book In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he wrote, “The question is never, ‘Why the addiction?’ but ‘Why the Pain?’” In his medical experience (and in the experience of so many addicts), the human desire to numb pain drives any old coping mechanism.
Pain, though, is an important part of the spiritual life. C.S. Lewis writes, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
In other words, pain can be a thunderous wakeup call. It shouts, “Something is broken!” What’s more, it indicates the exact point where Christ’s healing work is needed.
Ed: Talk to me about “disordered attachments.” What should we do about them?
Seth: From time to time, we all get our attachments out of whack. We elevate material or food or alcohol or sex or whatever over the God who gave them to us.
But there’s good news. If we confess our disordered attachments, “he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). After that confession, make your way to a trusted counselor, pastor, or priest and chart a course for reordering your life.