Content note: substance abuse, self-harm
Addiction seems to be one of the most universal ways that the human heart and mind try to cope with trauma, with life events too overwhelming for us to process and come to terms with. So often, what begins as a “just once” attempt to soothe the internal anguish becomes a compulsion: to drink, to self-harm, to abuse or avoid food, to consume harmful media of many kinds, to do whatever it takes to bypass the pain.
Although addiction is a very common human experience, it’s also still an uncomfortable one to talk about in most crowds. The process is messy, complicated, disquieting to sit with. That makes it easy to default to wrapping it up in a varnished, shined-up narrative of linear healing: “addicted” to “better.” But that is simply not the process most of us live. That’s why we need songs like “Sober” from Seventh Day Slumber.
The first time I heard “Sober” was one of those rare moments where I was absolutely struck to the heart by a perspective I’d never heard voiced so clearly and bravely in a song before. The song’s chorus is a heart-rending cry:
“Wake me up when it’s over
This hurts too much sober
I never wanna feel again
Take me back to the old days
When I couldn’t feel pain
I never wanna feel again.”
Here’s the tricky thing about addictions: we would never get hooked on these coping mechanisms except that, on some sick level, they work. When the goal is to numb out what is unbearable to feel, a bottle will achieve that. It’s a self-medicating method that isn’t healthy, isn’t in keeping with building whole hearts and healed relationships, but it does drown the pain.
The same could be said of every other addictive habit, as I know well from my own personal process of recovering from self-harm and an eating disorder. When I came to understand the way that those toxic behaviors were serving my brain’s desperate need for escape, it gave me a new window into compassion for myself and others. It also gave me clarity in understanding that the task of recovery was not simply eliminating bad habits. The task of recovery was finding healthy, whole, grace-filled ways of serving my mind’s need to escape itself, replacement habits. That meant facing the pain head-on to walk through it instead of away.
But here is the truth that “Sober” captures in a way that takes my breath away: before we can get better, things will often feel worse. In the vacuum created by the absence of an old coping mechanism, before new, healthy ones have time to take root and grow instead, we are left simply with the pain that we’ve been trying to numb out this whole time– and nowhere to hide from it. Once you can’t hide in a drink or a blade or a computer screen, you’re left to face yourself.
That’s the kind of process that Seventh Day Slumber’s Joseph Rojas shares in “Sober.” The singer and music industry entrepreneur has been forthright for years about his own history of drug and alcohol addiction and the ways that God delivered him. In this song, Rojas takes courage and vulnerability to the next level by taking us into the temptations and challenges that still exist in his life in recent years, even though he is a father, husband, and singer many years into his process of healing.
“I wanna medicate but I gotta sit through the pain
To tell the truth, I almost picked the bottle up again
I made a promise to my kids:
Daddy’s never going back no matter how hard it gets.”
Verses like that own what is asked of any of us who are recovering from an addiction: we have to let it feel worse in order for our soul to get better. We have to believe that there are things in our lives, our families, our friends, our relentlessly loving Savior, that are so worth being present for that it’s worth the initial anguish of coming out from under soul anesthesia.
And it may well be that that decision has to be made repeatedly in our lifetime. When life gets hard and overwhelming, our brain might be quick to suggest the solution it learned before, try and switch back to the default setting: numb it out. Chances are that there will be seasons where we don’t resist that old familiar call as well.
In moments like that, we can remember the stories of those around us, stories written in lives and sung in songs: a relapse or a temptation to relapse does not erase the progress you’ve made, all the new ways you’ve learned to deal with your pain instead of running from it. You are more than your worst moments. And even in those worst moments, you are so, so impossibly loved. That is a truth worth the pain of waking up.