Megan / A Different Kind of Sober
I was recently telling someone about a great article I read, describing Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard’s 150-year-old viewpoint on busyness and how it distracts from being ‘present in the moment’ and truly knowing one’s self.
I studied philosophy in college, but clearly not well enough because I couldn’t remember what his contribution to philosophy was.
Down the wiki-hole I fell, passing through existentialism until stopping abruptly at Albert Camus and Absurdism:
In absurdist philosophy, the Absurd arises out of the fundamental disharmony between the individual’s search for meaning and the meaninglessness of the universe.
The meaninglessness of the universe?! Absurdism asks us to stop and consider what the consequences are if we accept this as true.
So I thought about it. Hell, I think I unknowingly alluded to this concept in my post about breaking my arm. I mentioned that I don’t believe that I have some “romantic, unfulfilled purpose to my life” and even winked at the absurdity of a universe where bad things happen to good people.
My interpretation of the absurdist philosophy when it calls the universe “meaningless” is not that it is completely devoid of meaning (existentialists believe that comes from the individual), but rather that the universe acts indiscriminately, with both its cruelty and its blessings. As human beings, we desperately want to understand and make sense of the world around us. Yet, as all of us know, some things happen that are confounding and utterly inexplicable. When something senselessly tragic befalls a loved one, what words do we usually say to comfort them? Have you not ever uttered the phrase “that’s life” or “life’s not fair”?
Camus uses the Greek mythological story of Sisyphus to insist on persevering in spite of absurdity (more specifically, he was making the argument against suicide). Now, I have to insert a disclaimer here. I’ve found that with most philosophers that I’ve studied, usually you need to take them with a grain of salt. Following them too literally can lead you into nihilistic dead-ends, or at the very least some rather thorny and unpleasant consequences. I can say the same about Camus. For example, he rejects religion as “philosophical suicide”. While I agree with him that harboring faith by definition means belief without evidence, I don’t find it to be mutually exclusive with engaging in logical pursuits. I probably would not be here today were it not for the strength of my faith, but that doesn’t mean I need to reject Camus’ points entirely.
“I don’t know about you readers, but to me this kind of sounds like saying ‘yeah, shit happens. Now what?’”
Nevertheless, the reality is that no matter what we humans do in our lifetime, we are all eventually going to die. So to some extent, argues Camus, our existence is very much like that of Sisyphus – continually pushing metaphorical boulders uphill only to have them knocked back down by this absurd universe that acts without reason. I won’t go into an extensive extrapolation of Camus’ work, not only for ease of reading but also because my own comprehension of it is underwhelming; if you’re interested, you can read more on it here.
But Camus argues that acknowledging this tragic fate (our rational existence and desire to find meaning in an irrational and meaningless world) allows us to overcome it. I don’t know about you readers, but to me this kind of sounds like saying “yeah, shit happens. Now what?”
Shit happens. Now what? This is something I’ve repeated to myself many times over in the four years that I’ve been sober. I’ve found it an incredibly effective way to move myself beyond whatever weight I happen to be dealing with at the time; it prompts you to act, rather than drive yourself crazy trying to find meaning in something that quite simply may not have any. Life knocks you down, you get back up and start again.
But it’s more than just the acknowledgement that sometimes life is shit. It’s realizing that maybe there is no greater purpose served by your daily grind. Where does that leave you? Well, Camus would argue that you have it within yourself to make yourself happy.
One of my therapist’s favorite phrases is “do the next right thing”. His point being that sometimes when you’re in the midst of struggle, having the clarity of mind to focus on one task at a time is actually incredibly useful and eventually leads you to a more peaceful state of being.
So when I look at my life sometimes and I see myself as Sisyphus, I tell myself that. Do the next right thing. It may be readers that as recovering alcoholics, we are all pushing heavy boulders uphill for the rest of our lives, only to do it over and over and over again. But despite the tragedy of that realization, it doesn’t mean we can’t also find happiness and beauty. I look at everyone pushing their metaphorical boulders and I think to myself wow, would you look at how strong we all are?
This post originally appeared on Megan’s blog, A Different Kind of Sober
A few things about Megan:
- I curse, a lot. I’m sorry if this offends you.
- I have a unique perspective on booze: I don’t miss it, and I still love learning about wine. Before I quit drinking and switched careers, I worked as a manager at some of the city’s best restaurants and became passionate about it. For someone who doesn’t drink it, I probably know more about it than most people who do.
- I don’t mind when people drink around me. In fact, it’s awkward and uncomfortable when someone refrains simply because of my presence. I usually end up encouraging those around me to imbibe.
- I suffer from depression and anxiety.
- I didn’t go to rehab or AA. I attended some meetings, and I would never reject an opportunity to go and listen. But it wasn’t for me. And I think there may be a lot of us out there who feel the same.