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Sober Spirituality: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol

Sober Spirituality is well-written, easy to follow and clearly organized, but it isn't for everyone, writes Susan Graceson.

Erin Jean Warde
Brazos Press, 192 pages | Published April 18, 2023

Do you spend any amount of time thinking about your relationship with alcohol? Wonder if you might function better without it? Are you sure you are not an alcoholic?  And do you believe in God? If you answered “yes” to all these questions, then you might benefit from reading Erin Jean Warde’s Sober Spiritualty: The Joy of a Mindful Relationship with Alcohol. However, if you answer “um … no” to any one, you’ll most likely be better served by the many other works on sobriety and/or spirituality.

Warde, an ordained Episcopal priest, has done her research and reflected deeply on her own use of alcohol, leading to a book that is well-written, easy to follow and clearly organized. Her generosity of spirit comes through in her own vulnerable descriptions of drinking’s negative impact on her life. For instance, “When I woke up hung over, mornings were always a marathon … Everything was off, everything was more difficult, and – in the chaos of questions – another question couldn’t make itself to the front of my heart: Does life have to be this way?”

Her challenge to the binary notion of “all or nothing sobriety” is particularly compelling. I found myself, an alcoholic with 30+ years of sobriety in a 12-step program, wondering if Warde’s efforts to continue to drink mindfully might work for those who are not actual alcoholics. (I am certain that complete abstinence from alcohol is my only option — if I shared my story, I’m fairly sure readers would agree!)

Warde suggests spiritual practices to avoid getting drunk, while compassionately calling for self-forgiveness following the occasional overindulgence. She stops short of exploring rehabilitation programs in any meaningful way. In the chapter “Reading the (AA) Big Book with a Box of Chardonnay,” she tells of reading Alcoholics Anonymous’ primary text while “spilling wine and the occasional gin and tonic on its pages.” To use AA as a humorous chapter title and say absolutely nothing about their teaching is irresponsible and ill-informed. She is, after all, writing about spirituality and sobriety from alcohol; AA has deftly combined the two concepts for more than 80 years to reach about two million people. What gives?

Sober Spirituality will likely appeal to a fairly narrow audience: people of faith who want to bring mindfulness into a few sips of wine at dinner or the champagne toast they allow themselves at a wedding. Those who comfortably engage with drinking manageable amounts of alcohol neither need nor want ways to do it mindfully. Warde’s book could, however, become a resource for congregations that are overly focused on serving beer or wine at every event. Some churches have fallen into that pattern, and the consequences can be dire.

Warde does offer new and de-stigmatized language for sobriety, assuring readers that “trying to change your relationship with alcohol … isn’t about your sin — changing your relationship with alcohol feels like tracing the face of God.” As inspiring as this new language may be, it is accessible primarily to those already versed in sacredness, not the average person looking to cut back. But for those already connected to a higher power, Warde’s work could offer comfort and guidance.

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