Radical Sobriety Montreal's response to the article 'The Revolution Will Not Be Sober

  • Posted on: 29 March 2016
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

From Radical Sobriety Montreal

Radical Sobriety Montreal welcomes the discussion initiated by Alexander McClelland and Zoe Dodd's article “The revolution will not be sober: the problem with notions of 'radical sobriety' & 'intoxication culture'”. However, we feel an obligation to clear up a number of misconceptions. While we cannot speak for all groups using the term 'radical sobriety', since the term does not refer to a unified discourse, we are able to speak for our group and the positions it holds. Please note that below, unless otherwise specified, we use the terms 'addict' and 'drug user' to also include alcoholics and people who drink. So, in no particular order:

The article states that radical sobriety plays into the criminalization of drug use. Radical Sobriety Montreal supports the total decriminalization of drug use. We feel that prohibition is, first, a primary vector of oppression for millions of people, and second, a counter-productive policy which fuels violence, does nothing to help active (or abstinent) drug users, and leads to the perpetuation of many of the conditions that lead to dangerous forms of drug use in the first place. We completely oppose prohibition, criminalization, and the savage violence of the 'war on drugs'. And we fucking hate cops.

The article states that radical sobriety uses moralizing tactics to set up a dichotomy between “good” abstinent drug users and “bad” active drug users. Perhaps this is based on a misconception about our name: we don't think we're more radical than you because we're sober, we think our sobriety is more radical than AA's and Minor Threat's. Radical Sobriety Montreal completely rejects moral value judgements based on one's status as an active or abstinent drug user. We do not promote abstinence as the only way to engage with harmful drug use patterns. We have criticisms of some forms of harm reduction but generally speaking fully support harm reduction initiatives, particularly if they are conceived of or operated by drug users or ex-drug users themselves. Members of Radical Sobriety Montreal volunteer with harm reduction initiatives in this city. And we fucking hate people who hate drug users.

The article states that radical sobriety is opposed to all drug use, including therapeutic, traditional, medicinal, and/or various indigenous practices involving drugs, and that it considers experiences stemming from these practices to be “hollow” and “inauthentic”. Radical Sobriety Montreal is not categorically opposed to drug use, especially not in traditional or medicinal contexts, nor do we deny the very positive and authentic effects that drug use can have for people. (Believe us, we know how awesome getting high can be.) We simply acknowledge that there is very little, to put it mildly, that is traditional or therapeutic about overdoses and delerium tremens in your early twenties. We are organized on the basis that the casual, therapeutic, or recreational self-administration of mind-altering drugs is no longer a viable option for our members; this should not be understood to mean that we condemn all such use categorically and in perpetuity. Incidentally, the article also calls 12-step programs prohibitionist. Though we are not a 12-step program, in the interest of accuracy we would like to point out that this is not in fact true.

The article states that radical sobriety subscribes to the pathologizing medical approach to drug use, particularly through the use of the term 'addict', and by extension implicitly supports and condones violent state intervention which mobilizes such terminology. While we are neither doctors nor addiction scholars, we at Radical Sobriety Montreal consider ourselves experts when it comes to being addicted. We consider addiction to be an objectively real phenomenon both socially and physiologically; we believe that it is, medically speaking, a pathology; and we consider it to have many of the properties of a mental disorder or disability. However, we are immensely critical of coercive interventionist approaches, both because they are obviously repressive and ineffective and because, as drug users, we have experienced their extremely negative effects ourselves. We believe that our use of terminology like 'addiction' cannot be equated with the state's coercive intervention. We believe that we should not be held responsible for the grotesque misuse of this terminology by the state, anymore than a person self-identifying as 'homeless' rather than 'unhoused' should be held responsible for the state's violent repression of street people.

The article states that communities of queers, punks and so forth have used drugs for all kinds of reasons, some of them very positive, and that radical sobriety misses this point. Radical Sobriety Montreal would like to point out that we are in fact members of those communities and understand this point very, very intimately.

The article states that the emergence of radical sobriety should be cause for “concern”, particularly because radical sobriety apparently fails to engage with the “need to build our own ways”, create “circles of care and new forms of harm reduction support”, and “create space for people to come together to foster new forms of healing and social connection”. Radical Sobriety Montreal would like to point out that that is exactly and precisely what we aim to do. The article mentions the extremely individualized approach of 12-Step programs and the extremely medicalized approach of some rehabs; Radical Sobriety Montreal aims to provide an alternative based on interdependence, autonomy and radical social analysis. It is a circle of care. It supports people in their attempts to reduce harm to themselves. It created a space for people to come together to foster new forms of healing and social connection. We exist to support drug users who cannot use anymore and aren't willing to put all their faith in the medical system or a higher power. In short, we are exactly what the article is attacking us for failing to be.

The article states that blog posts made by random libertarians are typical of radical sobriety. Radical Sobriety Montreal is not affiliated with those libertarians, does not agree with them, and never heard of them before seeing this article. Those libertarians apparently think that “morality is central to sobriety”. Radical Sobriety Montreal dismisses that stance as harmful, hurtful, self-righteous nonsense. They apparently also think that sobriety is 'natural' and 'natural' is good; we think they don't understand history or anthropology and have a shaky grasp on ethics. They apparently think that authentic relationships can only be had while sober; our own experiences completely disprove such a simplistic notion. These people sound like straight-edge bros who swallowed an Ayn Rand book, and it is a mistake to assume that they accurately represent groups like ours.

The article states that radical sobriety is obsessed with the word 'addict' as a “static political identity”. Though we'd appreciate clarification on what they mean by this, we're pretty sure we don't do that. We're aware that identities can change over time, we're wary of relying too much on identity politics as form of activism, and we affirm the right of people to autonomously understand, negotiate, and present their own identities. Members of Radical Sobriety Montreal are not forced to adopt 'addict' as an identity.

The article states that radical sobriety, in its use of accessibility discourse, attempts to assign privilege to active drug users, and that this is basically a cynical ploy to claim more oppression points than the next white genderqueer punk kid. Radical Sobriety Montreal does not consider sobriety to be a source of oppression, because come on, no one is oppressed for being sober. Rather, we use intoxication culture theory to understand how oppression and privilege play out with regard to drug use. People who align most closely with the norm can be said to exercise privilege; in other words, people whose drug of choice is legally purchased alcohol, which they consume in safe quantities in socially sanctioned settings. Alcoholics living on shitty beer they drink alone at home exercise less privilege; if it's shitty vodka and it's on the street, even less. People injecting street drugs in public are heavily oppressed. Addicts who are abstinent are not oppressed for their abstinence; instead, they live under a form of deferred oppression. It's like being on parole. The reason why we need people to consider our needs as abstinent drug users is that if we are not abstinent we are criminalized, marginalized, oppressed drug users with patterns of use that are very dangerous for our health. The article implies that creating safe spaces for sober people is to marginalize drug users. Radical Sobriety Montreal believes that this is like saying that making sure your buddy with heavy parole conditions doesn't have to break any laws to hang out with you is to marginalize prisoners. We just want people to be considerate of our needs when possible.

The article implies that radical sobriety has not considered the implications of safer spaces for sober people. Radical Sobriety Montreal discusses this topic regularly. We are aware that making all spaces safer for us would not make the world an inherently safer place. We support drug users' access to safer spaces as well, in which they can openly use drugs without being stigmatized or criminalized. We do not equate accessibility for sober people with accessibility for disabled people because there is no equivalent of the active addict in the context of disability activism. We support initiatives that attempt to make the world safer both for active and abstinent drug addicts. We would however like to point out that in the scenes we're in, the open use of drugs and alcohol is both very commonplace and regularly promoted; we do not feel that people who casually drink and get high have any particular lack of safer spaces in the context of these communities.

The article states that radical sobriety is basically the same as other models which practice “recovery as oppression” because they understand recovery to mean learning how to fit into society. Radical Sobriety Montreal wonders if the authors of the article missed the part where we think our sobriety is “radical”. We're not interested in teaching members how to be productive consumers. Approaches like that are exactly what we exist as an alternative to.

In conclusion, we think that critical analysis is important, including towards groups like ours. We are not immune to criticism nor are we perfect. However, there can be harmful effects when this analysis is performed while employing broad generalizations and cherry-picking one's primary sources. The article makes a number of very problematic assumptions about our group, particularly about our views on, and involvement in, harm reduction; detox methods; drug users' resources; and service accessibility, as well as about our political positions on criminalization and intervention. The article treats a number of unconnected actors as interchangeable, and assumes that we have not thought about or critically engaged with the points the authors borrow from drug users' advocacy groups. We believe that this is intellectually irresponsible, potentially needlessly divisive, and, frankly, more than a little insulting.

The article makes a gesture toward civility with an admission that “some” people involved in radical sobriety have more nuanced views, and notes that the discussion can be an intensely emotional and personal one for people involved. These gestures are noted and appreciated. It is true that this is an emotional issue for us. To drive the point home, we have this to say: the main thing the authors miss is that we all sought sobriety in desperate need, literally in order to save our lives. Most of us used substances to the brink of death and for our survival we need to abstain. We are people in recovery from substance abuse, not adherents of straight-edge, or church members in disguise. The point of Radical Sobriety Montreal is to provide a support group where we can discuss our experiences as drug users, alcoholics and addicts, and as people who have radical, revolutionary or alternative political worldviews and ideologies. We wanted to make a space where people who didn't feel comfortable in AA, NA or a rehab could feel comfortable. The point of Radical Sobriety Montreal isn't to accumulate oppression points and talk shit about drug users. We ask that people please bear this in mind in the future when critically engaging with radical sobriety discourses.

In solidarity,

Radical Sobriety Montreal



Thanks for clarifying these crucial details about an overblown debate RSMontreal! I went, with some initial deep skepticism, to a workshop hosted by Crimethinc on Radical Sobriety, and my fears and suspicions about the possibility of them taking a strong, moral and straightedge high-ground were quelled. They did not shame anyone for using, admitted that they get high and drink too, but wanted to make a point about the importance of making SOBER PLANS, ACTIONS ETC. Soberity is simply a metaphor for clearheadedness with regard to the way direct actions are planned and executed....

Too late. "Do a line in front of me to prove you're not a cop" is the new motto of security culture.

As if a cop wouldn't do a line...

"...because, come on, no one is oppressed for being sober"

it's all in there

seems to me to be more of an apologia for the existing conditions themselves. I am one of those people who has spent a larger quantity of my existence between drinking cheap shitty beer alone in a precarious living situation and holding a bottle of vodka throughout the night on a bench in the middle of the winter and I can tell you that whatever has been meaningful has been so in spite of my pathological consumption.

The revolution won't be sober, to be sure. Yet it won't be Fucked up either. As a matter of realization, it just won't be. I don't know a single prole who drinks and does drugs because that experience in of itself is what is meaningful. In my experience, we do this in order to facilitate the ability to feel meaning within the precarity of state~capitalism and for me specifically, in order to stomache my days existing within various urban shitholes where automated technologies undergird the widespread proliferation of addictions/pathologies.

Insofar as what addiction even is, one need look no further than Gabor Mate when speaking of an impulse which is acted on without reflection or analysis. Facebook, Twitter, online forums like comment sections (yup, I am embodying the irony and embracing it), are far more socially accepted addictions and pathologies than drug or alcohol use which can only make sense to me given the generally terrible atmosphere of urban life.

Of course poor people in a city and Indigenous people in some type of traditional setting aren't consuming intoxicants for the same reason. Conversely, merely because proles suffer and are battered on the streets by agents of the state doesn't somehow equal substance-consumption-as-meaningful.

I enjoyed the prisoner analogies in this response and I'm one who still parttakes of the drink.

My only criticism of this criticism is the use of the term 'radical'. This criticism is not meant to denote my own understanding of the term as existing objectively, but rather the opposite. The term is, as Alejandro de Acosta might say, a Margarine Word. It is meant to circulate as a code, rather than mean anything in a cross~clique transcendental sense.
It is like the word 'revolution'. That term is so overused and pathologized, people seem to think pouring their hearts on Facebook is somehow anything other than a pathological last ditch effort to feel a semblance of meaning in a life-world stifled by surveillance, over manifestations of state violence and condensation of thought (critical analyses).

Lack of critical thought is what I mean at the end.

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