I had been sober 32 days when my friend brought Prudence over to my place.
“She’s your sober cat,” he said. “If you think about drinking, look at her and remember.”
So that is what I have done. Since that late June Sunday afternoon in 2013, this baby cat, who was referred to simply as “Kitten” for five days until the right name presented itself, has been a reminder of my commitment to sobriety after 24 years of active drinking and substance abuse and a lifetime of twisted thinking.
Living without altering my consciousness was not in my plans. I liked my newest drugs of choice—prescription tranquilizers. And a life without alcohol? Unimaginable. Yet I stopped—the easiest way to describe my thinking processes at the time being that I simply stopped thinking and began paying attention to intuitive warnings that I was on a slippery slope, rolling downhill faster and faster, with no brakes.
And I stopped.
Achieving equilibrium with physical sobriety is a definite challenge when one has been drinking heavily and steadily for an extended period of time. But the real kicker is living—day in and day out—sober. No matter what.
A Sobriety Totem
Prudence, my totem, helps me with this. When I brush her, stroke and caress her velvety fur, and look into her clear, golden eyes, she reminds me to stay sober. When I care for her, I am nurturing my sobriety.
While this might seem overly simplistic, the symbolism of totems has been recognized for centuries by peoples all around the planet. In the most general sense, a totem is a natural object, often an animal, that represents a group of related people, such as those sharing a common religion or more literally, family members. The term “totem” is derived from the language of the North American Native Ojibwe tribe.
The belief, however, is shared by portions of the population in many regions and countries, including Canada, Western and Eastern Europe, Australia, Arabia, Asia, Africa, and the Arctic. Totem figures usually have accompanying legends and allegories that tell their stories and account for their origins.
My own little sober cat is but a slight derivation of this general definition. While traditional totems represent clans, depicting the unity of like-minded individuals, Prudence is a symbol of my unification with sobriety. I have invited sobriety into my life, chosen to accept it as part of my nature, decided to lay down with it at night and wake up with it every morning.
Thus, Prudence represents my newly adopted, sober ways. She is my sobriety totem. And this symbol helps. Thought processes and perceptions are everything. When these are unnatural and negative, they yield undesirable results, bad things. But when thoughts and ideas focus on health, wholeness, and goodness, we get wonderful results.
A sobriety totem is a tool that can help us achieve positive change by interrupting negative thinking patterns and the resulting harmful behaviors.
Acquiring a Sobriety Symbol
Some of us are allergic to cats. Some people may not be allowed to have pets where they live. And there may be some members of the population who do not like animals all that much.
A sobriety totem need not be an animal, though the element of a living, natural object is important in order for the concept the totem symbolizes to remain vibrant and pressing. A good alternative for a sobriety totem is a plant.
Even a small, household bamboo plant will do, although something dramatic, such as an orchid or a rosebush, makes the represented concept, in this case, sobriety, harder to forget—or ignore.
Suitable sobriety totems include:
• Companion animals, including cats, dogs, ferrets and hamsters
• Fish (both goldfish and tropical fish)
• Flowering plants—the more dramatic, the better
• Small, easy-care house plants such as “lucky bamboo”
As our sobriety totems flourish due to careful attention, so, too, does our sobriety.
At first, sobriety is primarily physical as our bodies detoxify themselves. Then, through effort, if we remain physically sober, we may begin to experience emotional sobriety and reap the benefits of balanced and wholesome living.
Any act of care for a sobriety totem, whether playing ball with a dog, stroking a cat snuggled in our laps, or watering a plant, noticing how the liquid drops glisten in the light from a nearby window, reminds us that our sobriety is living and vital and that, without proper care, it will wither and die.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise