Tarot for Sobriety: Learning to Embody the Temperance Card

"If tarot was a mirror to the soul, what could I possibly see of myself in this peaceful, glowing angel?"


Written by Leilah Stone.

Art by Leilah Stone.

Tarot likes to reflect the darker corners of our minds, exposing the shit we attempt to hide there. It calls you out when you need it, if you’re willing to listen. Before I got sober, pulling the Temperance card felt like a slap in the face. I’d just roll my eyes and slip it back into the deck.

I’d think: That could be me.



Temperance is the 14th card in the major arcana of the tarot. In the traditional Rider-Waite-Smith deck, it depicts a genderless angel standing with one foot in a pool of water, the other planted firmly on the ground, symbolizing a balance between conscious realm of earth and unconscious realm of water. On their chest is a triangle within a square, representing the convergence of feminine and masculine energies. They hold two chalices, water flowing endlessly between them.


I’d think: That could be me. I could be radiating self-compassion like this angel, but instead here I am; hungover at 9:00 am on a Sunday, on my way to see a therapist I don’t really like, wearing sunglasses even though it’s cloudy and fuming with a bitterness that can only be summoned by early morning joggers.


While many cards depict duality and opposition, Temperance depicts unification, harmony, and the blending of seemingly conflicting forces. It brings up issues of balance, boundaries, and inner clarity. It highlights the road to healing by encouraging soft self-compassion. To me the card represents a non-binary way of being in the world and the space of in-betweenness one occupies while working mindfully to align their desires with their multifaceted identities.


If tarot was a mirror to the soul, what could I possibly see of myself in this peaceful, glowing angel?


I pulled this card a lot last year, and I was reluctant to take the symbolism seriously as I rushed ahead finishing my Masters degree, trying to sustain myself as a freelance writer, and washing down all of the mental and physical symptoms of anxiety with shots and beer specials. If tarot was a mirror to the soul, what could I possibly see of myself in this peaceful, glowing angel? I was totally fine identifying with whoever I saw obscured by the graffiti on the dive bar bathroom mirror.


The tarot offered, repeatedly, the reminder that I needed to slow the fuck down, find that so-called middle path between work and burnout, learn how to sit with my often contradictory thoughts, and find authentic ways to balance my lifestyle with my goals—without reaching for a drink to make all of that more manageable. Easy, right? It was “easy” to go out for a “couple of drinks” with friends only to be out taking shots until 2 am, followed by the beers I would grab on my way home to “finish off the night”, followed by my partner informing me the next day that I was up crying until 4 am, completely inconsolable.


By April, something needed to change. I reached for my deck.


Like many people who find themselves dependent on a thing, I experienced an endless search for control long before this pandemic showed up to inform me that very few things are within my grasp. And as someone who would obsess over any possible health concern in general, (ironic considering alcohol is the third leading cause of death in America), March 2020 was quickly shaping up into meltdown after meltdown, drink after drink, cleaning myself up for Zoom meetings in between. By April, something needed to change. I reached for my deck.


The yellow irises at the angels’ foot can be seen as a symbol of passion, bringing forth the fire energy that rules this card and the rest required for tending to that inner spark. For me the message was literal and clear: dousing alcohol onto the flame will only burn me down and burn me out. Despite popular myths, I didn’t need alcohol to be creative, to write, or to have good conversations.


Quitting alcohol made it clear the aspects of my life I need to prioritize.


Early sobriety has at times felt surprisingly easy, at times completely miserable. The ups and downs are real and I am very much still working on not letting such thoughts take over my mind for days at a time, while also reminding myself that allowing my perfectionism to get a hold of my self-care practice can also be a slippery slope where a necessary routine gets turned into a rigid set of constraints waiting for me to fail.


Quitting alcohol made it clear the aspects of my life I need to prioritize. Was I just going to continue being anxious 50 percent of the time? Was I going to keep telling myself that I wasn’t doing a good enough job? Was I going to keep comparing myself to others, whether it be on art, careers, or drinking habits? Was I going to keep denying myself the mental healthcare I deserved by continuing to see a therapist I didn’t vibe with?


While the order of the cards progress in a linear fashion, healing doesn’t.


When I pull the card now, I don’t feel attacked as much as I feel affirmed that I am on my way. I wish I could say that I see myself clearly in that calm, grounded angel. But I’m still working on it. Temperance may be the dawn after Death, but the illusory nature of the Devil follows. (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t walk by a person drinking a PBR out of a straw on a park bench the other day and I didn’t feel a tinge of envy.)


The journey through the tarot continues, but what lies ahead is the brightness of the Star, the Sun, and The World (a much needed reminder I have tattooed on my leg). While the order of the cards progress in a linear fashion, healing doesn’t. But in the words of author and tarot expert Rachel Pollock, “only a descent into the underworld of self can renew life.”



About the Author

Leilah Stone (they/she) is a Brooklyn-based writer, artist, and witch. When they are not writing and editing for their day job at an architecture and design magazine, they are channeling art and energy into their zine project, Psychic Interiors. Read more at


Follow on IG: @Psychicinteriors

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