Recovery’s Greatest Challenge – Developing Emotional Sobriety

Life can be difficult when we find ourselves unable to handle our own emotions. At best we can say and do things that we do not necessarily mean out of anger, sadness, and fear. At worst we find ourselves constantly in collision with everything and everyone around us. A lack of emotional maturity makes sustaining real happiness impossible. Even worse, it makes us more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviors such as alcohol and drug abuse. This can lead to a cessation of emotional growth, unsatisfying and dysfunctional relationships, and an inability to build a comfortable life for oneself.

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety can be defined as one’s ability to receive and perceive life on life’s terms, through a positive attitude and healthy approach. A person in recovery who has attained a sense of emotional sobriety may not be a walking, talking, radiating beam of sunshine at all times. They may not seem like there are floating on a cloud or sitting under a Bodhi tree with Buddha 24/7. What they do have though is the ability to engage in life, no longer a victim of their emotions.

The person who is emotionally sober no longer has the desire to avoid, evade, or escape their feelings by diving into the bottom of a bottle. They no longer need to overcome anxiety or depression by sticking a needle in their arm. The person who is emotionally sober has the instinct and ability to feel their feelings and take ownership over them. They are willing to face whatever comes their way, open minded and with clear thinking, because they have a deeper reliance on more than just themselves. Emotional sobriety is intimately intertwined with serenity, an unshakable sense of inner peace born of a recovered state of mind and body.

What Are Some Signs of Lacking Emotional Sobriety?

  • Hardly live in the present moment
  • Struggle to regulate own behavior – which means that we can do things that harm ourselves and/or other people
  • Have difficulty with the challenges of life and may resort to maladaptive coping strategies such as addiction or other forms of acting out
  • Become victim to our emotions
  • Give up one addiction and begin engaging in another
  • Feel like we are living on an emotional rollercoaster
  • Experience a great deal of negativity
  • Find it hard to develop healthy relationships

What Are Some Signs of Emotional Sobriety?

  • An ease living in the present moment without most of the time thinking about the past or planning for the future
  • An ability to regulate behavior, which makes a person less likely to fall into addiction or other self-destructive patterns
  • An ability to cope regardless of the vicissitudes of life and stress
  • A decreased likelihood of becoming the victim of strong emotions
  • We do not use any substance to “get by”
  • An ability to face life without succumbing to extreme moods
  • Holding a positive perspective despite what is happening in life
  • The ability to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other people
  • Decreased suffering from mental and physical problems that are brought on by too much stress

What Are Some Ways to Develop Emotional Sobriety?

  • Mindfulness Meditation – Any meditation in which the individual focuses on the present moment and observes how emotions rise and fall away. The meditator is able to begin to see that their emotions are impermanent, and that one’s reactions toward them can differ. This reinforces the individual’s ability to recognize they are not a victim to their emotions.                                 
  • Facing and Overcoming Challenges – This is the natural way that people develop emotional maturity. People in recovery often find their path from addiction full of real-like challenges. Every time that an individual is confronted with one of these challenges, the experience adds to their emotional maturity. Therefore, it is beneficial to view these challenges in life as a chance to grow. Those who refuse to deal with the obstacles in their path either relapse back to addiction or move more towards the state of being a “dry drunk”.                                                                          
  • Keep a Recovery Journal – One of the great advantages of journaling is that it gives the writer the opportunity to more closely examine their experiences and gain insight into their internal processes. Journaling also allows the writer to recognize improvements made over time, preventing disillusionment when they are reminded how far they’ve come.                                                  
  • Spend Time with Emotionally Sober People – Humans are highly influenced by their peer group and spending time with emotionally sober people can serve as motivation and inspiration for growth. This is why 12-step groups suggest to “stick with the winners”.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            
  • Working Steps in a 12-Step Program – Understanding surrender and adopting humility, taking an honest inventory of one’s own behaviors, thoughts, and beliefs, and taking responsibility for harms caused are all important steps towards building one’s depth for emotional maturity. While the 12-steps may not be enough to ensure consistent emotional sobriety, there is a strong case that it will take you a long way along the path.