Anyone that’s been addicted to drugs or alcohol knows that quitting is only one step in lifelong sobriety. If getting and staying clean was as simple as only not using or drinking, recovery rates would skyrocket. Yet there are several people who go back to using after a few days or weeks or sobriety and others who don’t enjoy life even though they’ve quit using. What gives?
Getting sober is more than just going to inpatient treatment and quitting your drug of choice, it’s about changing your outlook, thoughts, and perceptions to round you off as a whole person and not just someone who doesn’t drink anymore. Quitting a substance is the first step in recovery but you must also practice emotional sobriety if you’re going to get healthy for good. Let’s learn about emotional sobriety including what it is, its importance, and ways to practice emotional sobriety in your recovery.
What is Emotional Sobriety?
Most people imagine emotional sobriety as being content or happy in sobriety but there’s much more to it than that. It’s easy to be happy when things are going right but as they say in recovery you will need to deal with life on life’s term. Emotional sobriety is not being happy that you’re sober but being happy with who you are and your place in the world.
Abstaining from drugs or alcohol will not free us from challenges, struggles, and feelings but learning emotional sobriety will help you learn new and healthier ways of dealing with your problems and negative emotions without losing control or going back to drugs. Dr. Allen Berger of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation believes in several unique aspects of emotional sobriety including:
- Keeping our emotional center of gravity. It’s not about positive or negative emotions but staying balanced to deal with both types of feelings and thoughts.
- Not letting others’ limited or naïve perceptions of our addictions drive or define our behavior. You may be an addict or alcoholic, but there’s much more to you than that which takes self-reflection.
- Pressuring ourselves to change for the better. Change is scary but is necessary for a healthy life. Sometimes you do need to apply pressure or continuously practice the techniques of emotional sobriety.
- See struggles and problems as beneficial and seeing grief as a necessary part of life. Life tends to get better after sobriety, but you will still feel angry, sad, and must deal with problems. Turning a bad situation into a manageable one can flip your attitude.
The Importance of Emotional Sobriety
There is no point in being sober if you feel the same way as you did while using or drinking. Practicing abstinence-only recovery and not doing anything else to grow will leave you in the same sorry emotional state you had while using. Quitting alcohol or drugs is the most important step in your physical sobriety but white-knuckling it through recovery is no way to live. Emotional sobriety helps fulfill the gaping holes in your life left by drugs with balanced thoughts and emotions which can help you recover and become a better person.
How to Practice Emotional Sobriety
Learn Behavioral Techniques and Therapies
To achieve emotional sobriety, you’ll need to learn to control or at least recognize your thoughts and patterns before acting. During active addiction we act quickly on all our impulses, there’s no time to process or think about actions, it’s go and do. Addicts don’t generally deal with negative emotions or situations -they’re simply filled with drugs and alcohol or pushed to the side.
Behavioral techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) help teach addicts to become aware of their feelings and thought patterns and how to actively redirect from negative into positive or at least neutral. CBT is a skill that must be mastered to achieve emotional sobriety.
To practice CBT, you must be aware of your feelings and emotions. You need to learn to deal with life in the present to achieve a healthy future. Practicing mindfulness or learning to be aware of the world around you is important for emotional recovery and learning to see life in a richer way. Yoga and meditation are two of the most popular techniques for practicing mindfulness.
During active addiction, people tend to dwell on the negative which will stunt emotional sobriety. Those in recovery are encouraged to focus on the positives and practice gratitude. Only a few daily minutes of practicing gratitude can help rewire your thought patterns from negative to positive.
Like CBT, healthy people re-evaluate and reappraise common negative emotions like anxiety for a better outcome. The idea behind reevaluating is not to run from negative feelings but confront them and spin them into something positive. For example, instead of being frustrated at a canceled doctor’s appointment you can use that spare time for a long, enjoyable lunch.
Fellowship and Connections
Building a strong and healthy social network is one of the best ways to combat negative feelings and emotions. You might think your addiction or life story is unique, but the truth is many others have been what you’re going through and came out clean on the other side. You don’t have to make dozens of friends, but you should build strong and personal relationships in the sobriety community to reflect and get out of your own head. The importance of personal connections in emotional sobriety is one reason 12-step meetings and other group therapies are so important.
Sobriety and lifelong recovery would be much easier if everything snapped back into place after we quit using or drinking but that’s just not the case. In order to get better and live your fullest life you must practice both physical and emotional sobriety. Take care to learn more about emotional sobriety and practice different techniques to keep yourself emotionally grounded and moving forward. Life doesn’t stop when you quit using but can be much more manageable and fulfilling with emotional sobriety.