Emotional sobriety is an important feature of recovery from addiction, and can be defined as the process by which we learn to regulate and handle difficult emotions and cope with them in healthier ways. For addicts and alcoholics, this is often a challenge, given that addiction usually comes about from our difficulties managing emotions. Developing emotional sobriety can be a lifelong process, but one that will enrich your recovery in so many ways. The concept of emotional sobriety is foreign to most, and it often isn’t the first priority when giving up drugs or alcohol.
Giving up drugs or alcohol is just the first step on the road to recovery. After becoming physically sober, developing emotional sobriety should be the next focus, helping us deal with life in a more effective way. In the early days, the focus has to be on remaining physically sober, on abstaining from using any form of mind-altering substance. Taking it “one day at a time” is encouraged, with emphasis placed on doing whatever works for the individual – such as meetings, sponsorship, connecting with fellow addicts and alcoholics, exercise, therapy, or trying alternative therapies. Getting sober and remaining sober is a process, as is learning to regulate and manage our emotions. It is just as important and beneficial to our overall wellbeing, as not using substances.
What is Emotional Sobriety?
Emotions are a fundamental part of the human experience, and feeling the highs and lows are a part of life. Emotional sobriety doesn’t mean not feeling any negative emotions, or numbing and distracting ourselves from them, but rather it is about feeling our feelings in a healthy way. Negative emotions can be dangerous in recovery from addiction, as in our past we used drugs and alcohol to cope with them. They can be a trigger for relapse if we aren’t careful.
It is about learning to manage our feelings, and not letting difficult emotions such as sadness, anger or worry master us or overwhelm us. Emotional sobriety also doesn’t mean that we are happy all of the time. It is about tolerating our feelings, and staying sober no matter what we are feeling. It is about knowing that feelings will pass, and that they don’t define us. We are not our feelings, we experience them. Emotional sobriety gives us the ability to remain clean and sober no matter what we are feeling or experiencing. It means we don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away.
In this sense, it is easy to see how important this aspect of recovery is. It allows us to fully experience emotions without letting them control us.
What are the benefits of being emotionally sober?
There are many benefits to maintaining emotional sobriety, namely the freedom to enjoy the full experience of life and the whole spectrum of our emotions. The benefits include:
- Trusting your gut
- The ability to self-soothe
- Improved self-esteem
- Being more present and living in the moment
- Not ruminating over the past
- Less fear around people, places and things
- Developing humility
- Having less self-pity
- Developing a level of serenity and calm
- Thinking more of others and less of yourself
- Being able to tolerate difficult feelings and sit with them
Signs that you’re developing Emotional Sobriety
There are several signs that someone has developed a healthier relationship with themselves and their emotions. Often, when newly sober, managing our emotions is difficult, and it can take time to reach an equilibrium.
Being mindful and living in the present moment is not easy to achieve. Most of us spend our days worrying about the future, or ruminating about the past, neither of which we have any control to change. Focussing on what’s right in front of us, and incorporating daily practices such as mindfulness and meditation, can be really useful.
Thinking of Others
Having more control over your emotions and the ability to self-soothe, means there is more space to think of others and not just ourselves. If we can love ourselves, we have much more energy and time to love those around us, and we often become better people for it. It is a wonderful thing to focus more on the successes and happiness of other people, just as much as our own triumphs.
Developing emotional sobriety means being present and grateful for what we have in our lives, and cultivating a positive outlook on life. It isn’t about chasing more, never being satisfied with our lot, or attempting to make ourselves feel better or more ‘enough’ with material things.
Healthy Coping Skills
After years of substance misuse, many of us find it difficult to develop healthy coping skills to manage difficult emotions. But it is so important that we do. We may still display self-destructive habits, but achieving emotional sobriety means we have the tools to change our behaviour and develop new ways of living.
Positive Outlook on life
Getting sober doesn’t automatically guarantee an easy life. Rather, we have to learn to cope with ‘life on life’s terms’, using all the skills in our toolbox to deal with life’s problems as and when they arise. Generally though, developing emotional sobriety means that you have a broadly positive view on life, and that it isn’t something you want to escape from or numb out of. You no longer want to run away from your own life. We learn that feelings will pass, we can sit with them, allow them to be, and then let them go. This is not easy and can be looked at as a life time’s work.
Loss of desire to use mind-altering substances
When we first get sober, it is normal to experience cravings and urges to use or drink. After all, we are learning to live a new kind of life. Over time however, as we develop emotional sobriety, we begin to realise that no happiness or purpose can be found at the bottom of a wine bottle, or from a cocaine binge. There is no appeal to using mind-altering substances anymore, because we have the hindsight and the emotional maturity to recognise our addiction for what it was, and to not want to go back to that place.
An attitude of calm
As addicts, most of us couldn’t manage our emotions. Whether we were happy, sad, angry, or confused, celebrating or the opposite, we used drugs and alcohol to cope. Being emotionally sober means that we develop a level of control over our emotions – rather than them controlling us. We know that as long as we stay sober, everything will be OK. If problems or difficult situations arise, we know that we can deal with these calmly, without resorting to substances.
Speak to us for help
If you or a loved one think you have a problem with substances, or would just like some support and advice, please call us today to find out how we can help. Our team of expert addiction professionals are available 24/7 to help you at this difficult time. Call us today on 0800 955 0945, or fill out our quick and easy contact form and someone will call you back. We’re here to help.