What Is Emotional Sobriety And Why Does It Matter?

Accept reality as it is today at this moment, not how you wish it could be. Emotions contribute to your sobriety and your overall quality of life.

crazy-thoughtsWhen I was in the Punta Cana Airport in May of 2013 and experienced my moment of clarity, I knew my drinking and drugging days were over.

I was at the end of my rope. I felt like I had tried everything except complete abstinence from all substances. I decided then and there that I wouldn’t have another drink. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, or for how long, but I knew that at the root of all my problems, alcohol was present. I left alcohol and drugs behind that day, but I didn’t realize that wouldn’t be the solution to all of my problems. I thought getting sober was just putting down the bottle, but there’s actually a lot more to it.

Sobriety is far from just quitting drinking or using drugs. That’s only the very first step, a necessary step, but only the first of many. Like many people who get sober, my emotions were all over the place for the first few months of my recovery. I cried all the time. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. I was resentful, angry, and jealous that normal people got to party, drink, and have fun—that I was “different.” I also had no idea what a little phrase called “emotional sobriety” meant—but looking back, I didn’t have much of it at the time.

Emotional Sobriety Defined

Emotional sobriety is defined differently by every person in recovery. Personally, I believe emotional sobriety signifies an ability to keep a healthy balance of your emotions. It means that you’ve accepted reality as it is today, at this moment, not how you wish it could be. It means that you are learning the proper tools to deal with your emotions in a healthy way, and using these tools as needed. It requires patience, time, effort, and awareness. This is no easy feat, especially for those of us with a substance use disorder who instinctively do not have healthy coping mechanisms. The previous techniques we’ve used have not functioned well, which brought us to sobriety in the first place.

Life can be challenging, and living in recovery is all about learning how to cope with these everyday challenges. When you are emotionally sober, you are able to stay sane and sober no matter what you’re feeling. This is the ability to sit with discomfort and pain. It’s the ability to not need to get away from an uncomfortable feeling via drugs and alcohol, or anything else that is used to distract you in excess. This means not replacing one addiction with another, be it exercise, food, sex, or 12 step meetings. On some days, emotional sobriety is just tolerating what you’re feeling. For me, this includes not acting out and making impulsive emotional decisions when I’m feeling out of balance. It’s not surprising that our automatic reaction is to avoid emotion. It’s what we’ve been doing our entire lives with alcohol or drugs until we got sober. Emotional sobriety is a lifelong journey. It takes practicing a healthy emotional mindset to lead a happy life.

Why It Matters

During those first few months of my recovery, I was an emotional wreck. I used to pick fights with my fiancé because I didn’t think it was fair that he was able to go out and drink with his friends and I couldn’t. I was still struggling with the fact that I was an alcoholic and could no longer drink. I hated everything about my situation. Emotional sobriety was lost on me—because staying sober from drugs and alcohol was my priority, I didn’t realize emotions had anything to do with it. But they do. Emotions contribute to your sobriety and your overall quality of life.

If you’re anything like I was, emotions overpowered most of your decisions while in active addiction. In other words, emotions ruled my life and made it unmanageable. My solution had always been if I can’t deal with it, I’ll get drunk. When you leave drugs and alcohol behind, you must find a new way to move through life, or you’ll spend it being just as miserable as you were when you were using. More than that, it can encourage you to use again if your emotions aren’t in check.

I know what you’re thinking. “Holy crap, I quit drugs and alcohol and now I have to worry about my emotions too?” That was my reaction too, but once I started learning about where my emotions were coming from, how to honor them, and how to work through them, I felt a lot better—spiritually, emotionally, and physically. It takes time to learn and adapt to a new way of life. I’m still working on this today.

Over time, I’ve been able to accept the fact that I have the disease of addiction, and that sobriety is a choice I’ve made that has given me my life back. I no longer react out of spite, take my own insecurities or hang-ups out on my fiancé or anyone else, or let my emotions get the best of me. I understand that in sobriety, life still happens—there will be hard times, times when I am hurting, sad, or angry, because that’s life. The difference is, today I know what to do when these times arise. I know that even in sobriety, my emotions may become out of balance every once in awhile, but I can recognize this change and do something about it. I don’t let emotions take the driver’s seat in my life. Read more “the fix”…


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