Those who give up an addiction will often do so because their suffering has become too unbearable – they have become sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. Sobriety offers a great deal more than just an end to this pain. Those who are willing to put in enough effort will be able to live a life beyond their wildest dreams. Happiness is unlikely to just fall into their lap, but it is there for the taking. Unfortunately there are many people who become sober and decide to settle for less than what is possible. This is a real shame because settling for second best often leads to dissatisfaction and relapse.
If the only thing that alcoholics do is to give up alcohol then this is unlikely to lead them to much happiness. Such people will have been attracted to substance abuse in the first place because they felt dissatisfied with their life. If they only give up drinking they will be returning to this state of mind. Becoming sober is a good start but in order to really get the most from life the individual will need to develop emotional sobriety.
A huge source of dissatisfaction for addicts will be their feelings; these can be intense and lead to a great deal of suffering. It is the desire to escape these feelings that is often used as a justification to get drunk. If people make it into sobriety but still struggle with their feelings they can be tempted to relapse. Emotional sobriety is the ability of the individual to feel their feelings. The individual who has developed such sobriety will:
* Find it much easier to deal with stress. This means that they will not suffer from the physical and mental health impact of excessive stress.
* Be better able to live in the present. They are not always worrying about the past or obsession about the future.
* Tend to avoid extreme moods
* The individual will emotional sobriety will feel positive about life most of the time
* Enjoy deep and meaningful relationships with other people
* They find it much easier to regulate their own behavior
* Are far less at risk of falling into addiction – they no longer need to escape their feelings
Emotional sobriety is closely linked with serenity. This is a stage of development where people feel inwardly calm and at peace no matter what is going on in their life. The serene individual does not become some type of emotional zombie, but they are no longer at the mercy of their feelings. The person who has developed serenity has a feeling of mastery over their life, and this means that they are able to enjoy it to the fullest.
The way that people in recovery develop emotional sobriety and serenity is by facing and overcoming the challenges that come their way. It is often said that the real work of recovery begins after the individual has stopped drinking. What has meant is that if the individual wishes to build a strong and successful life away from alcohol abuse they will need to work hard. As they progress along the recovery path they will be faced with challenges; if they balk at any of these obstacles they will become stuck and life will feel uncomfortable until they get moving again. It is dangerous to stand still in sobriety because it can easily lead back to addiction.
In order to overcome challenges in recovery it is necessary for the individual to use the right coping strategy. These strategies are sometimes compared to tools in a toolbox. Those who are addicted to alcohol will usually have a box full of ineffective tools. The job of the individual in recovery is to build up a collection of tools that do work. As they face each unique challenge it may be necessary to find a new tool to deal with it effectively. By constantly adding to their coping arsenal the individual eventually reaches a stage where their toolbox is full. No matter what problem they are faced with in life they now know how to deal with it – this mastery over life leads to serenity.
On page 83 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous there is a list of promises for what people will be able to achieve if they follow the 12 steps. These life improvements are available to anyone who works on their emotional sobriety. The promises include:
* The sober individual will discover a new type of freedom and happiness.
* They will develop serenity and discover real peace
* There will no longer be regret about the past
* Intuition for how to handle every situation
* An end to feelings of economic insecurity
* More positive outlook on life
* The ability to be of service to other people
* The individual will no longer live in fear of other people
* An end to low self-esteem and self-pity
* Less self-absorption and selfishness
In order for people to get the most out of their recovery they need to keep an open mind. If the individuals gets sober and continues to hold on to their old modes of thinking it can be highly dangerous. People need to be open to new ideas and new experiences. Recovery can give people a fresh start. Those who are closed-minded will resist any type of change and so they will not make much progress in their new life. It is important that people resist the urge to say no to new experiences; the ones that sound the least interesting in the beginning can turn out to be the most life changing and rewarding.
Helping other people in recovery is one of the most effective ways for getting the most out of sobriety. The individual may initially be attracted to service as a means to give something back, but they will usually find that this work benefits them as much as the person they are helping. The benefits of this type of work include:
* It allows the individual to move away from self-absorption.
* Working with other addicts reminds the individual about where they have come from.
* People involved in this type of work are far less likely to suffer from depression.
* It allows the individual to gain new skills and knowledge.
* Doing something useful is great for increasing self-esteem.
* One of the greatest joys in life is for the individual to realize that they have made a positive difference to the life of somebody else.
* Those involved in service may be less likely to relapse.
In order to get the most from recovery the individual should:
* Try new things
* Devote time to their relationships
* Look for a good balance in life; avoid becoming too obsessed with just one aspect of life (e.g. workaholism).
* Follow a spiritual path or any path that gives life meaning.
* Keep an open mind
* Realize that true happiness comes from the inside and not the outside
* Develop humility and maintain a beginner’s mind
* Try to live an honest life
* Spend more time thinking about other people
* Expect steady progress in recovery
* Develop realistic expectations for life
* Find interesting hobbies
* Avoid comfort eating and obesity
* Live a physically active life
* Practice meditation