It is often suggested that recovery is a process or a journey. According to this way of thinking becoming physically sober is not the end of journey – it is just the first step. The individual who begins the journey into recovery never gets to graduate. This is because there will always be work to be done that will lead to improvements in the individual’s life. For success in recovery it is necessary for people to chip away at their own character flaws slowly over time and as they do this they will develop emotional sobriety.
To say that somebody is emotionally sober does not mean that they avoid experiencing negative emotions. The ups and downs are part of life, and there really is no way to fully escape this. When people are emotionally sober it means that they are able to feel their feelings. This approach to feelings differs from the addict who will do almost anything to escape having to feel negative emotions. When people achieve this type of sobriety they still won’t enjoy the bad times, but they won’t be affected as much by them as they once were.
Bill Wilson was one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. He found that physical sobriety is not enough to ensure mental peace in recovery. The individual needs to also develop emotional sobriety. Despite escaping his addiction and helping to establish AA, Bill Wilson suffered from bouts of depression. It was only by working harder at becoming emotionally sober that he gained more control over his mental state. Emotional sobriety is vital in recovery because:
* It is often their inability to deal with emotions that drive people into addiction in the first place. If they fail to find new ways of handling their feelings the chances are that they will relapse or turn to other maladaptive behaviors to escape their emotions.
* Recovery is something to be enjoyed and not endured. If people want to be truly happy then need to be able to face their feelings.
* It is not possible to completely avoid the ups and downs in life. The only logical approach is to learn better how to deal with these vicissitudes.
Those individuals who would be considered emotionally sober will exhibit a number of characteristics including:
* They find it easy to live in the present moment – they are not always thinking about the future or past
* They tend to hold a positive view of life
* They are able to avoid the extreme emotions
* They do not become overwhelmed by stress. This means that they are less likely to experience stress related illness.
* They find it easy to develop deep and meaningful relationships with other people.
* They are not afraid of their emotions and they are not afraid of life.
* They have no desire to escape their emotions by using alcohol or drugs.
The promises are a list of things that people can expect to happen to them if they follow a 12 Step program. They can be found on page 83 of the Big Book. While these promises were originally written to describe what AA members can look forward to they are things that can be enjoyed by anyone who develops emotional sobriety. The promises include:
* An end to feelings of self-pity
* The individual will develop the intuition to handle almost any situation
* A new more positive outlook on life
* No regrets about the past
* No more financial insecurities
* No more fear of people, places, and things
* The ability to be of benefit to other people
* An end to the tyranny of self-obsession
* Less selfishness
* Development of serenity
* The ability to have faith in life and let go
There are steps that people can take to develop emotional sobriety including:
* One of the keys to emotional sobriety is the willingness to change. If people insist in doing things like they always have done they can expect similar results as the past.
* Emotional sobriety does not happen overnight. The individual needs to be prepared to make a sustained effort, and be ready for setbacks – sometimes it will feel like they are going backwards, but this is part of the process.
* Those individuals who maintain a journal will be better able to track their journey in recovery. When they look back over old entries they will be able to see how much they have improved.
* Practices such as mindfulness meditation can greatly increase the ability of people to live with their feelings.
* The individual needs to be aware of their tendencies to try and escape feeling uncomfortable emotions. They need to challenge the urge to run away from these feelings.
* Those who have joined a 12 Step program and follow this may find that this helps them develop emotional sobriety.
* Those who attend therapy sessions can be helped to see the obstacles that are preventing them from developing emotional sobriety.
* Just honestly facing the challenges that life sends and overcoming these is a natural way to develop this type of sobriety.
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