From Physically Sober to Emotionally Sober

It is often said that recovery is a process and not an event. What that means is that physically stopping alcohol or drugs is just the start of the journey. It is a wonderful start, but the individual is likely to need to do a great deal more work in order to find success in recovery. If they fail to put this needed effort into their sobriety they may be in the same predicament as the sober horse thief.

Sober Horse Thief

In Alcoholics Anonymous meetings the metaphor of the sober horse thief is often used. It refers to the fact that it is possible to sober up a drunken horse thief, but they will still be a horse thief. In order words even if people become sober it does not necessarily mean that they will become a better person. In fact in many ways their behavior could be as equally appalling as it was in the midst of their addiction.

Dry Drunk Syndrome

Those individuals who escape an addiction but continue to behave much as they did before are often referred to as dry drunks. Although this individual is physically sober they are usually full of anger and resentment. They will tend to view recovery as being similar to a prison sentence. For them keeping sober is all about pure willpower – this is often referred to as white knuckle sobriety. The individual can continue with this unsatisfactory type of recovery indefinitely but most of them will relapse back to their addiction.

Overcoming the Addictive Personality in Recovery

Most people who become sober will not literally be horse thieves. Instead they are likely to have the character flaws associated with the addictive personality. These characteristics include:

* A tendency to behave in antisocial ways
* Inability to delay gratification
* Feelings of alienation from other people
* An admiration for deviant behavior
* Puts high value in nonconformity – likes to rebel against things
* Tends to suffer from depression or high anxiety
* Low self-esteem
* Engages in attention seeking behavior
* Highly insecure in their relationships

If the individual does not overcome these character flaws in recovery it can lead to many difficulties including:

* The individual will not be able to assimilate the skills and knowledge they need to build a successful recovery.
* They will struggle to find meaningful friendships. The character traits of the addict can be highly unattractive.
* They may find it hard to establish a solid romantic relationship.
* Even though they are no longer drinking they may still be engaging in inappropriate behavior.
* They will become stuck in recovery and have a high risk of relapse.
* Family and friends who have already suffered a great deal as a result of the addiction will need to put up with further pain.
* The individual will miss the opportunity to build a meaningful and successful life in recovery.

Developing Emotional Sobriety in Recovery

In order to avoid becoming a dry drunk the individual needs to develop emotional sobriety as well as physical sobriety. This is often described as the ability of people to feel their feelings. The characteristics of emotional sobriety include:

* The ability to cope no matter what is happening in the individual’s life. The person will not escape the problems involved in being a human, but they will be able to manage them.
* Their superior coping skills mean that this person suffers less from stress, and as a consequence also less from stress related illness.
* The individual has no urge to escape their feelings or thoughts. This means that they are far less likely to turn to maladaptive behaviors such as addiction for solace.
* The person who has emotional sobriety will tend to hold a positive view of life and their recovery.
* They will find it much easier to develop meaningful relationships with other people.
* They will tend to avoid having to deal with strong emotions.
* They are on a path to serenity and the type of inner peace that the individual was looking for when they turned to substance abuse in the first place.

How to Avoid Being a Sober Horse Thief

There are steps that people can take to ensure that they do not become a dry drunk including:

* The most important thing is to realize that quitting alcohol or drugs is not the end of the process. It is more like the start of it.
* One of the biggest threats to sobriety is ambivalence. The individual needs to be fully committed to a new life away from addiction.
* Maintaining a beginner’s mind is crucial in recovery.
* The aim of recovery is progress and not perfection. The individual is not expected to fix everything in the first week or recovery, or even the first decade, but there should be some progress.
* It is a good idea to keep a recovery journal. That way the individual will be able to gauge their own progress and observe improvements.
* Those people who belong to groups like Alcoholics Anonymous are likely to benefit from doing the steps. Just turning up to meetings is probably not enough to ensure success in recovery.