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Emotional Sobriety – Not Just for Addicts

June 23, 2016

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“Emotional sobriety can be defined as resiliency, wisdom and balance. It’s a metaphor of sorts for addicts who develop emotional intelligence over the course of their journeys in recovery.” George Joseph, Addiction Specialist

George Joseph goes on to say that conquering physical addiction is the easy part. It’s the next part of the journey, developing emotional sobriety, that’s the hardest part of recovery. And those of us who have experienced both addiction and recovery can attest to that.

But how does the reverse of emotional sobriety, let’s call it the emotional component of addiction, manifest itself? Here are some ways:

We engage in catastrophic thinking. Even minor happenings become major emergencies.

We over-react to people, places and situations. For example, others’ poor behavior, even minor slights, can set us off.

We constantly chew over past events, going over and over things we or others did in the past.

Fear, doubt and insecurity are hallmarks of our daily lives.  We are seldom in an accepting, contented space.

We hold others at fault for our present situation. Resentments and anger toward others are our frequent companions.

It takes us a long time to recover from setbacks and disappointments. Even minor ones can bring us to our knees.

Yes, we may no longer use our substance of choice – alcohol, food, sex, drugs of whatever description – but the “crazy in the head” continues unabated. The only difference is that now we don’t have our favorite drug to numb us out.  And without our drug, the mental pain can be excruciating.

But the above description doesn’t just apply to addicts. I’ve observed both professionally and personally, that most of us can benefit from a healthy dose of emotional sobriety.  While the lack of it might be particularly acute in recovering addicts, many of us allegedly never-addicted souls on this planet have engaged in emotionally-addicted thinking and behavior to a greater or lesser degree. And to our detriment.

So what first steps can we take toward emotional sobriety using the keys of resilience, wisdom and balance?

We can begin to build resilience in daily living by putting our setbacks into perspective. Life is a process of two steps forward and one step back. Setbacks and disappointments are to be expected in the normal course of living. What can we learn from this setback? What strength can we draw from it?

We can begin to appreciate the wisdom that we’ve accrued in the years we’ve lived on this planet. Wisdom can be defined as knowledge, good sense and judgement. Wisdom doesn’t just exist in others; it’s in us too. What have we learned from the past – all our experiences, pleasant through to painful? How can our hard-won wisdom be used to help others?

We can begin to take a balanced view of people, places and experiences.  Nothing is all good or all bad. There’s good in everyone despite their flaws. And that includes us. Even the direst situations provide opportunities for growth. We develop a balanced perspective when we learn to step back, consider and not over-react. When we divest from black and white thinking. When we can ask ourselves what else can be true here?

When we embrace emotional sobriety as a way of living, we will improve our lives and the lives of those around us.