Although often used interchangeably, getting sober isn’t the same as being in recovery. When we think of sobriety, we immediately think of abstinence from a substance or substances. Recovery, however, is much more than physical sobriety. It is also about mental and emotional healing. So, how can we go from being sober to being in recovery? By practicing emotional sobriety.
What is Emotional Sobriety?
As humans, we move in and out of states of emotion depending on a variety of internal and external factors. Emotional sobriety means addressing all the negative feelings, thoughts, and behaviors that were smothered and ignored by drinking or drug use. While practicing emotional sobriety won’t prevent us from experiencing negative thoughts or emotions, it will allow us to feel and honor our emotions, rather than being consumed or directed by them.
Signs of Emotional Sobriety
- Strong communication
- Ability to recognize triggers
- Healthy boundaries
- Stable relationships
- Stress management
- A positive outlook on life
- Ability to live in the moment
- Loss of interest in drugs and alcohol
Why is Emotional Sobriety Important in Recovery?
Without emotional sobriety, it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to maintain long-term recovery from addictive substances and patterns. While sobriety from drugs and alcohol is the beginning of true life in recovery, learning how to manage the underlying emotions which drove the addictive patterns demonstrates a higher level of self-mastery, and is key to preventing relapse. If not managed properly, feelings of loneliness, anger, fear, disappointment, and even boredom can often trigger us to start drinking or using again. But emotional sobriety isn’t just important because it serves as a method of relapse prevention; it is also a critical part of recovery because it enables us to lead a meaningful life and truly thrive in sobriety.
How to Develop Emotional Sobriety?
For many of us – with and without diagnoses of substance use disorders and mental health issues – emotional sobriety takes a significant amount of work, self-reflection, therapy, and most importantly, practice and practical applications. Laying down the tracks for a balanced lifestyle – mind, body, and spirit – is key to developing emotional sobriety. We can achieve this by:
Practicing Mindfulness: Developing mindfulness skills allow us to get out of the fight, flight, or freeze response to stressors and creates a sense of greater calm. It allows the brain and body to get into a state where they can process and communicate more effectively. Mindfulness also enables us to not dwell on the past but rather enjoy the present. Some great ways to develop mindfulness include yoga, meditation, and prayer.
Trying Behavioral Therapy: Behavioral therapies such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) help increase self-awareness and emotional regulation by providing us with a better understanding of how our thoughts and emotions influence our behavior.
Making Connections: Establishing a strong support network ensures that we have someone we can trust to go to when we are faced with difficult situations or uncomfortable emotions. It also helps to keep us accountable in recovery.
For many, emotional sobriety is not a consistent state but is instead found in moments and hours. Don’t feel discouraged if you struggle to regulate your emotions. Often, human beings are not emotionally static. What matters is your ability to recognize and manage your personal stressors and continue working on your recovery. Emotional maintenance work can make all the difference in sustaining sobriety from alcohol and other drugs.