Even after we’ve gone through detox and rid our body of the toxins that were acquired from active addiction, we have to continue the restorative process of our mind, body and spirit. From the time when our addiction developed, we’ve covered up layers of ourselves that serve great purpose in living a happy, meaningful life; emotions have been pushed down far within us, and we may even find ourselves having difficulty expressing some of our darkest issues. Throughout recovery, we have to pay close attention to our thoughts and emotions, because these are what shape our perceptions – and perception is what guides us in life.
What is Emotional Sobriety?
Emotional sobriety could be defined differently depending on the person, but it typically centers around acceptance, managing emotions in healthy ways, and practicing self-awareness so that we can continue to thrive in recovery. Kelly Fitzgerald, a woman who once struggled with alcoholism, told The Fix in 2016 that emotional sobriety is no easy feat – especially when we don’t have a firm grasp on healthy coping mechanisms for those difficult-to-handle emotions like anger, depression, anxiety, sadness and more. She stated, “When you are emotionally sober, you are able to stay sane and sober no matter what you’re feeling. This is the ability to sit with discomfort and pain. It’s the ability to not need to get away from an uncomfortable feeling via drugs or alcohol, or anything else that is used to distract you in excess.”
For many in recovery, substances once served as a crutch – a void, a distraction, a temporary solution – to life’s problems. When uncomfortable emotions would arise, alcohol or drugs would cover up that feeling – and while it seemed like a temporary fix, it really forces people to shut away all of the thoughts and feelings that come with simply being human. Recovery is sobering not just on a physical level, but on an emotional one, too – and that’s where we can find growth and ultimate transformation.
The Scientific American explains that long-term emotional sobriety requires slowly and steadily rethinking all of the people, places and things that could throw us off in recovery – and instead of immediately reacting, taking in the discomfort with grace and diving into the emotion to explore it rather than to act out on it.
Maintaining Emotional Sobriety
There are many steps you can take on a daily basis to maintain emotional sobriety, but you have to recognize that you’re not always going to want to take these steps. On your good days, it’s going to feel freeing and exhilarating because you’ll clearly notice that you’re taking strides towards your recovery goals – but on the bad days, the days when you want to give up or when you’re feeling angry, you have to continue to apply strategies that work for you.
While unhealthy distraction – such as reverting to drinking or using other substances – is certainly not going to get you to where you want to be in recovery, there are good forms of distraction, too. When painful thoughts or emotions arise, you can choose to subtly distract yourself in order to distance yourself from pain or discomfort that could send you “over the edge”. Examples of this include:
- Immediately rephrasing the thought or feeling in a way that’s more positive and productive for you
- Choosing to refocus your attention on something else, such as a pet, a funny television show, etc.
- Quickly saying out loud to yourself an observation you’re having and then letting it go
If distraction doesn’t work well for you, then it may be helpful to acknowledge the pain you’re feeling but then combatting that pain with something positive that’s currently happening in your life. Here are some examples: “I’m so hurt that my friend doesn’t want to be in my life anymore, but that’s their right and I’m doing what I can to better myself which is what really matters right now.”
“I’ve hurt a lot of people in the past, but at least I’m taking the steps I need to take now so that I can become a better person for myself and others.” “I’m feeling so depressed, but I know this feeling is going to pass because that’s how human emotions work.”
Whether you believe it or not – oftentimes, when we set the thought or intention, our emotions will follow afterwards. By following up the uncomfortable thought or feeling with something positive, you’re initiating something different in your mind to break up that space of negativity.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
CBT is a therapy approach that helps people break up old, negative thought patterns with newer, more productive ones. You can work closely with your therapist to hone in on CBT skills that work for you – and you’ll find that you’re well on your way in maintaining emotional sobriety.
Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.