Emotional sobriety is the sidekick to physical sobriety, which is abstinence
In fact, emotional sobriety is often considered the cornerstone of a successful recovery, as it assists physical sobriety every single hour of the lifelong effort to remain clean and sober. While those with an iron will can choose daily abstinence with few challenges, most people will lean heavily on their emotional sobriety skillset. Let’s face it; it is common to feel vulnerable and a bit off balance in early recovery. Emotional sobriety, when fully developed, can help us feel more confident, less vulnerable, and acts as a sort of scaffolding for maintaining abstinence.
In your mind’s eye, imagine the recovery journey as one long, long highway. Along that road one will encounter emotional pop-ups, those distressing events that can distract us from our recovery trajectory. Picture the emotional pop-up events depicted on the large road signs on a freeway—a job loss, a failed relationship, the death of a loved one. Because negative emotions are no longer being snuffed out with the substance of choice, they can become potential triggers for relapse. As each threat is encountered, one’s hard-won sobriety is in the crosshairs. Driving along that recovery highway, the choice becomes accessing one’s arsenal of emotional sobriety recovery tools, or taking the next off-ramp to Destination Relapse.
So how does a dependable state of emotional sobriety come about? What are the most effective and essential tools that can lead to a sustained recovery? How do we manage the stressors we will surely encounter along the way and cultivate emotional balance?
Practice these 5 actionable steps to attain a solid emotional sobriety:
- Ongoing therapy: Addiction does not happen in a vacuum. Most addicts or alcoholics carry deep emotional scars that underpin their eventual reliance on a substance. During rehab these underlying factors are usually examined to some extent, but for continued growth in recovery, as well as a support backstop, it is important to continue outpatient therapy on a regular basis. Therapy can assist with:
- Psychodynamic therapy: Processing and healing past traumas, negative life experiences, ongoing emotional challenges
- CBT: Harnessing the power of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to identify thought distortions in response to triggers that led to reflexive substance abuse. Changing the thought/behavior patterns toward positive self-messaging and productive behaviors
- Refine recovery skills: While rehab teaches the basics, it is during post-rehab active recovery, that these skills must be accessed and regularly used. By using these important recovery skills often they eventually become new habits and can help to avoid relapse triggers:
- Conflict resolution: Learn how to work through conflicts at home or work effectively and calmly.
- Communication skills: Learn how to be a better listener, how to respond respectfully, and engage people with thoughtful discourse to keep discussions productive.
- Distraction: Learn the best strategies for distracting oneself from cravings, such as engaging in a physical activity, hobby, calling a friend, going to meeting.
- Practice CBT skills: Refine and practice the new healthy thought/behavior patterns learned in therapy.
- Attend meetings: Social support is an essential recovery element. Actively participating in a recovery community provides fellowship and peer support in a safe space. Find the group that fits your needs and personal preferences, whether it be A.A., N.A., Smart Recovery or others, and make these meetings a regular part of your recovery process.
- Holistic activities: Stress is one of the most significant threats to sobriety. Learn how to manage daily stress by incorporating holistic methods into your healthy new routine that help cultivate connectivity between mind, body, and spirit. These might include mindfulness training, yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, journaling, meditation or prayer, and art therapy.
- Prioritize recovery: While this may seem like an obvious step, motivation to prioritize sobriety may wane a month or two out of treatment. To shore up a sustained recovery it is imperative to place sobriety at the top of the priority list. This involves incorporating pro-sober lifestyle actions into daily life, such as:
- Adopt a healthy lifestyle: Restore health with regular exercise and a nutritious diet. Exercise, especially cardio, improves sleep quality, reduces stress, and elevates mood, in addition to the physical health benefits. A diet rich in lean proteins, healthy fats, fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, nuts, and seeds, and limited sugar and processed foods, will strengthen the body and restore brain health.
- Sober activities: Expand your social network in recovery. Discover sober Meetup groups in your area that convene for outdoor activities, sports events, music events, and other social outings. Attend A.A. events for opportunities to make new sober friendships and participate in volunteer activities.
Do Not Drink or Use
Think of it this way. In rehab and 12-step programs, there is a clear directive: DO NOT DRINK OR USE. Without question, abstinence is the only way to achieve a sustained recovery. But how to abstain on a daily basis relies upon one’s emotional recovery. Emotional sobriety involves the culmination of first acquiring and then accessing emotional regulation tools for the purpose of not only remaining sober, but to become a better version of yourself in recovery.