Physical sobriety occurs when your body is free from substances, and you are committed to remaining abstinent in the future. You have probably gone through detox, and begun or completed treatment for addiction, and you feel as if you are doing reasonably well.
Emotional sobriety is a different animal, however. At the heart of it, it is more or less the ability to experience your feelings – moreover, you aren’t numb to them, you aren’t ignoring them, and you are no longer using substances to self-medicate.
Physical sobriety can occur in a matter of weeks. Emotional sobriety, unfortunately, often takes much longer, possibly months or years to achieve.
The path to being emotional sober is often challenging. In the past, you have probably been using substances to bury emotional hurt, including traumatic experiences or mental illness. Being sober means that you must be proficient at living without drugs or alcohol, and refusing to reach for them as a response to negative thoughts and feelings.
The following are four essential elements of emotional sobriety:
The Ability To Manage Adverse Feelings
You can’t entirely rid yourself of negative thoughts and feelings, but you can learn to manage them.
When these thoughts pop up without warning, you have to learn to be mindful of your responses and future behaviors instead of acting rashly and ending up doing something you will regret.
One thing that most substance abusers have in common is impulsivity and being unable to regulate their emotions.
Part of the recovery process is gaining the ability to understand that are are some things that you can and cannot control, and you need only take action on those things that you have control over. Negative emotions are among those – you have power over these feelings, and they need not have power over you.
This ability is not much different than the control you are currently using to remain sober and doesn’t necessarily mean you ignore thoughts and feelings by trying to block them. A critical component of learning to manage negative emotions is to pause and look at them objectively, rather than immediately reacting upon them.
Critically, you need not view these emotions as either good or bad – they just are. This practice is often referred to as mindfulness, and has been shown to reduce cravings for substances.
Learn To Live in the Present
Living in the present is difficult for most people. We spend an extraordinary amount of time living in the past, feeling regret, guilt, shame, and ruminating on past adverse experiences.
We can’t change the past, however, and therefore, we must look to the future.
This action, in of itself, however, has its problems. We may see ourselves in a worse state of being, or not at all.
For some, it’s challenging to imagine themselves at some future point in their life as being happy and fulfilled without substances, and their goals accomplished.
We can learn from our mistakes and use them to help advise our future decisions, but dwelling on what is gone doesn’t foster emotional growth.
Existing mindfully in the present, however, can be incredibly empowering. Rather than regretting those things you did or did not do, you can plan today, in the now, for the changes you would like to make. You can sit back and observe what is right about the present moment, and the positive steps you took to get here.
Being present and mindful means that you can take time to be grateful and appreciate the things you have – this is a powerful tool that can help you put your life in perspective, and keep it there as it evolves from day to day.
When you are no longer ruminating on the past or worrying about the future, you can spend more time concentrating on thoughts that are productive and useful in the present.
The Ability to Stay Strong in the Face of Temptation
Completing treatment does not mean that rest of the world is going to fall in line with your needs – some triggers and temptations will remain even when you try your best to avoid them. It is just unrealistic to believe that you can live your life in a vacuum, devoid of the same risk factors that existed before you entered recovery.
But you can use the coping mechanisms you’ve learned to deal with temptation and manage your cravings. During addiction treatment, you should have received the resources you need to make healthy decisions and seek help and support if you feel your will is crumbling. Make complete use of these now.
The Ability to Form Emotional Bonds and Experience Intimacy
People with substance use disorders often suffer from a lack of intimacy and have a hard time bonding with others, especially those who do not share or understand their condition.
Instead, they form a dysfunctional bond with substances, one that can surpass even the relationship with oneself.
During recovery, many people lose old friends either through choice or necessity, and sometimes at the end of the day, it may seem like there is not much left.
But this is the point in which reaching out to form new bonds with others is critical – even for those without family or friends to lean on, there are always support groups, sponsors, and addiction professionals that can be invaluable during even the darkest moments.
Moreover, by fostering deep bonds and relationships, you have someone to turn to when life’s challenges and stressors manifest. If possible, repairing broken relationships with others that occurred as a result of your addiction should be among your primary goals.
And what’s more, building these connections is essential to ensuring that the bond you once had with substances has been severed.
Finally, breaking free from addiction means that you can foster a healthier relationship with yourself, engage in self-reflection, and focus on the goals you want to achieve, the person you ultimately want to become.