Relapse is a major problem in recovery. Statistics tell us that most people who begin recovery will relapse prior to sustaining their recovery. This has also been my impression from being in the field for over 39 years. What happens? Well research has indicated that the top three causes of relapse are relationships, dysphoric emotions such as anxiety or depression, and chronic pain. Understanding what happens in our relationships that give us so many problems and that cause strong emotional reactions is an important factor in managing our vulnerability. This is what makes emotional sobriety so important in our recovery.
Emotional sobriety has to do with learning to hold on to ourselves and on to our recovery no matter the circumstance or situation.
Holding on to our self involves staying centered. We stay centered by balancing our desire to please, connect, and join with our desire to follow our own directives, to be ourselves. These two basic needs, togetherness and individuality, are constantly operating in our lives. They are like gravitational forces that constantly influence our behavior in one direction or the other. When we hold on to our center, we equally honor both of these needs. We connect with our partner or friends and allow them to influence us without threatening our individuality. We make a choice to be influenced. We honor our individuality at the same time we honor our desire for togetherness. As I noted when explaining the concept of emotional sobriety, Erich Fromm called this “…union with the preservation of integrity.”
Do not be dismayed if you are struggling with this. Few of us have achieved this level of maturity. There is hope however. It is possible, but it is going to take effort. Bill realized this. He knew he had to exert every ounce of willpower to accomplish this task. You will need to make this kind of commitment too, if you want emotional sobriety. (Berger, 2010).
Believing that being clean and sober will solve everything is wishful thinking. We have to grow up, emotionally and spiritually to enjoy the incredible benefits that take place in recovery. So how do we go about “growing up”? Well that’s the question I try to answer in my new book. I have identified 12 things to do that will help you with your emotional sobriety. They are:
1. Know how emotional dependency manifests itself in your life
2. Stop allowing others to edit your reality
3. Stop taking things personally
4. Own your projections as an act of integrity
5. Confront yourself for the sake of your integrity
6. Stop pressuring others to change, and instead pressure yourself to change
7. Develop a healthy perspective towards yourself, your feelings, and your emotional themes
8. Appreciate what is
9. Comfort yourself when you are hurt or disappointed
10. Use your personal compass to guide your life
11. Embrace relationship tensions as fuel for personal growth
12. The problem is not the real problem
These suggestions will help you keep your emotional center of gravity within. The major block to emotional sobriety is our emotional dependency.
Emotional dependency causes reactivity and fragility. Our well being becomes dependent upon people, places and things acting and behaving according to our perfectionistic expectations. Our self-esteem becomes other validated self-esteem as opposed to a self-validated self-esteem. When our self-esteem is based on external factors, I am at the mercy of these external factors.
I hope you will take the time to read my new book. I truly believe it will be well worth your time and effort.
By Allen Berger, Ph.D.
Berger, A. (2010). 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs are Gone. Hazelden: MN.
Wilson, B. (1958, 1988). The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety. In The Language of the Heart: Bill W.’S Grapevine Writings (p. 236-238). The AA Grapevine, Inc: NY.