What is Emotional Sobriety?

“If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependence and its consequent demand. Let us, with God’s help, continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love: we may then be able to gain emotional sobriety. ” – Bill W.

If you’ve been around the world of recovery long enough, you may have heard the words, “emotional sobriety.” When I first heard that term, I had to laugh. I mean, yeah – obviously, sobriety is emotional! I was quickly taught that that wasn’t the way I was meant to perceive that phrase.

By definition, the word “sober” means, “not affected by alcohol.” In the recovery world, it is often used as a catch-all term for abstaining from all mood-altering chemicals. But why isn’t abstinence enough? Why is that most persons who suffer from an addiction don’t just walk into a detox and walk out “cured?” Why is that simply drying up a drunk or detoxing someone off heroin isn’t enough? Is it possible to stay sober without any long-term plan of recovery? While I don’t see it often, yes it’s possible.

Take, for example, a distant relative of mine who had a history of being violent drunk. On the verge of losing his business, he made the decision to stop drinking and went to an inpatient treatment center for seven days.  At the age of 40, this man walked out of a treatment center and never drank again. He died at the age of 82 of natural causes. While he ended up saving his business and his marriage, he is still known as one of the hated members of that side of the family. Greedy, cold, and callous are just a few of the words that many use to describe him.

The second example is a woman who struggles with an opioid addiction for years. She checks herself into a detox center, and she is medically treated and weaned off of heroin and several other drugs. She walks out of this treatment center two weeks later and, for the first time in 10 years, is not physically dependent on something. The facility recommends that she continue to receive support with group therapy, twelve step program, etc. For whatever reason, she decides against it and attempts to rebuild her life on her own. She gets a job, her own apartment, and seems to be slowly putting the pieces back together. She relapses three months later and, when asked why, she says that she was miserable. She would rather be miserable and high, than miserable and sober.

Sobriety is about SO MUCH MORE than simply abstaining. Emotional sobriety is imperative to my life and well-being. I discovered this at about six years sober when, the absence of self-care and working a solid program put me into a pretty dark place. I didn’t want to drink or use drugs, but I wanted to die. It was a huge wake-up call.

How do we become “emotionally sober?” For me, it involves staying involved in a recovery group, helping others, staying willing and open to always growing spiritually, and doing the next right indicated thing – even if I don’t want to. For me, the spiritual part is what has periodically become a roadblock for me – especially in the midst of dealing with infertility. That’s where the willingness and recovery group comes into play. If I’m willing, I can expect miracles. If I stick with my group, I get support. So far, it hasn’t failed me yet – even on the worst days.

So I ask you (and myself on a regular basis) what are YOU doing for your emotional sobriety today? Other than not taking that drink or not swallowing that pill, what do you do for your sobriety? Are you helping others? Are you honest? Do you like the person you see in the mirror everyday? Are you reasonably happy? Are you miserable? These are such important questions for us to ask ourselves. Why? Because once the physical part of our drinking/drugging problem has been solved, then I’m only left with one other thing – me. Which was really the problem to begin with. My experience has been that, if I don’t work on my insides, my outsides will linger back to the bottle.

What does your emotional sobriety look like?


10 thoughts on “What is Emotional Sobriety?

  1. Seriously, you’re quite right; once that alcohol thingy is dealt with, there’s actually just a whole lot more stuff underneath the alcohol abuse that has been supporting and driving it. And this is why I use the word “healed” instead of “cured” referring to our ongoing recovery. I’ve been cured of bronchitis. It’s like I never had it. I’ve been healed of alcoholism in the sense that I no longer choose to yield my life over to it. The past nearly 9 years in AA have been absolutely essential in that capacity. Am I cured? Is it like it never happened? Absolutely not, but that was never the goal. However, I’m still very much on the healing journey. I’m no longer dealing with a struggle with alcohol, but so what? There’s a whole bunch of other stuff that’s really keeping me occupied. There are numerous issues (environmental, physiological) that are actually the root issues in my alcoholism. I all I did was simply stop drinking, I’d still be profoundly wounded from a significant list of issues. Now that I no longer deal with alcohol, I’ve really got my hands full… but in a good way.

    This is an excellent post you’ve got, so I’m going to take the liberty of posting it over at the Club East website. This is the sort of thing that really spurs folks to consider what’s going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Only 2 years+ in, I definitely feel like a “baby” in the program. Lately, my ES has been challenged by some of my worst fears. Like you mentioned, /willingness/, and action, acceptance, change, and honesty are the key puzzle pieces. I have to remember to look back on the miracles and grace I’ve received prior. God does things on HIS time.
    When my husband and I were trying to have children and couldn’t, we got to the point that we didn’t think our marriage could stand the pain and that we’d have to divorce. So, I prayed for miracles. 1,2,3,4 beautiful children later……..People say “God Bless you” in a sarcastic way, and I say to them, “Thank you. He surely has.”
    Let go and let God and accept.


  3. I came over here from Greg at Club East. Brilliant post. Hadn’t heard of emotional sobriety before. 58 days sober and loving this feeling of being sober. I decided that 2019 is the year of care. Self care, marriage care, house care, garden care, body, mind and soul care, you name it, I will be caring. And in the meantime I am reading, writing and sketching my way forward. I’m learning the how of life rather than the what.
    Btw nice to read you are 8 years+ sober.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I also believe that growth in emotional maturity gets sidelined once one become an addict. So not only do we need emotional sobriety, we often are in our late teens emotionally when we start.


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