Some people manage to break free of addiction but continue to be a slave to their emotions. This is described as being physically sober but not emotionally sober. If you settle for just physical sobriety, you are likely to still find life to be a real struggle despite the fact that you are no longer using alcohol or drugs. The fact that you are not engaged in substance abuse should still mean that you see improvements in your life, but you will not be getting the most out of your new life.
The Importance of Becoming Emotionally Free in Recovery
Often the inability to handle emotions drives individuals into addiction in the first place. This can be experienced as if life is too hard and suffering from extremes in mood such as anger and depression. Initially, using alcohol or drugs can give people the illusion that they are control of their emotions. This is because these mind-altering substances numb the brain, so it is less able to experience real emotion. Upon becoming sober, it can feel as if emotions are completely out of control, which can easily trigger a relapse.
One of the risks for those not becoming emotionally free in recovery is developing a condition known as dry drunk syndrome. This is a condition in which the person is technically sober but continues to act in such negative ways that it is almost as if they are still using drugs or drinking. Some of the symptoms of dry drunk syndrome include:
- stinking thinking – for example, negativity, cynicism, pessimism, and catastrophising
- unethical behaviour – the person continues to do things that are causing harm to others
- unwillingness to leave their comfort zone
- mood swings
- anger outbursts and poor control over emotions generally
- engaging in new maladaptive behaviours (for example, porn addiction or gambling)
- difficult to get along with
- always blaming others for their problems
- lack of insight into their life
- a feeling of being unable to handle stress
- terminal uniqueness – the person believes the normal rules do not apply to them
- isolating and not wanting to spend time with others
- a cynical attitude towards recovery.
Those dealing with dry drunk syndrome may be able to remain physically sober, but it will not be a particularly happy existence. The person would be able to get so much more in life if only they would develop emotional sobriety.
Emotional Sobriety Explained
Put simply, emotional sobriety refers to a situation in which the person is in control of his or her own emotions. Some of the signs that a person has developed the ability to manage their emotions include:
- freedom from extremes of mood such as depression and anger outburst
- there is no longer any desire to hide from emotions
- the person has an above-average ability to deal with stress
- the ability to live in the present moment without always thinking about the past and future
- an optimistic attitude towards the future
- a tendency to talk in a positive way about things
- finds it easy to develop strong friendships
- experiences long periods of serenity (inner calm and peace)
- feels able to handle anything that happens in life.
How to Develop Emotional Sobriety
If you are unable to handle your emotions, you will struggle to find happiness in recovery. It is not possible to become emotionally sober overnight, but this is an attribute that can definitely be developed over time. In fact, the whole point of recovery programmes like the 12-steps is to help you develop emotional sobriety. Some of the other things you can do to help you become more emotionally sober include:
- being completely willing to face your demons and be open about your life – remember that you are only as sick as your secrets
- seeing the challenges in life as an opportunity to grow – it is by facing these challenges that you pick up the coping skills needed to live a better life
- seeing a therapist if there are underlying issues preventing you from becoming emotionally sober
- trying anger management classes if you have a problem with this emotion
- going to rehab can be a great help when it comes to develop emotional sobriety because a lot of the programme is directed towards this
- joining a 12-step fellowship group and practice the steps – going to meetings alone might not be enough
- sticking with the winners – spend your time with those who have already developed emotional sobriety as it will encourage you to do the same
- learning to develop gratitude for all the good things in your life – keeping a gratitude list can be a good way of doing this
- using practices like mindfulness to help you learn how to live in the present moment.