Monday, April 30, 2012

Emotional Sobriety

Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions
Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
When a person gets sober, it may be difficult for him to harness his new found emotions. Dealing with these emotions calls for changes to be made, especially in early recovery. For some people, the willingness to change is limited to removing the drugs and/or the alcohol. It is easy for one to overlook the rest of his life after he has removed the “primary problem.”
Recovery programs teach the fundamentals in emotional regulation.  Beginning emotional regulation techniques are often based in distraction. Some of these techniques are outlined in a recent Scientific American article.
These distractions may be beneficial for the recovering addict/alcoholic, but can easily lead into other compulsive behaviors such as gambling, sex, social drama, and other negative actions.

Learning how to deal with uncomfortable emotions is a part of life.

When an individual only focuses on not drinking or drugging, much is lacking.  Admittedly, physical sobriety is the foundation of healthy recovery; yet, it is by no means the sole structure of a happy and fulfilling life.  We caution establishing a basis for life on uneven footing.  The missing piece, a necessary component for building a strong foundation, is termed “emotional sobriety.” While emotional sobriety may seem like a simple concept, it is by no means easy to sober one’s emotions after sobering the physical person.
The term “emotional sobriety” was coined by Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, when he wrote an article entitled “The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety.”
The basis of this concept lies in abstaining from medicating our emotions through compulsive behaviors such as gambling, sex, work, and even internet surfing. Anything can become a ritualistic behavior which muffles feeling painful and uncomfortable emotions.  Emotional sobriety so difficult to define because of its subjective nature – only the individual knows what medicates his emotions.

Even non-addicted people medicate their emotions. Everyone has the ability to slip into an intoxicating stream of distracting behaviors (shopping, exercising, etc.) in order to drown out feelings associated with being in a difficult relationship, experiencing unpleasant family circumstances, or even encountering problems at work.  Emotional intoxication is prevalent in our society today; virtually every human has experienced it at one time or another. Inherently, there is nothing wrong with exercising, having sex, watching TV, playing video games or shopping. Similarly, there is nothing inherently wrong with moderately consuming alcohol. It is only when people take these activities to extremes that negative issues arise.  Medicating one’s emotions ultimately leads to poor adjustment to everyday life.

I am by no means a guru on emotional sobriety, nor am I emotionally sober all day, every day. Therefore, this is by no means a comprehensive picture on emotional sobriety. In my limited experience, I have seen many people build their lives around trying to achieve and maintain qualities consistent with emotional sobriety. Some have succeeded, and others have fallen back into compulsive behaviors.  Recognizing these behaviors and addressing them is imperative to getting back “on the beam.”
The thing that I continue to learn is that balance is never fully achieved, it can only be maintained.

If you have any stories, opinions, or differing views on emotional sobriety, please leave us a comment.
I realize that I have not outlined the full picture of this concept and any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

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-JBS

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