Sobriety is typically viewed from a physical point of view, as a complete abstinence from substances. This can be very difficult to achieve, as abstinence alone does not stop the overwhelming desires and cravings that we might still have for substances. When we become physically sober, are we also mentally sober? Do we also have emotional sobriety? What exactly is emotional sobriety?
Healing the Mind
We can become physically sober, forcing ourselves into not drinking or using drugs, using mind over matter. This is very challenging, though, because the desire for substance use comes from the mind. When our mind has not healed, our sobriety is only physical, not complete.
The reasons for substance use typically begin with pain, trauma, loss, or other intense experiences that can impact us physically, but especially mentally. Often, our substance use is an attempt to mask these scars, but instead it increases our problems. As substance use turns to addiction, our brains are rewired to create a physical need in our brains for substances. This also needs to be addressed in order for us to heal. In order to become mentally sober as well as physically, we need to heal our minds as well as our bodies.
To heal completely from substance use, there is a third element of healing: emotional or spiritual healing. During substance use, we often spend our time trying to escape our emotions, drowning our sorrows or getting high to cover the pain. Feeling emotions and experiencing our own spirituality are often lost, replaced by substance use. Even when we become physically sober, we may not be able to feel natural emotions. To experience complete sobriety and healing, we need to experience holistic healing, or healing of mind, body, and soul.
Learning to face our emotions and feel everything can be a new experience for us. We have conditioned ourselves to avoid feeling, so we have to train ourselves and allow ourselves to be emotionally vulnerable. What is so great about doing this in treatment is that we also get to learn how to face emotions and feelings in healthy ways, learning to be present and in the moment and to control our emotional responses. Living authentically emotionally is at the heart of emotional sobriety.
The late John Welwood, author of Toward a Psychology of Awakening, used the phrase spiritual bypass to describe using spiritual practices such as meditation or prayer to bypass pain or suffering on an emotional level. The idea that all of our pain can be relieved if we only pray hard enough, that spiritual practices equate to constant happiness, actually bypasses the human condition. We all have pain and suffering, we all face challenges. When we attempt to bypass pain with spiritual practices, we are not being authentic.
Spiritual practices can actually be used to address uncomfortable or painful situations. For example, rather than bypass a difficult problem and pretend to be happy instead, mindfulness meditation encourages us to be present and face the situation. Spiritual practices can actually give us the tools to experience difficult things and still be authentic and in the moment.
What this means for recovery is that not every day is going to be filled with prayers and roses. We are going to be challenged, we are going to have problems, just like everyone else. But rather than pretend that we are incessantly happy because we are practicing our spiritual customs, we can use those spiritual practices to help us feel and cope with a range of emotions, to face our challenges, and to have the strength to remain sober physically, mentally, and emotionally.
We can learn to feel all of the feelings, and still face everything life throws at us. As we practice the skills we learn in treatment about emotional response and being present and non-judgmental about what is in front of us, we develop an emotional resilience. This resilience allows us to face life’s problems with less stress and fewer long-term side effects from challenging situations. We can literally transform our lives from living with the extra burdens and emotional weight of pain and substance use, to living an authentic life, with less stress and fewer side effects from difficult circumstances.
Physical sobriety gives us improved physical health. Mental sobriety gives us improved mental health and the ability to cope with life better without substances. Adding emotional sobriety gives us the added capability to cope better with life in general. Rather than escaping our emotions, we can embrace them realistically and in healthy ways. Emotional sobriety empowers us to transform our sobriety into a holistic recovery, and to live authentically.
Emotional sobriety is the third aspect of healing from substance use, after physical and mental sobriety. Within emotional sobriety, we can embrace spirituality without merely using spiritual practices to avoid our feelings and difficulties, or create a spiritual bypass. As we embrace emotional healing, we can also develop emotional resilience, which allows us to experience an empowered sobriety, a holistic healing.
Don’t settle for just a sobriety, physical or even physical and mental. You can experience holistic healing as you find your emotional sobriety as well. You deserve to feel again, to feel authentic emotions, and to have the skills to face whatever life throws at you.
Seek the healing of emotional sobriety. Find your holistic recovery at AToN Center. Call (888) 535-1516 and heal your mind, body, and soul.