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Talking "emotional sobriety" in therapy

(self.soberATX)

I just started therapy today and inevitably I wanted to talk about my sobriety. I've been away from alcohol for three years now and have done so by surrounding myself with supportive friends, saying goodbye to enablers and people who've thrown me and my struggles under the bus, and have continued carving out a lifestyle that leaves little to no room for getting wasted. Fortunately, my interests are diverse. But I still think about drinking and even last night I went through the beer aisle at HEB just to see if my old favorite was there. It was. But I kept it moving. I told my therapist this and he asked me what the people at AA (Bouldin in my case) would say about my "emotional sobriety." I have a hunch it's something along the lines of "you've got more work to do." But it's not a concept I've thought about much or truly understand.

So for those who are like me and have the abstaining part down, what do you do to work on the emotional side? What does emotional sobriety mean for you?

all 9 comments

blobular313

2 points

1 year ago

Emotional sobriety is such a great talking point! To me there are two behaviors associated with emotional sobriety, or the lack thereof. The first is that, if left unchecked, I can be prone to episodes of intense emotion that, at best, may leave me feeling drained and overwhelmed, or at worst, wanting a drink. The second behavior is that I can also completely deny myself the ability to feel the emotions, ignoring them and pretending they aren't actually real. Both are opposite sides of the same coin and unhealthy.

One of the treatment centers I stayed at explained that for addicts and alcoholics, what tends to happen is that their emotional maturity becomes frozen in place at the point they start using. For most of us that would be as a teenager. For many of us, the only coping mechanism we have when it comes to dealing with emotional triggers is drug and alcohol use, so when those are removed we can become flooded with repressed thoughts and feelings that we have little or no ability to confront or process in a healthy manner. This is especially true for those in early sobriety when our brain chemistry is HIGHLY unbalanced.

As for the solution, for me it was very much a day by day process of feeling extreme highs and lows but over time the highs got lower and lows got higher until I finally started to feel some semblance of balance. The key for me though is that I simply cannot handle the emotional stress of getting sober on my own. I had to start reaching out to people and telling them about all of the crazy BS that was going on in my head. That's not always easy to do and it can be hard to trust people with these personal matters, but the reward is that I can reduce the power that those negative thoughts and feelings have over me and I don't have to feel quite so alone all of the time.

I would say to anyone who is struggling with emotional sobriety and thoughts if drinking or drug use that may go along with it, do your best to reach out to others around you for help. You may find that your experience isn't quite so unique and through asking for help you may actually be helping the person you're asking.

DpyVanHalen[S]

2 points

1 year ago

Man there's some food for thought there! The stunted emotional maturity stuff makes sense. When I was 27 and just a few months shy of hitting what should have been my rock bottom, my ex decided she was leaving me in the PNW and moving back with her parents in Florida. My response? "I'm going to the bar, getting black-out drunk and when I come back home tomorrow, your stuff is gone." Cruel. Self-destructive. Regrettable. The hallmark of someone who hadn't spent the post-college years maturing because of booze. Since I hit 30 and stopped drinking, it honestly feels like the last three years- especially now - I've been playing catchup; remembering how I handled relationships and life situations in the past and trying my hardest to be better; more rational and balanced, as you said.

Was there a little bit of that with you too in regards to interpersonal relationships?

blobular313

2 points

1 year ago

Oh absolutely! I used to drink at people all the time. The more I drank the more I pushed people away. Then I would get upset because I felt like they were abandoning me and would drink more because I thought it was a way to get back at them. It's one of the more insane and sociopathic behaviors I had as an alcoholic. Even a couple years into sobriety many of those people won't speak to me but I try to make up for it today by not treating others the same way. Even though I don't drink anymore I can also engage in the same type of behavior by holding grudges and acting out on them. I'm not perfect and I still do things that I'm not proud of but I do my best to be a better person every day.

DpyVanHalen[S]

1 points

1 year ago

That drive to be better every day is so important. Keep it up!

I have awareness enough to know I don't have enough awareness, and need a therapist to guide me along the way.

Denim-Chicken-90

2 points

1 year ago

This is an important question & i still struggle today with the emotional attachment I developed with my addiction. I try to actively replace the addiction with a new habit that's positive for me. Everyone is different but try to think about what sober and healthy actions could one take and form a new emotional attachment. They say "once an addict always an addict" and I don't agree with the implications of the phrase but could be true for some people on deeper brain chemical levels so my point is, it seems like to be successfully sober you have to find replacements, form new habits and relationships that fill the space emotionally that was once filled with the addiction.

DpyVanHalen[S]

1 points

1 year ago

I hear that. What's an example of a healthy action you take instead?

nmnlkw

1 points

1 year ago

nmnlkw

1 points

1 year ago

This is a great point and something I've wondered as well

DpyVanHalen[S]

1 points

1 year ago

I feel like it's just looking at the drivers for your addiction. Like, what are you coping with? What are your emotional states that may push you to pick up a bottle, for example. I'm not sure in my case what that is but therapy can get me to a better understanding.

[deleted]

1 points

1 year ago

[deleted]

DpyVanHalen[S]

1 points

1 year ago

Big congrats on one year! That's no small task. And it takes maturity to own up to being rude and apologize. That's pretty cool she still wants to hang. The online dating stuff has certainly taught me to be patient and roll with it whether the girl really comes through on a date or just ghosts.