For about a year and a half after I quit substances, I was getting my emotional bearings. I held tightly to some old resentments. I didn’t cope well with difficult feelings; I hadn’t yet learned to sit with them. In fact, after nearly five years sober, I’m still working on recognizing my feelings in the first place.
Emotional sobriety is the ability to cope with negative feelings you avoided with substances. Getting sober is a hard step, but I see it as the first. Much of the deeper work begins once you have removed substances.
As I wrote in an earlier blog, I see long-term sobriety as practice at life. Before getting sober, I had spent over a decade “solving” emotional problems with substances. It takes time to learn to sit in feelings. Learning which feelings to engage and which feelings to release is a process of trial and error. The more you go through each life circumstance without substances, the better equipped you are to handle it. That applies to feeling your feelings.
With guidelines around COVID-19 constantly changing, it’s a good time to work towards emotional sobriety. The next several months are uncertain.When most areas were in shelter-in-place and we were still coming to terms with the virus, we dealt with particular types of stress. States are in different re-opening phases. Now we will be dealing with new kinds of stress, having to make difficult choices about what feels safe and what doesn’t.
Sitting with emotions is hard when you are not used to doing so. You don’t have to work towards emotional sobriety alone. A therapist can give you techniques—as well as support and guidance—as you process your emotions without substances.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is a good option for this type of work. It is about becoming aware of thought and behavior patterns, and learning to reframe them. Identifying and responding (rather than reacting) to your feelings is important for gaining emotional sobriety. If you are part of a 12-step fellowship, you might work on some of these things with your sponsor.
If you have a hard time identifying your feelings, googling a feelings wheel can help. They are all slightly different, but each one is a map of possible emotions, organized to help you get specific about what you’re feeling.
I’ve mentioned journaling in numerous blogs, but it’s helpful here too. Writing through the difficult feelings helps you process them. Learning about patterns of behavior through your journal is a great way to grow. You can’t interrupt patterns unless you know what they are.
Emotional sobriety can be a sort of abstract concept. But we know it means evolving beyond simply quitting substances. It means committing to recovery—a long, continuous, and often incredible growth process.
If you are struggling with substance use or mental health, there is hope. At Amatus Recovery Centers across the country, we will help you practice healthy coping skills and build a life in long-term recovery. We are open throughout the pandemic, with hospital-grade sanitization and telehealth options, so that you can feel safe in treatment. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.