What defines successful sobriety?
Photo by Bunnyrel
Is it merely the physical state of abstinence that we are seeking in recovery?
Or is there value in emotional sobriety as well? How important is it to maintain our emotional balance? Let’s take a look at some of these issues.
The baseline for recovery is physical abstinence. Specifically, you have to maintain abstinence from chemicals, including alcohol and any mood or mind-altering drugs. This is the bare minimum for recovery; without adhering to this you cannot even make a start on living a new life.
Trying to control or minimize the use of these substances seems like a worthwhile goal but in reality this never works. The true addict or alcoholic is defined by their inability to control their intake once they have started, so moderation is never an option. It sounds reasonable but it never works.
Therefore, the first and most important point in achieving successful sobriety is in maintaining physical abstinence, day in and day out. There is no way around this, no way to simplify it any further. You either stay clean and sober or you relapse and use drugs and alcohol.
There are times in our recovery when we get bent out of shape and basically “relapse emotionally.” We don’t actually pick up the drink or the drug but we become so worked up over something in our lives that we have essentially relapsed on an emotional level. This may or may not lead to the actual physical relapse but for the most part, we don’t want to be in this state of emotional turmoil regardless. Being restless, irritable, and discontent is no way to live.
Now these occasional lapses will happen to all of us in recovery so the key is to maintain enough awareness about ourselves so that we can catch it. Once we realize that we have lapsed emotionally like this we can take a step back and take corrective action in our life. It is not so big a deal as long as it does not lead to physical relapse.
Maintaining the balance
So the question becomes: “What is the best way to live in order to avoid both physical and emotional relapses?” The answer to that is to work the best recovery program that you know how. If you can avoid emotional relapse then the idea of picking up a drink or a drug in the physical sense becomes less of a threat. Concentrate on emotional stability and physical abstinence will take care of itself.
That means we need to focus on maintaining our emotional sobriety. For me, that means utilizing the creative theory of recovery on a daily basis. The 3 main strategies of this are:
1) Networking with others.
2) Push for personal growth.
3) Emphasis on holistic health.
In particular, the creative theory seems to work better for me at preventing emotional lapses because it evens out what used to be an emotional roller coaster. My focus has shifted since I started practicing these 3 theories and now I am more aware of my overall health…including my emotional balance and mental well-being.
The second strategy of pushing for personal growth might not seem relevant to emotional sobriety in theory but it definitely is in practice. When you are setting goals and accomplishing them on a regular basis, this creates a positive feedback loop for your self esteem such that it will minimize any emotional turmoil in your life. In other words, if you make a consistent effort, your personal growth will overshadow any negative baggage in your life. The effect of this must be felt to be appreciated. When you are making real growth in your life the positive boost in your self esteem can overcome just about any negative emotions you might encounter.
Obviously the strategy of networking with others can assist you in maintaining sobriety because we can always use the help and support from others who are on the same path as we are. This will be particularly helpful the earlier you are in your recovery, but there is always a place for peer support. Sometimes we will just need an outlet to keep ourselves in check emotionally.
And finally our holistic health efforts are going to include several things that help to smooth out our emotional life. As we pursue holistic health we become more mindful of our emotional state and can thus identify problems quicker and respond to them. If we pay attention to our overall health and strive to be healthier people we can cut down on some of the emotional upheavals that can come from various health problems as well.
So basically you want to maintain physical sobriety as an absolute, and strive to maintain emotional sobriety through the use of those 3 strategies. Doing so will give you the best chances at staying sober in the long run.