In order to “master” emotional sobriety in your recovery journey you are going to have to put in a lot of work over years or even decades.
But just because a problem like emotional sobriety is difficult to master does not mean that we should not attempt it. In fact, this is one of the single most important things that you can focus on during your recovery journey.
Because when you really look at it, the moment before an alcoholic relapses and takes a drink–that person has become emotionally upset.
So upset, in fact, that they reach a boiling point at which they say “screw it. Screw everything. I’m done.”
And that is the attitude that picks up a drink or a drug, throws caution to the wind, and creates a situation of relapse that could be fatal.
In other words, before the alcoholic relapses with actually putting the drink up to their lips, they must first relapse emotionally. Meaning that if an alcoholic is at the “screw it” stage, that means that they have become so emotionally frustrated, upset, and angry that they no longer care enough to stay sober. They are completely done.
So obviously we do not want to reach this point, or we risk throwing everything away on a relapse. We could even lose our life itself because of this.
So how do we prevent this kind of emotional upheaval from occurring? How do we protect ourselves from the threat of emotional relapse?
Unfortunately we cannot just isolate ourselves away from everyone with the idea that no one can upset us. If we attempt this then we will realize that we need people in order to recover. Isolation is not the solution.
On the other hand, if we are surrounded by toxic people who are constantly draining our energy and engaging us in emotional turmoil, that is certainly not good for our recovery either.
So we need to find a balance between healthy relationships and toxic situations. We need to find ways to do two things really:
1) Minimize the number of toxic encounters that we have to deal with emotionally, and
2) Figure out better coping strategies and skills for dealing with emotional upheaval when it does occur.
So we know that we cannot eliminate emotional turmoil from our lives completely. In order to recover we need other people and we need to become vulnerable in certain ways, and this puts our emotional state at risk. Therefore we know that at some point in our recovery journey we are going to have to deal with our emotions. That is a certain. As life continues we know that this problem will actually keep happening.
So the first strategy in my opinion is to look at your life and find your emotional trigger situations. You can do this best, in my opinion, with the help of a trained therapist.
So you get clean and sober and hopefully you will go to an inpatient treatment center in order to do so. Having gone to rehab, they will assign you to some sort of aftercare plan for when you leave treatment. That aftercare plan, for most rehab centers in question, is going to involve some sort of substance abuse counseling or therapy. It might be IOP, it might be individual counseling sessions, or whatever the case may be. But most rehabs will refer you to some sort of therapy for after you leave a 28 day inpatient rehab program.
This is good, and you should take full advantage of having a therapist in early recovery. Sure, it is important to go to AA meetings. Sure, it is important to find social and peer support in early recovery. Sure, it is important to work some sort of recovery program, such as the 12 steps. And maybe you will even have an AA or NA sponsor to help guide you through the 12 steps.
But I am talking about something above and beyond all of that. I am talking about sitting down with a trained therapist once or twice each week in order to talk about your life and your issues.
This is very helpful for the recovering alcoholic in order to identify their problem areas. A trained therapist will quickly figure out what your potential blind spots are and what your potential triggers are, then figure out a plan for you to overcome those issues.
The reason that I believe having a therapist is important is because many of us cannot see our own blind spots! We may have an emotional trigger and we do not even realize it, or we do not see the source of it, or we are in denial about what is causing our emotions, or whatever the case may be. A good therapist will cut through that ambiguity and figure out what the real issues are in your life.
Once you figure out what your trigger points are and where your heated emotions are coming from, you can then make a plan to deal with those problems and eliminate them. You may need to learn how to work on forgiveness, or you may need to learn new coping strategies, or you may need to summon the courage to leave a relationship that is unhealthy for you. Whatever the case may be, a good therapist can help you to figure out the plan and then set you in motion on executing that plan.
Now the second thing that you should consider when it comes to your emotions are coping strategies. So the first idea is to eliminate the issues and problems in your life that is causing you emotional turmoil. You can do that to an extent and you can make a certain amount of progress with that, but at some point you are going to hit a wall and run out of ways to eliminate emotional unrest.
At this point you need better coping skills. And your old method of dealing with unwanted emotions was to self medicate with chemicals, whether that was alcohol or some other drug.
Now you need new coping skills. And my best suggestion for you is to actively explore various solutions.
The reason that I say you need to explore is because we can find two people in recovery who have vastly different coping strategies when it comes to dealing with emotions, and yet both people can be successful in recovery.
Therefore, we cannot say for sure what coping mechanism, or mechanisms, will work best for a given person. You must test them out and keep searching and find what works for you.
Let me give you an example. I tried seated meditation for a long time, and I kind of got into it a bit. I was doing up to 20 minutes of continuous meditating at one time, which felt like a lot to me. And I was noticing some benefit from it, and I could see how it helped me to manage my emotional state.
However, I kept experimenting, because I still felt like I needed more when it came to my emotions.
I eventually discovered physical exercise in the form of distance running. This was my real solution.
I did not know it when I first started, because I was out of shape and running long distances was just painful at first. But I kept at it for some reason, and eventually I got to the point where running several miles was not only easy, but it was enjoyable. Relaxing. Trance inducing.
So I realized then that when I went for a 6 mile jog outdoors, my mind would wander for a while and then eventually it would slip into a zone, or a trance like state. And that zone was what people are going for when they meditate.
So I had to explore some different methods in order to find what worked for me. You should do the same. Good luck!