What is emotional sobriety? AA literature speaks to being “happy, joyous, and free” – a promise made by many who say, if you work a good program, you will achieve physical sobriety and become happy in the process.
However, emotional sobriety is not so much about feeling good, or bad; emotional sobriety is the ability to actually feel one’s feelings yet not be consumed by those feelings or driven to act out because of feelings – whether it is to start using again or to act out in other not-so-spiritual behaviors. Being restored to sanity isn’t about being “happy, joyous, and free” all the time, but it is about being in the present moment, whatever that happens to look like. It’s being able to be in the question: What am I experiencing right now? And how about now? Can I be present to all of my feelings without any one of them defining me?
Emotional sobriety sometimes is merely tolerating what you are feeling; it’s about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. Life can be challenging – having emotional sobriety means that you don’t blame yourself or your program when things get tough. And, it means that you don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away.
Emotional Sobriety vs. Spiritual Bypass
Often times you will hear this advice: pray about it, meditate on it, or do service work. And this can be good advice. However, if you are looking for ways to distract yourself from your feelings, then you might not be necessarily working such a good program after all. This spiritual distraction is what is known as spiritual bypass.
Now, it is normal to want to protect ourselves from our painful realities; in fact, as a defense mechanism, we are all susceptible to do this unconsciously. And using spirituality as a defense certainly looks a lot better than using drugs or alcohol. However, it is a defense mechanism nonetheless. The ability to access all of our feelings and being present to what is real is what enables choice, and choice propels us towards our most authentic and fulfilling selves in sobriety.
Bill Wilson on Emotional Sobriety
In a letter that was published in January of 1953, Bill W. addresses emotional sobriety, coming to the conclusion that his “basic flaw had always been dependence, almost absolute dependence, on people or circumstances to supply [him] with prestige, security, and the like.” He also recognized that his perfectionism and high expectations almost always led to “defeat,” which in turn would bring on another bout of depression.
Bill W. goes on further to say that the root of “every disturbance we have, great or small” is some sort of “unhealthy dependence and its consequent demand.” We must continually surrender our demands. It is then that “we can be set free to live and love: we may then be able to gain emotional sobriety.”
Emotional Sobriety and the Human Condition
So, give yourself permission to feel all of your feelings and just know that we don’t have the sort of surgical precision to only feel the feelings that we enjoy. As humans, we experience happiness and regret, joy and grief. That is just the human condition. And experiencing all of our feelings is true emotional sobriety.
http://home.earthlink.net/ letter written by Bill Wilson, January, 1953