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Just What is Emotional Sobriety?


Can emotional sobriety be a virtual reality?

Many people believe that simply not drinking or using equals recovery. I encounter this mindset all the time in my counseling practice. While abstinence, I believe, is key to recovery, it is merely the tip of the iceberg. I often tell my clients that it may have been a drug problem that got them to my door, I do not believe that drugs or alcohol is their problem, but rather their solution!


Their problem is that they lack other solutions. It is like having only one tool in the toolbox - if you only have a hammer, then all your problems are nails. Getting sober often exposes problems in living that require new tools. Earnie Larsen, author of Phase II Recovery, says that "Getting out of a bad place is not the same as getting to a good place."


The "Big Book" of Alcoholics Anonymous states that "the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than his body" (p.23). Sounds like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, doesn't it? Change our thinking and our feelings and behavior will change too. It also aligns with the teachings of the apostle Paul who says, "do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..." (Romans 12:2).


Dr. William Silkworth, in the chapter titled "The Doctor's Opinion" (AA Big Book, p. xxvii), states that "unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery," referring to the chronic alcoholic. But how does this psychic change come about? On page 25, in the chapter titled "There is a Solution," it says this:

"The great fact is just this, and nothing less: That we have had deep and effective spiritual experiences which have revolutionized our whole attitude toward life, toward our fellows and toward God's universe. The central fact of our lives today is the absolute certainty that our Creator has entered into our hearts and lives in a way which is indeed miraculous. He has commenced to accomplish those things for us which we could never do by ourselves."


As modern-day science seeks pharmacological answers to alcoholism and addiction, I hope we do not lose sight of this spiritual answer that has worked for hundreds of thousands of people once deemed hopeless. So what does Emotional Sobriety end up looking like? Here are a few thoughts:

  • Ability to live in the space between stimulus and response.

  • Ability to recognize my need for relationship and approval of others without losing myself and becoming dependent on it.

  • Ability to tolerate differences and sometimes to agree to disagree (without being disagreeable).

  • Ability to not take things personally.

  • Ability to put one foot in front of the other while trusting God for the results.

  • Ability to shift our thinking from "I'm okay if ________," to "I'm okay even if ________."

I do believe that Emotional Sobriety is not only possible, but is a virtual reality.


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