Getting Sober / Staying Sober


Emotional Sobriety – What Does It Really Mean ?

Everyone’s journey from active alcoholism into sobriety is both unique and complex.

One thing that is fairly common however, is that when people do sober up, they have to start living with themselves without alcohol.

This means beginning to live with the reality of what they were trying to escape from when drinking, both internally and externally.

For many people, this can be a pretty daunting process, can take a long time and is a lot of work to really heal. It is probably fair to describe this process as emotional sobriety.

The phrase emotional sobriety was first used by Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous, in an article he wrote for the AA Grapevine in January 1958.

The article was entitled The Next Frontier : Emotional Sobriety.

In the article, Bill Wilson outlined his thoughts on the emotional struggles he had had, largely during the time of his depression, and how he had come through them with a much stronger sense of his inner world and what it meant to him.

Many people seek to interpret this phrase, and how Bill Wilson wrote about it, in a number of different ways.

The reality is, as with everything that he wrote, and all AA literature, that people have an absolute freedom to interpret in anyway they find helpful or not.

Trying to interpret his writings in ways that mean people have to fit their own experience into the context of what he was saying, is in many ways an emotional death wish, and something he most likely would never have intended or wanted.

It is clear from pretty much all of his writings that he intended to share his experience, both at a personal and an AA level, in the hope that it could be helpful to people, and that they could use his experience as part of the process of rebuilding their own life once they got sober.

Getting Sober

It is probably a fair assumption to say that the emotional drives that fuel people’s alcoholism are for most people fairly deep-rooted, and quite often go back to childhood.

When someone gets sober, they start to live with the legacy of these emotional drives as they affect them on a day-to-day basis. The depth of this emotional trauma can often seem too overwhelming to go near for many people.

Most people soon begin to realise that their emotional lives are out of control at some level, and that in some way this either contributed to their drinking, or was the cause of the dread/terror inside them that alcohol seemed to be the solution to.

People’s understanding of their own alcoholism comes in time, and this sense that alcohol was the solution, not the problem, is pretty common and pretty core to this understanding.

It is also completely at odds with the understanding that someone who is not an alcoholic is likely to have of alcoholism generally.

Emotional Turmoil

There is a saying in AA, that when you get sober you begin to realise why you drank.

This is not normally intended to be taken literally, as in finding the reasons people drink alcoholically.

It is meant to refer to the fact that when people get sober, they begin to live with themselves without alcohol, and as such soon begin to realise at some level this emotional turmoil that fuelled their drinking.

At some point in their recovery, people are likely to realise that they need to in some way process this emotional turmoil or they are likely to start drinking again.

This is normally around the fact that most alcoholics see / saw alcohol as the solution to their problems, not the problem itself.

Once sober, the alcohol is gone, and people have to start living with themselves without it.

This can be a fairly tough thing to accept, and people’s ways of dealing with it differ significantly.

It is very likely however that it will take a significant degree of emotional pain before people become willing to really own and address their underlying emotional issues, although there are obviously many different reasons for this.

The phrase emotional sobriety really covers this entire process, pretty much from day one through till whenever it stops !

It is probably a mistake to think that the phrase only deals with issues of later recovery, or with issues of depression.

The nature of staying sober for many people is around finding ways of healing the internal emotional turmoil that alcohol helped to give some relief from, and this is normally a lifelong process.

Alcoholic Homes

Although anecdotal, it is fairly clear that a significant number of alcoholics in recovery grew up in what are normally referred to as alcoholic homes.

This normally refers to homes where either one or both parents were active alcoholics, or where there was a significant number of alcoholics in the extended family.

The effects of growing up in an alcoholic home can be varied, but there are a number of common traits.

The most common one is an absence of safety.

This can either be an emotional absence, or an actual absence or both.

People growing up in alcoholic homes describe a total lack of stability or safety, the lack of feeling anyone is in control, and the need to take responsibility for their own lives at an early age.

Growing up in an alcoholic home has a significant impact on someone’s development and sense of self.

It can distort ancestry damage how someone  relates to themselves and other people.

Someone who is also an alcoholic themselves and grows up in an alcoholic home will find that the emotional chaos of their childhood is likely to have played a significant part in their own emotional development, and how they tried to force their life to work in some way.

Emotional sobriety is about finding ways of healing this emotional turmoil, and getting a real sense of peace and stability internally that can enable someone to really live at peace with themselves, possibly for the first time ever.


What is depression?

Depression is one of those words that is widely used in a rehab/treatment center and in meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step fellowships.

In many ways the word depression can mean anything that anyone want to mean, although it doesn’t have a very clear clinical and medical meaning.

A rehab may have, in fact should have qualified medical personnel who would build to diagnose clinical depression, but that is not normally a part of the treatment process that can be fully relied upon in a rehab or anywhere else.

The significance of the word depression, and its meanings, can be looked at in a number of different ways in order to help alleviate whatever the underlying condition.

It is a given, but anyone who feels the need should seek medical attention or diagnosis of a condition, any conditions, and depression is certainly a condition that can be diagnosed and treated if appropriate.

In many ways it is more important in a 12 step fellowship sense to talk about some of the underlying emotional drives that can make a person feel depressed.

Given that there can be differences of view about what the word depression means, it is important that when a person enters a rehab goes to an AA meeting, they have the freedom to acknowledge who they are and how they are feeling.

A rehab will from day one, hopefully, encourage an alcoholic to own whatever feelings are going on as being valid in their own right and looked at.

The need to look at feelings and see what is giving rise to them is hugely important in a recovery context.

Recovery from alcoholism whether it begins in a rehab or an AA meeting, is about learning to live with oneself sober.

This means that acknowledging one’s feelings and understanding where they come from in terms of emotional drives is a key part of sobriety.

Many people begin the journey of recovery in a rehab, and the time spent there will be fairly minimal in comparison to the time needed to really deal with these underlying emotional drives.

It is important that a rehab does not dismiss feelings of depression or low energy levels are simply being that of self-pity or some other oversimplification.

There is a tendency in AA meetings to do this sometimes, and it is important that the rehab does not encourage this.

A rehab will often have a programme of recovery that is modelled on the first five steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Whilst the therapeutic work itself will be different, it will open the alcoholic up to an awareness of some of the feelings that are going on inside them, and if the therapists who are working at a rehab know what they are doing, the alcoholic will be guided gently bringing these feelings and encouraged to seek out ways of processing them.

A rehab all quite often have a number of physical therapies available to help the alcoholic whilst in treatment.

These may be fairly normal activities such as a gym, yoga classes, chi kung, breath work and other types of activity that can promote physical health and well-being.

Resident in a rehab will be encouraged to try out these different activities, and certainly an improvement in physical health is welcome.

It is important to recognise however that recovery in a rehab for an AA meeting begins first and foremost with someone’s spiritual development not their physical improvement or physique.

Working on someone’s inner world is an important process, and if done appropriately in a rehab will help the person heal a number of the hurts and emotional drives that have fuelled their drinking and their alcoholism.

Some rehabs will have a detox as part of their treatment center facilities. Other rehabs will have arrangements with local hospitals where detox can take place if necessary.

It is important to note, and a rehab should certainly be aware of this, that anyone who has very recently come off a period of sustained drinking needs a reasonable amount of time for their body to begin to regulate itself properly.

This applies to their mental health as well as their physical health, and should be taken into account by a rehab when dealing with any issues of depression, clinical or otherwise.


Spirituality and Depression

Relationship Between Spirituality and Depressive Symptoms Among Inpatient Individuals Who Abuse Substances

Naelys Diaz

  1.  1. E. Gail Horton
  2.  2. Diane Green1
  3.  3. John McIlveen
  4.  4. Michael Weiner
  5.  5. Donald Mullaney

This study aims to examine the relationship between spirituality and believing in God’s presence and depressive symptoms among 160 inpatient individuals who abuse substances. Findings indicated that both spirituality and believing in God’s presence were significant predictors of depressive symptoms, whereby spirituality was inversely related to depressive symptoms and believing in God’s presence was positively related to depressive symptoms. These findings may have implications for mental health practitioners considering implementation of spiritually based interventions that can develop and strengthen clients’ spirituality.


Counseling and Values

Volume 56,Issue 1-2,pages 43–56,October 2011

For full article and link , click here