Emotional sobriety is the long term healing achieved in the years that follow going sober. Emotional sobriety is not a guarantee when you stop drinking, but it is the thing that makes living sober an empowering freedom rather than an endless slog of wishing you could drink like the rest of the crowd. Emotional sobriety can be seen as similar to Kintsugi, the Japanese art of turning something broken into something beautiful by mending its cracks with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Many of us feel broken beyond repair and far from beautiful when we decide to stop drinking, but as with Kintsugi, the way to emotional sobriety is not to deny that we were broken, it’s not to discard or hide our broken pieces, but to eventually learn the lessons that will build a better future from understanding the motivation behind our past behavior. After picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves off and getting sober, we put ourselves back together often in a more beautiful way.
“If your heart is broken, make art with the pieces.”
[Blueprint for a Breakthrough (2013)]”― Shane Koyczan
The path to getting sober is often more straightforward than the path to staying sober. There are many self-help style sobriety approaches that are based on understanding that alcohol is an addictive drug and all who drink it will eventually become addicted. You don’t need alcohol. The people who profit from the sale of alcohol need you – addicted. Learn to see the reality of alcohol behind the sales pitch. Learn to understand the effect alcohol has on your brain so that you can fight through the withdrawals. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Just stop. It is decidedly simple but not easy.
To some extent, I agree with this approach. It is important to drop the stigma around the idea that there is an addictive personality type, an alcoholic, an addict – it’s important to drop the overly simplistic label and the shame that keep many people trapped in a cycle of isolated self-abuse. But I also know that becoming addicted often goes much deeper than succumbing to the addictive properties of alcohol, and the hypnotic effect of our ever present drinking culture. I think that people who are broken are more likely than others to succumb to addiction. People who have suffered trauma or abuse are more likely than others to try to wash away or swallow the pain and anger.
From when I was a small child, I was taught to swallow my emotions. The good ones and the bad. I was criticized if I was overtly happy or excited about something, I was told not to cry if I was sad. If I was angry, I was physically punished for it until I stopped displaying my anger. As I’ve grown up, I’ve always had that anger simmering under the surface. It’s a wild unpredictable thing and when it is awake, it is destructive. It feels like it’s an entity that I need to purge from my body physically before it consumes me. I am not always angry- in fact, I’m usually quite the opposite, but it’s always there just simmering under the surface. Of course, I have tried to drink away my pain and rage for almost half of my life because quite frankly, I am scared of my own anger. I know if I dig deeper than my anger, that the real emotion underneath is pain. Pain at injustices that never should have occurred in my childhood. Pain at my family of origins pain. I swallowed these emotions with a strong dose of drink.
How do we purge pain? Do we talk about it incessantly until we’ve talked about it just the right amount and then we automatically heal? Talk to either strangers in a bar who’ll commiserate or talk to someone we have to pay to listen? Do we continue to drink it away until we are nothing but a bag of bones? Do we just carry pain around with us for the rest of our life-is this just part of being human? Or do we just get on with it and hope that one day, our broken pieces will meld together, and we’ll finally be whole humans again.
We are taught in our many English speaking cultures that strength comes from not showing our cracks. We are taught to paint a glossy surface over our imperfections so that they cannot be seen. Never let them see you sweat. Stand tall. Don’t cry. Stop complaining.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brene Brown
I did not understand when I first stopped drinking that my strength was in my ability to accept my vulnerability. All I knew was that the more I drank the more dangerous the situation was becoming and I no longer had the strength to recover from the nightly binge. One of the things that really stuck with me when I read Allen Carr’s self-help book The Easy Way to Control Your Drinking, 6 years before I finally stopped drinking, is that if you are strong enough to survive the physical and psychological abuse that you inflict on yourself by binge drinking, you are strong enough to get through a few weeks of withdrawal and hold onto sober. And I have learned since that if you are strong enough to go sober and stay sober you are strong enough to work toward emotional sobriety and put yourself back together in a more beautiful way.
I was looking at my hands today and noticed all of the scars due to binge drinking. Most of the scars on my hand are due to cooking (trying to rather) when drunk and getting it wrong. I have scars above my lip (hit a picture in a pub when full of it, it landed on my lip), a scar to the left of my eye (no idea), knees (whoops a daisy there she goes), broken hand cos I punched something. That one hurt. Broken dishes, broken glass, broken everything. Burns, scars, scrapes, bruises, twists, sprains, breaks, fractures, … etc. Damn. The tracks and trails of injuries caused by swallowing my pain with a strong dose of alcohol.
It’s strange how much borderline pride those stories held for so many years. Those “drunk adventures” and “battle scars”. Was I drinking away the pain? No. Drinking my way to pain.
I believe that emotional sobriety is less about the quality of the feeling (“good” or “bad”) and more about the general ability to feel one’s feelings. Being restored to sanity isn’t about getting the brass ring—or cash and prizes—or being “happy, joyous, and free” all the time, but it is about being in the present moment, whatever it happens to look like. What are you experiencing right now? And how about now? Can you be present to all of your feelings without any one of them defining you? It means that you don’t necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away.
What Is Emotional Sobriety? Ingrid Clayton Ph.D.
Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. It’s about learning to accept or express everything that you once tried to swallow and wash away. As in Kintsugi, it’s not about denying that the pain or anger are there, it’s not about throwing away the broken pieces and starting over, but about lovingly mending your true self with all of the history that belongs to you. Turning something broken into something beautiful by mending its cracks with powdered gold, silver, or platinum.
Your Scars are Beautiful
Your scars are beautiful
They are brave
They show you’ve been to war
And chosen to be saved
Don’t be ashamed
They show you listened
When you were about to fall
Perhaps they were
Your wakeup call
Something was trying to get through to you
And if you’d carried on in your own “sweet” way
Perhaps you might not be here today
Give yourself a huge hug
Maybe you’ve saved yourself
From much worse luck
Your scars are a symbol
They show you chose to survive
It’s up to you now to decide if you thrive
But you have it within you to do
Definitely 🙂❤ poem by Floss
More Reading from Boozemusings :
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