Emotional Sobriety, Or Why I Don’t Dip Into the Basket

Written By Detoxes - January 16th, 2017
Emotional Sobriety, Or Why I Don’t Dip Into the Basket

Article Contents

When I got sober, I was pretty sure all that was required of me was that I avoid injecting drugs and that I give up the prospect of toasting with champagne at my wedding. The fact that I was barely in a relationship by the time I got sober and was worried about my hypothetical wedding, should indicate that my priorities were a bit out of whack. I wasn’t even sure I was capable of putting down the drugs for good, and when I kept hearing the term “emotional sobriety” tossed around at meetings and by my new sponsor, I was a little confused and very ticked off. I had already had to give up my only solution to life- drugs- and now it was sounding like I had to change my behavior and my thoughts, too. That was a tall order for a true blue alcoholic. What I didn’t understand at the time was that emotional sobriety is not just abstinence from drugs and alcohol, but rather a way of life.

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Simply put, emotional sobriety means that we apply the principles behind the twelve steps to our daily lives. It means, to the best of my ability, I try to be honest, I maintain hope, I have faith, I walk with courage, I maintain integrity, willingness, and humility, I stay disciplined, I practice forgiveness and acceptance, I try to maintain a God-awareness, and I spread the message through service and gratitude. Obviously, accomplishing all of these things would mean I was in better spiritual condition than I ever have been, but the point is that I try. I don’t dip my hand into the basket and swipe a $5 when it comes my way. I don’t tell lies, most of the time. That’s emotional sobriety. Doing that perfectly every single day is certainly more than I can manage. In fact, some days the best thing I do is just not drink or use, and I’m a raging, unspiritual lunatic. The value of emotional sobriety, for me at least, is being aware that those principles are my ideal, and being willing to let the program and my higher power guide me closer to that ideal through practicing and few simple things in my daily life. It’s a lot more than not drinking or getting high- and the payoff is far greater than simply being abstinent from substances.

The Payoff

“So what?”

That was my reaction to the suggestion of my sponsor that I pursue emotional sobriety. Like most addicts, I suffer from the disease of extreme selfishness. What’s the payoff? I was getting sober, in the beginning, essentially for a self-interested payoff: I didn’t want to be in debt anymore and I didn’t want the consequences of active addiction. I certainly wasn’t going to pursue this nebulous idea of “emotional sobriety” without some kind of incentive. Why would I go out of my way to be a good person? That was my attitude. Here’s the wonderful thing about the steps, though (in my experience): even though I was skeptical, just doing the actions anyway (completing my steps, being a kinder and more honest human being) changed my outlook. The action came before the feeling. And before I was even aware of it, I was reaping the benefits of emotional sobriety. Here’s what it did for me:

  • Boosted my self-esteem

When I got sober, I didn’t have the highest self-worth. It’s hard to value yourself when you’re a homeless, unshowered junkie. But as I started to do the right thing, my self-esteem grew. Today, there’s no way I would out my sobriety at risk or do something to harm myself because I value who I am today. Self-esteem comes from doing esteemable acts.

  • Gave me friends

Who knew? Being a good human being attracts other good human beings to your social circle. I’m honest- for the most part- so my friends and family are honest with me. I think of others and their feelings and the people in my life return the favor. The relationships I have today are a direct result of emotional sobriety.

  • Made my program worth working

If all the twelve steps did was relieve the obsession to drink and use, that would have been greater than I expected when I came into this program- but the results are even better than that. Emotional sobriety has kept me accountable and made me more honest and kind and other-centered. These are all elements of my program that give me serenity and peace and make a continued pursuit of sobriety appealing to me. I didn’t just get rid of the drugs, I gained an entirely new perspective on life.

First Things First

As the say in the rooms, “easy does it, first things first.” Before emotional sobriety must come actual sobriety. If you can’t put down the drink or the drug, it’s going to be nearly impossible to create a new way of life- and what active alcoholic or addict would even want to? If you find you want the serenity and peace that abstinence and emotional sobriety offer, but you can’t stop drinking and using, help is out there. At Detoxes.net, we specialize in helping individuals learn to live sober, with all of the beauty and wonder that life entails. If you’re ready for that change, call us today at 1-800-232-0657.

Medically Reviewed: September 25, 2019

Dr Ashley

Medical Reviewer

Chief Editor


All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.

Dr Ashley Murray obtained her MBBCh Cum Laude in 2016. She currently practices in the public domain in South Africa. She has an interest in medical writing and has a keen interest in evidence-based medicine.

All of the information on this page has been reviewed and verified by a certified addiction professional.