Emotional sobriety is a phrase that was used by Bill Wilson in a Grapevine article, entitled The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety, published in 1958, some 20-plus years after he got sober.
Originally a letter to a friend, he charts his journey in recovery in a very specific way.
He starts by focusing on what might be called the ‘head’ part of recovery – getting sober, rebuilding his life, establishing AA, doing 12 step work etc. All the things that are in a sense practical, are outward looking and require action.
He goes on to write about how there came a time when he had to confront what might be called the ‘heart’ part of recovery. This he describes in terms of dependency, essentially the need to grow up emotionally and learn to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy dependencies in our lives.
What is Emotional Sobriety?
Since the article was first published, this phrase has become commonplace in AA and recovery generally.
It is often thought that this part of someone’s life relates to later sobriety or recovery, once someone has established a degree of physical sobriety.
Whilst there may be an element of truth in this for some people, the phrase itself was never meant to indicate a later stage or point in their sobriety.
Recovery from Alcoholism
Broadly speaking recovery has two parts. Firstly a person will get sober physically and hopefully stay sober thereafter. Many people after they have sobered up experience quite intense feelings, often of anger and fear, emotions they are likely to have been suppressed for years.
What becomes clear quite quickly, is that sobriety depends to a large extent on the ability of people to live at peace with themselves. This is the second part of recovery and is in essence emotional sobriety. It is the realization that processing a person’s underlying emotional drives are key to their staying sober.
It also becomes clear quite quickly that this is not a five-minute process. Some firefighting may be needed at the beginning of recovery, simply to stay sober, but there is likely to come a time when more intense work is needed.
This can be done in AA, but can often involve other fellowships such as Al-Anon or Coda, some type of therapy, retreats, trauma therapy, inner child work etc.
People talk about being sober in two ways, physically and emotionally. It is important to realize that they are two separate things, but completely linked to each other and pretty much inseparable.
Below are some articles which tend to highlight some areas of recovery which could be thought of in terms of emotional sobriety.