What Is Emotional Sobriety? A Withheld Recovery Secret!

Emotional Sobriety

What Is Emotional Sobriety? The Sobriety Baseball Diamond

Let’s get real, no one gets sober to feel like shit. That’s the reason we get high. 

If we take this “realness” a step further, we will also admit that without emotional sobriety long-term sobriety is a longshot. 

Emotional Sobriety

The Essentials To Emotional Sobriety

Think of it this way. 

Picture a baseball diamond. 

First base is physical sobriety, second base is mental sobriety, and third base is emotional sobriety. 

Sure, you might be thinking “what about spiritual sobriety?” 

Well that’s home plate, it’s where you start and where you end.

Emotional Sobriety

First Base: Physical Sobriety

Physical sobriety is putting the plug in the jug. 

It’s pure abstinence. 

I’d argue it’s also exercising and taking care of your body.

But for the most part when we say physical sobriety we just refer to physical abstinence.

Second Base: Mental Sobriety

Mental sobriety is a massive leap. 

This is the domain of stinking thinking, or lack thereof. 

Here we start challenging irrational and self-defeating beliefs. 

For example, maybe I’ve long held the belief that nobody could ever possibly want to be in a relationship with me. 

This, of course, is irrational because there is somebody for everybody. 

There are simply too many people for one to remain alone without choosing it. 

Moreover, it’s self-defeating because I am somebody and I must obviously love myself.

In a sense, I exist in a relationship with myself and presumably this is a healthy relationship.

If I don’t love myself I’m already defeating myself. 

So, quite naturally, it’s either I’m not a “person” or the problem is not that nobody wants to be in a relationship with me but rather that I don’t want to be in a relationship where I’m included. 

It follows that I’m shooting down relationships before they even start.

I just don’t want to be in a relationship because it makes me uncomfortable and fearful. 

I fear the sensations that accompany feelings of loneliness, rejection, and emptiness.

This in fact has nothing to do with anyone else other than me!

Let’s not skirt around the issue. 

Mental sobriety is all about confronting these phony thought processes.

As we think through the beliefs we hold, examining where they are self-defeating, we learn a lot about how we create most of our biggest fears and obstacles. 

Third Base: Emotional Sobriety

The problem with mental sobriety is that it doesn’t go far enough. 

We can intellectually understand these issues yet still be emotionally enslaved by them.

Third base is the sphere of self-control, virtue, and adaptability. 

Bill Wilson in a classic Grapevine article captures it’s depth and breadth perfectly. 

He refers to the emotions as “urges” or physical sensations that motivate some action.

Additionally, these urges are driven by specific demands. . 

Before I go any further, let me introduce Bill W.

*enters stage to the sound of wild applause*

Classic Bill W Emotional Sobriety Letter

I think that many oldsters who have put our AA “booze cure” to severe but successful tests still find they often lack emotional sobriety. Perhaps they will be the spearhead for the next major development in AA, the development of much more real maturity and balance (which is to say, humility) in our relations with ourselves, with our fellows, and with God.

Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval, perfect security, and perfect romance, urges quite appropriate to age seventeen, prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age forty-seven and fifty-seven.

Since AA began, I´ve taken immense wallops in all these areas because of my failure to grow up emotionally and spiritually. My God, how painful it is to keep demanding the impossible, and how very painful to discover, finally, that all along we have had the cart before the horse. Then comes the final agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have been, but still finding ourselves unable to get off the emotional merry-go-round.

How to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional result, and so into easy, happy and good living. Well, that´s not only the neurotic´s problem, it´s the problem of life itself for all of us who have got to the point of real willingness to hew to right principles in all of our affairs.

Even then, as we hew away, peace and joy may still elude us. That´s the place so many of us AA oldsters have come to. And it´s a hell of a spot, literally. How shall our unconscious, from which so many of our fears, compulsions and phony aspirations still stream, be brought into line with what we actually believe, know and want! How to convince our dumb, raging and hidden Mr. Hyde’ becomes our main task.

I´ve recently come to believe that this can be achieved. I believe so because I begin to see many benighted ones, folks like you and me, commencing to get results. Last autumn, depression, having no really rational cause at all, almost took me to the cleaners. I began to be scared that I was in for another long chronic spell. Considering the grief I´ve had with depressions, it wasn´t a bright prospect.

I kept asking myself “Why can´t the twelve steps work to release depression?” By the hour, I stared at the St. Francis Prayer … “it´s better to comfort than to be comforted.” Here was the formula, all right, but why didn´t it work?

Suddenly, I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence, almost absolute dependence, on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.

There wasn´t a chance of making the outgoing love of St. Francis a workable and joyous way of life until these fatal and almost absolute dependencies were cut away.

Because I had over the years undergone a little spiritual development, the absolute quality of these frightful dependencies had never before been so starkly revealed. Reinforced by what grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed upon any act of circumstance whatsoever.

Then only could I be free to love as Francis did. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw, were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing love appropriate to each relation of life.

Plainly, I could not avail myself to God´s love until I was able to offer it back to Him by loving others as He would have me. And I couldn´t possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies.

For my dependence meant demand, a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me.

While those words “absolute dependence” may look like a gimmick, they were the ones that helped to trigger my release into my present degree of stability and quietness of mind, qualities which I am now trying to consolidate by offering love to others regardless of the return to me.

This seems to be the primary healing circuit: an outgoing love of God´s creation and His people, by means of which we avail ourselves of His love for us. It is most clear that the real current can´t flow until our paralyzing dependencies are broken, and broken at depth. Only then can we possibly have a glimmer of what adult love really is.

If we examine every disturbance we have, great or small, we will find at the root of it some unhealthy dependence and its consequent demand. Let us, with God´s help, continually surrender these hobbling demands. Then we can be set free to live and love: we may then be able to gain emotional sobriety.

Of course, I haven´t offered you a really new idea — only a gimmick that has started to unhook several of my own hexes´ at depth. Nowadays, my brain no longer races compulsively in either elation, grandiosity or depression. I have been given a quiet place in bright sunshine.

Dependency & Demand: The Dynamics of Emotional Sobriety

Bill appears to create three distinct emotional categories: social, security, sexual

When one area is overemphasized, which we will refer to as a dependency, a subsequent impossible demand is set in place.

It’s impossible because it can never truly be satisfied. A dependency in one area is always at the expense of the others. 

This can easily be witnessed by examining the demands connected to the dependency. 

Let’s look at an example.

Dependency: The need to be liked and approved by everyone

Emotional category: Social 

The demanded behavior and how it affects the other categories:

  • It creates superficial and inauthentic behavior around others.
  • This results in a lack of vulnerability.
  • Vulnerability is necessary for intimacy, healthy relationships, and lasting security.
  • Therefore, by overly focusing on the social the individual doesn’t satisfy the categories of sex and security

This might at first blush appear as a cognitive exercise, or mental sobriety. 

Consequently, how it differs is in the urge. 

The ability to resist giving into the urge of the demand is the crux of emotional sobriety. 

In other words, the dependency is mental sobriety and dealing with the demands of it and the emotional urge and sensations is emotional sobriety. 

You can understand the dependency inside out, but if you cannot regulate the urge of the demand you’ve effectively changed nothing at all. 

What is Emotional Sobriety?

Emotional sobriety is a skill of emotional regulation and subjugation of feelings to virtue. 

The Greeks identified Four Cardinal Virtues:

  • Prudence
  • Justice
  • Fortitude
  • Temperance.

Or if you prefer: wisdom, morality, courage, and moderation.

Everyone of us needs principles or values to act as a compass. The Four Cardinal Virtues are tried, tested, and proven.

This is an excellent place to start.

It’s critical that a person in recovery learn emotional sobriety.


Because it’s incredibly difficult to maintain physical sobriety without it! 

People that just have physical sobriety without mental and emotional sobriety we refer to as “dry drunks” or “white knuckle sobriety.”

Emotional Sobriety

How To Practice Emotional Sobriety

The 12-Step method leverages various ancient practices of spiritual formation to enable emotional well-being. 

They insist on the power of prayer and meditation, inventories (journaling), devotional literature, service work and charity, and strong support. 

Outside of the 12-Step world Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) produced mass amounts of literature on the subject. 

Somatic therapies such as Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) have enabled people who struggle to find success with CBT.

Of course, Yoga, Tai chi, chiropractic care, acupuncture and acupressure, as well as various other exercises and holistic disciplines also play an integral role.

Additionally, innumerable support groups exist, just waiting for you to attend! 


Don’t allow your dependencies to create impossible demands. 

Don’t allow your demands and their urges to run the show. 

Discover your values and let your principles take charge.

After all, “I haven´t offered you a really new idea — only a gimmick that has started to unhook several of my own hexes´ at depth.”