Where did the term “emotional sobriety” come from? And how does it relate to those suffering from the symptoms of PTSD?

by | Mar 13, 2014

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The “funk” attacks…

Emotional Sobriety…  Quote from this article by Bill Wilson…

“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 anther 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 12 Steps work to release depression?” By the hour I stared at the St. Francis prayer – “It is better to comfort than be comforted.” Here was the formula all right, but why didn’t it work?”

Psychology Today…definition of “emotional sobriety”

Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D., is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist (PSY24799). She holds a Master’s in transpersonal psychology and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. As a psychotherapist and writer, she is interested emotional sobriety, holistic health, and authenticity. Since 2004, she has been working in diverse clinical settings including inpatient and outpatient dual-diagnosis treatment centers for alcoholics, addicts and their families. Ingrid’s expertise in addiction led her to conduct research on spiritual bypass (the use of spirituality to avoid dealing with one’s reality or emotional experience) in 12-Step recovery. She is the author ofRecovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice(Hazelden, 2011) and she currently maintains a private practice in Los Angeles, California.

What Is Emotional Sobriety?

Hint: It doesn’t necessarily equal “happy, joyous, and free.”
Published on July 21, 2011 by Ingrid Mathieu, Ph.D. in Emotional Sobriety
“What is emotional sobriety? Some might think that it means being “happy, joyous, and free,” a common adage in 12-Step meetings, taken from AA literature. Of course, people like this definition. It means that if they work a good program, they will achieve physical sobriety (abstinence) and become happy in the process.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this definition puts a lot of recovering people in a tough spot. For example, what does it say about a person’s emotional sobriety if they are having a hard time? What if they are afraid, anxious, sad, angry, confused … the list can go on and on. Does this mean that they aren’t emotionally sober?” 
My sister, Laura, sent me the above article by Bill Wilson discussing “emotional sobriety.”  It got my attention for a host of reasons, but mostly because sobriety is connected with recovery in the case of AA and the 12 step program.  I immediately saw a connection to moral injury and PTSD recovery, which can also include alcohol and substance abuse in the mix.  The most important pattern in common in any recovery process from depression, as an example, is to stop substance abuse, including alcohol. But once you go through the process of becoming clean and sober, the big challenge is then achieving “emotional maturity.”  Without peace of mind there is no real recovery or journey of healing in life after trauma.  Emotional maturity is a work in progress for a lifetime.  Just ask a friend or family member who has been clean and sober indefinitely. I know a few, including my sister, Laura, who is highly focused on her own path of emotional maturity since becoming clean and sober going on 10 years ago.

I can also remember clearly in the case of my own family during the “too terrible to remember 1950’s and early 1960’s” when Dad quite drinking for a few years and then came back to alcohol big time.  He eventually quit for good when he turned 55 and later achieved some peace of mind in his life by taking steps to discover, with the help of treatment, his own emotional maturity.  Even though Dad was a tad better when he didn’t drink, the emotional pain he felt from his own life experiences, especially WWII and Korean War, did not go away one bit.  Simply leaving alcohol in his past did not do much for his PTSD until later on.

It continues to amaze me about how much there is to learn about mental health challenges in general, especially the connection to alcohol and substance abuse.  The good news is a person’s success in becoming clean and sober.  More good news, is to definitely not stop your recovery process at this point.  Survivors of trauma or substance abuse can only thrive for the long term by finding a path of emotional maturity and healing that suits individual needs.  Thank you my dear and loving sister, Laura, for reinforcing the need to achieve emotional sobriety as we all seek the joy of peace of mind…

Steve Sparks

Additional reference: Emotional Maturity Highlights! This is a powerful summary of points on what emotional maturity looks like…  Thanks for the question from one of my readers!

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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