"Correctly assessing when to act versus when to accept a situation is an important aspect of emotional sobriety."

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Episode 49 -- October 1, 2020

Emotional Sobriety: How to Cope with Problems When You're Sober

Sometimes the problem isn't the problem--the problem is how we cope with the problem. That means, even when we experience more problems than usual, we still have to examine how we cope with them. We need to proceed with caution. We need to examine and see how we can approach the layers of difficulties better. Dr. Allen Berger wants us to not only achieve physical sobriety, but emotional sobriety as well. In his book, 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs Are Gone, he tells us that emotional sobriety is a process, not an event. And, part of that process is to figure out how to cope with our problems in ways that are most beneficial for our emotional--and physical--sobriety.

The following excerpt explains more about how to step back and assess what we think is the problem, to be able to figure out how to cope with it in an emotionally sober way.

This excerpt is from 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and Drugs Are Gone by Allen Berger and has been edited for brevity.

Emotional sobriety is the result of a new way of being. It's a new way of looking at life and a new way of looking at ourselves. If we commit ourselves to this journey, we will use our personal compass to guide ourselves in new directions. We will move toward being more thoughtful, and move away from being reactive. We will move toward integrity, and move away from playing games with ourselves and others. We will move toward our true-self, and move away from our idealized or false-self. We will move away from perfectionism, and move toward appreciating progress. We will strive to maintain a relationship with ourselves, to honor ourselves, and move away from betraying and abandoning ourselves.

Our growth along these lines is ongoing. Emotional sobriety is not an event; it is a process. We will never master emotional sobriety, but we will learn to grow it from our mistakes and experiences. Our efforts will help us develop a new level of compassion for ourselves and for others.

Sounds great, doesn't it? It is, and it can happen to you if you work for it! If you are willing to experiment with some of the suggestions in this book, you will begin to discover how to hold on to yourself. You will learn how to take charge of your emotions rather than letting your emotions drive you. The quality of your life will improve.

But I want to help you understand what creates the problems in our life. I want you to look at the very notion of "problems" from a different perspective and to see that the problem--whatever problem you think you have--is most often not the real problem. What you've identified as the problem is really a sign that something is lacking in your life. The "something missing" is the real problem and is a key to regaining your true-self. Your job, in seeking emotional sobriety, is to find out what's missing.

When we function from our true-self, we will cope with problems with the best and most relevant parts of ourselves. We won't let the holes in our personality dictate how we respond to a problem. As the brilliant therapist Virginia Satir stated, "The problem is not the problem. The problem is coping" (1972). Coping is hampered when we have holes in our personality. When we disown who we are, we can never cope that well with life. Life requires all hands on deck.

Throughout this book, we have explored many different ways to cope with the feelings or problems we encounter at work, in relationships, or in maintaining a relationship with ourselves. Here are a few tips for handling an impasse with a problem. Remember, what you think is the problem is not necessarily the real problem. The following actions are designed to help you discover the real problem. They help you stop, step back from the thing that's bothering you, and look for the emotional dependency underlying your reaction:

  • Do something different. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. A good rule of thumb is to do something that is 180 degrees out from what you have been doing. If you are hard, soften yourself. If you are passive, become proactive. If you are reactive, become thoughtful. If you are a pushover, become assertive. If you are paralyzed with fear, be daring and outrageous. If you are too serious, lighten up. Consider the opposite of what you typically do.
  • Reconsider issues, options, and solutions that you rejected as unacceptable or undoable in the past. In order to do this, ask yourself what you would have to change about yourself or what you would have to accept or give up for this to become a real option. Maybe you will discover that what you need to give up is something that is worth letting go of and that you would like yourself more if you could do this.
  • Stop "awfulizing." Accept the present reality as it is and settle down. Quiet yourself with a prayer or meditation instead of exacerbating your anxious state of mind.
  • Focus on containing your behavior when you are having trouble soothing yourself. Don't make things harder on yourself than they need to be. Remind yourself that this too shall pass. Take things one moment at a time.
  • Let the best of you do the thinking and talking. Stay committed to letting the best of you stay in the lead during a crisis or when struggling with an ongoing problem. Use your personal compass to keep moving toward true north.
  • Focus on the solution. Stop playing the blame game. Blame will only make it more difficult to find a solution. Choose to be a part of the solution instead of contributing to the problem.
  • Don't sweat the small stuff. Ask yourself if this issue is of critical importance. Is the issue one of ultimate concern? If it is, hold your ground; it's worth the struggle. If it's not, then it is likely your need to be right and your false pride is keeping you stuck.
  • Get some distance from the issue. Sleep on the problem. Very few things need to be resolved immediately. Take a time-out. Oftentimes creating some distance from a problem can help you gain a better perspective or calm down.
  • Listen to yourself. Don't get lost in the situation. You may already have the answer to a problem. You just have to listen to yourself to uncover it.
  • Be personal when discussing the problem. Communicate what you want, what you'd like, or what you don't want or don't like. Don't criticize and avoid asking questions; instead make statements. Be direct and clear.
  • Pay attention to the tone of your voice. Nonverbal communication is very powerful. How you communicate is as important as what you say.
  • Challenge your expectations and identify your emotional dependency. It's fine to have rules and principles to guide your behavior. But expecting other people to do it your way is unreasonable and creates lots of trouble.
  • Don't forget to laugh and enjoy the journey. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. When you catch yourself trying to be perfect, laugh it off. Don't take yourself too seriously.
  • Ask for help. Just because you have tried everything you know, it doesn't mean that the situation is hopeless. New information can help unlock gridlock.

Then, correctly assessing when to act versus when to accept a situation is an important aspect of emotional sobriety. The actions above help you gain perspective on the problem as it first presents itself, so that you can find the real "hole" beneath the problem. This work also helps you achieve emotional sobriety, because it helps you see how your emotional dependency controls you.

There is one final action, well-known to recovering people: I encourage you to use the Serenity Prayer often when you are lost or confused or struggling with an impasse. It's a wonderful and useful tool.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

Learn more about emotional sobriety from Dr. Allen Berger in his book, 12 Smart Things to Do When the Drugs and Booze Are Gone.

About the Author:
Allen Berger, Ph.D., is in private practice. He is also the author of Love Secrets Revealed, a book about making relationships work. For the past thirty-six years, Dr. Berger has been on his own personal journey in recovery while helping thousands of men and women discover a new way of life, free from addiction and its insanity. You can learn more about Dr. Berger and his work at www.abphd.com.

© 2010 by Allen Berger
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