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How to Achieve and Maintain Emotional Sobriety for Long-Term Recovery

Achieving full recovery takes both physical and emotional sobriety. During recovery, we are all too familiar with the physical dependency but we understand very little of the emotions that drives our destructive behaviors. So many of us are plagued by painful past experiences, but the good news is, regardless of what caused so much pain, we can always grow from those experiences.

If you want to learn and grow from your mistakes and start off the new year right, read on to see what the experts said about Emotional Sobriety and how it can help you fully recover from your addiction.


Emotional Sobriety

31 Addiction Experts Share Their Tips & Strategies on How to Achieve and Maintain Emotional Sobriety In Your Life

Jaime Stiansen

Certified Health Coach

Cori Rosenthal


Chelsea Edgecumbe


Sonia Paz


Daniel McGrath


Catherine DeMonte


Ajia Cherry

ACE Health Coach

Shawna Kurz


Christopher Hostetler


Jeanne Heileman

MA, 500-ERYT

Christina Bjorndal

Naturopathic Doctor

Hilary Jackendoff

Tantric Meditation Teacher

Judy Meyer


Kathleen Kastner

Master’s Degree in Exercise Physiology

William Shryer

Jamie Reygle

Matthew Sockolov

Colleen Mullen

Psy.D., LMFT

Karen Stewart

Clinical Psychologist

Jodi Bullock

Holistic Health Coach

Lisa Young

Ph.D., R.D.

Ondina Nandine Hatvany


Thomas Lucking


Laurel del Camino


Shayna Hiller


Julie Bertrand


Nichol Chase


Andrea Trank


Kim Clavette

Certified Health Coach

Melanie Yetter


Audrey Hope

I believe that in order to achieve emotional sobriety, first you need to recognize what your emotions are, then you need to learn how to regulate them using various techniques such as meditation, group support, having strong social supports, and exercise. We have to acknowledge what we don’t have control over and make peace with those things in some way. Taking care of yourself physically by eating right and exercising will also help to regulate emotional sobriety. Neuroscience actually tells us that “play” and exercise can help decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety. So pursuing a work life balance with strong recreational habits is also valuable. In regards to maintaining emotional sobriety- setting yourself up for success is key by having strong social supports, maintaining mental health with exercise and nourishing foods and continuing to implement self care strategies for resilience.

A daily mindfulness practice can support you to gradually increase tolerance of difficult emotions, enabling you to achieve emotional sobriety. It is best to begin with baby steps, first learning and practicing basic mindfulness and then practicing dealing with emotions. If you don’t have access to a meditation teacher, there are a lot of apps on the market now. I like even flow for the iPhone because this app combines meditation with psychological insights. Their free section will teach you basic mindfulness and the premium meditations have specific meditations for dealing with difficult emotions.

The first thing I tell my clients who are in recovery is that if you are experiencing symptoms such as anxiety or depression, such feelings are there for a reason. It is important to acknowledge and explore why those symptoms are showing up. Often, they have been avoided or numbed with substances for a long time. Becoming aware of the reason for the distress you’re experiencing is an excellent first step in gaining the emotional healing that is needed.

To me emotional sobriety means emotional health and well-being. This is a work in progress and its an achievement we will continue to work on and build on throughout our lives. The key components of working on our emotional sobriety is to know what our triggers are that throw us off balance. By recognizing and working on our triggers we can be more in control of our emotional reactions and well-being. Self-care is another important component. Take good care of yourself, be forgiving, be compassionate and give yourself positive self-talk daily. Lastly, I think forgiveness of our families who have hurt us is very important in our emotional well-being. Forgiving them for their mistakes, hurts, imperfections and illnesses. Best wishes to all of us for finding emotional sobriety.

The answer to this question could easily fill a book, and has actually filled many books, with many different answers. From my perspective, it starts with a clear recognition that it the benefits of sobriety far outweigh any other alternatives. The process of considering what those benefits are might not be too complicated, but the specific benefits will vary widely from one person to another. Until we know why our life will be best when lived with sobriety, not much else is likely to happen, or continue to happen. Commitment is critical in this area.

I maintain emotional sobriety in my life by bringing daily awareness and attention to my spiritual life, which simply means striving to be my best and authentic self as much as possible. I do this with exercise, getting outside, striving to be kind and remembering we are all connected. By reading, by stillness, and being compassionate. By limiting the amount of news I take in while still staying informed, and by connecting with loved ones.

Achieving and maintaining emotional sobriety in your life starts with your support system. If you don’t have a support system that can carry you through the worst of times them it’s time to find others. Look for people that may have experienced what you are experiencing and that truly want to see you succeed. Once that’s in place you’ll be better set up for success.

So many people believe that by extinguishing the addiction (kicking the substance or habit) they’ve eliminated the problem. However, that leaves a gaping hole in the sufferers life and sense of self that needs to be filled, so to speak. I believe for each person it’s different, but the common threads are establishing healthy relationships with healthy boundaries, learning ones own boundaries (not over extending oneself emotionally or otherwise), and really setting aside the time (and putting in the hard work) to re-develop a new sense of self.

Maintaining emotional sobriety is paramount to living a happy life. I maintain emotional sobriety by keeping my “circle” intact. My “circle” involves daily actions. Those include meditation, prayer, exercise, a healthy diet and helping others.

Instead of compartmentalizing each facet, I consider the sum of the whole to complete the circle and to merge into my lifestyle. For good.

Choosing Emotional Sobriety means that the onset of any emotional pain is going to hit and likely feel hard, at first. What motivates me is that each time I choose to soften and allow the pain to move through me, I know that I am becoming more present with myself. That presence means that I am able to be more present with others. I desire to cultivate sincere, meaningful relationships and they can only be found through the ability to remain present. So, when I get a craving to run away from a difficult emotion, I remind myself that my desire for deep human connection is greater than the current craving. I also remind myself that nothing stays the same and this feeling will be very different in the morning, or even hours later.

10 Steps to a New You

1. Breathe: Those who practice deep breathing have better memories and are have an enhanced ability to cope with stress.
2. Eat your veggies: Vegetables are high in antioxidants so they can slow the aging process, they fill you up and provide much needed fiber for a healthy gut.
3. Get a good sleep: While sleeping your body focuses on detoxifying your tissues and reversing the harmful effects of pollution, bad eating and stress.
4. Correct imbalances: Whether lifestyle, energetic or dietary, imbalances use up valuable energy and resources without giving you anything back. Pick one imbalance you can correct –i.e. drinking more water. And then build on this. Your body will thank you.
5. Honor yourself: When you are giving yourself what you need, your body has a wonderful way of healing itself and attracting more goodness into your life.
6. Exercise and get outside: Increasing your heart rate and moving your muscles increases the bodies ability of to fight stress, illness and injury. Being in touch with the outdoors makes you aware of natural rhythms and improves mood and energy.
7. Eat organic foods, drink purified water: When you give your body the right building blocks, you build better tissue leading to improved health. Plus it just simply tastes better!
8. Make connections: Women generally live longer and are happier because of the power of the relationships they form. The number and quality of relationships is directly proportional to the perceived quality of life in several studies.
9. Detoxify: Exposure to daily hazards leads to a build up of chemicals in the body. Only when these toxins are removed can the body function as it should. Consult with a naturopathic doctor to help with this process.
10. Play, be creative: As we get older, we forget to really enjoy life. Plan a fun activity every day, whether it is a hobby, watching a 30 min sitcom or chatting with a friend nurture your inner child. You deserve it!

Whenever I am going through a difficult time and processing big emotions like shame, guilt or fear, I practice meditation, often self-compassion meditation. Meditation doesn’t necessarily change the emotion, but it helps me recognize that it’s okay to feel the way I do, that I’ve felt that way before, and I’ll feel that way again. It helps me remember that it’s okay to feel uncomfortable, big emotions – and that no emotional experience, no matter what it is, is permanent. Meditation helps me recognize that everything comes and goes, and neither our thoughts nor our emotions define us. Most importantly, meditation helps me to actually be IN the moment, regardless of whether or not I like what it contains.

I also use journaling to help me find clarity around my emotions and get to the root of why a particular situation is causing me so much distress. Writing things down on paper (the old fashion way, with a pen!) is incredibly transformative and healing. It gives you the ability to rationally process and make sense of a difficult emotional experience, and give it the attention it deserves, so you can actually truly move on and let go.

In my practice, I show people how to use minerals like magnesium to soothe anxiety, and vitamins like chromium to help eliminate alcohol cravings. Many emotional issues are tied to a deficiency of nutrients, and can be easily corrected.

Daily spiritual practice through prayer, meditation, yoga, waking in nature and getting adequate sunshine. Eating a healthy plant- based vegan diet that is high in prana, life force, and not based in animal suffering. Practicing gratitude throughout the day with affirmations and praise to God. Spending time with pets and family members is important to me along with volunteering and giving back to the community in service.

First and foremost, do not isolate. Second eat properly and avoid processed foods. Take supplements such as GABA and L-Glutamine and NAC every day. Exercise is also a crucial component of sobriety emotionally and physically. Find things you enjoy and do them with a group, be it AA or any other group so this relates back to #1.

According to Promises Treatment Center, “Being emotionally sober means getting in touch with your emotions, whether positive or negative, and allowing yourself to feel them.” This, of course, is a key component of the practice of mindfulness.

As one of our teachers at InStill Mindfulness SWVA likes to say, in practicing mindfulness we are not so much trying to let things go as we are trying to let them in. When we come across a difficult emotion, instead of trying to push (or wash, or pop, or smoke) it away, we welcome it in, investigate it, experience it, and give it the compassion it is longing for.

In ‘A Course in Miracles’, it says everything is either a cry for love or an expression of love. A difficult emotion is—in this context—a cry for love. In our culture we have typically been taught to deny these emotions, which simply leaves them bottled up inside. As we continue to bottle them up, they build and build until we find a way of releasing them. Drugs and alcohol appear to be great mechanisms for this, partly because they help distract us from our current reality, but also because they enable us to shift the responsibility for our words and actions from ourselves to the substance we are abusing.

If, instead, we embrace these emotions as non-judgmentally as possible, and simply notice the experience of having them, we put ourselves in a position of understanding in which we can see both where the emotion is coming from, and the impact it has on ourselves and others.

This doesn’t mean that we stop having these emotions, especially not in the short term. Indeed, as we begin to uncover some of the more difficult emotions that we’ve been trying to hide from ourselves and others, we may even experience them more often and more intensely. What it does mean is that we come to accept them as a part of who we are in this moment.

Which leads to another core concept of mindfulness: impermanence. One thing that helps drive some of our strongest emotions is identifying with them: how many times do we hear someone say something like, “I’m an angry person,” or “I’m always depressed”? There is a solidity that comes with identity, that makes it so much harder to shake off. The truth is that we are not any one of our emotions, instead we are a constantly changing conglomeration of emotions, thoughts, sensations, perceptions, and experience. With mindfulness, we come to appreciate this and become more attentive to what this is now. As Ajahn Sumedho likes to say, “Right now, it’s like this.”

When we appreciate the impermanence of an emotion, we loosen our attachment to it, and therefore our identity with it. As this happens, it becomes much easier to come to terms with it, because we are no longer looking at “me”, but “a part of me in this moment.”

So emotional sobriety is a byproduct of practicing mindfulness. This is an important point. Another key concept of mindfulness is detachment, and this includes detachment to expectation. If we practice mindfulness with the intention of developing emotional sobriety, we are much less likely to achieve it that if we practice mindfulness simply to see what happens next (or, more appropriately, to see what is happening now). Certainly, intention is important in mindfulness, but only insofar as your intention is to practice mindfulness to the best of your ability. Beyond that, intention becomes expectation, and expectation is blinkered, blinding us to the full range of possibilities that lie before us.

The only question really is, where do you start? And the answer is simple: start here, with this. Wherever here may be, and with whatever this is now. If it happens to be a difficult emotion, fantastic! If it happens to be a wonderful emotion, fantastic! If it happens to be a recurring thought, fantastic! It really doesn’t matter: just be with it and notice with curiosity what you have before you. That is all mindfulness really is.

I have found for myself that emotional sobriety requires awareness of my experience. When I am not diligent, the emotions and thoughts can fester until I am acting in a way that causes harm. In order to cultivate emotional sobriety, I need to practice awareness of my experience.

For me, meditation is the key here. By practicing mindfulness meditation, I am able to see my experience as it arises. I notice when I am frustrated, long before I am in a state of rage. I notice when I am agitated, long before I am having a panic attack. As we continue to investigate our experience, we can see these emotions as they begin to arise, rather than once they’ve already taken hold of our actions.

Keep practicing the things that keep you stable even when you don’t feel you need them (i.e. connection with friends, exercise, support meetings, personal therapy, implementing coping methods). When we are most stable emotionally, its a great time to reinforce our life skills and get a routine in place so that when life become chaotic, or throws obstacles at us, our routine will help us feel some sense of stability and help us be more resilient.

Constant practice is the key. One must keep reminding themselves of the positive aspects of their lives, why they wanted this change, and how emotional sobriety has benefitted their lives. I recommend my patients use gratitude journals to record their positive thoughts, meditate and practice mindfulness to remain grounded and present.

This starts with a decision that you choose to feel good and put yourself and body first rather than drinking or using. As you eliminate those things from your body, your job is to feel good however you can, because the actions you were taking before were coming from a place of trying to self-soothe, so how can you accomplish this in a safer, healthier way? One very important way is to make it as easy on your physical body as possible. This means consistently working to restore healthy kinds of glucose to your body in the form of lots of fruits and starchy vegetables, and eating consistently to help ease the transition of the body to begin to heal. The second piece would be to find a mindset practice that you can identify with and feel into. Meditation is my first recommendation and may take some time to fully relax into, but consistent daily practice of working to still your thoughts is so so very powerful, because you want to stop hearing the lies and false beliefs you have been thinking and believing and get in tune with who you really are and what you are really here for. So excellent nutrition and a form of mindset and meditation that will enable you to learn how to self-soothe in a very healthy way.

My tip as a nutritionist and health advocate is to get in touch with your inner self. Exercise regularly and practice meditation and mindfulness techniques. Eat balanced meals with lean protein, vegetables and fruits at each meal and limit added sugar. Finally, be grateful for all the good you already have in life.

To achieve and maintain emotional sobriety in the recovery process it’s important to address root causes, often these can be underlying traumas. If these are ignored during the recovery process, in my experience although initial sobriety has been achieved, there is often relapse.

Balance, balance, balance. Understand the core domains of nurturing in your life such as mind body spirit social (many ways to categorize them) and create good habits in each area to be well fed in each domain. Then evaluate habits as healthy or unhealthy based on emotional outcomes. Get help if bad habits or even addictions are unmanageable.

In order to achieve and maintain emotional sobriety, you have to know what works for you. When I work with clients, I find creating routines is the most effective. This could be a morning routine of breathing or movement and a nighttime routine to wind down. The point of the routine is to bring a mindfulness practice into their day-to- day life.

Achieving and maintaining emotional sobriety is the result of identifying less with the fluctuation of thoughts, memories, beliefs, etc. and instead becoming the witness to the inevitable waves of the mind. Meditation teaches that thoughts are like clouds passing through a clear blue sky, and our true nature is the blue sky. Our essence as humans is spacious awareness, uncolored and pure. When we shift from thinking we are our mind to seeing our mind as a tool, there is a chance for peace which cannot be extracted form our being. Peace is our natural state, despite the ebb and flow of life circumstances. Also, choosing to stay present is essential in order to avoid reacting impulsively to what live serves us and instead responding with awareness, as each moment is a moment unto itself.

Emotional sobriety for me came through cultivating a spiritual tool box. After years of trying to heal with western psychology and medication, I turned to the ancient and traditional spiritual tools of meditation, yoga, breathwork and herbs. That’s when I really began to heal.

Meditation allows you to release the stories in your mind and to see things as how they really are. Often times we worry about thing by getting stuck in the past or having anxiety about the future. It’s a story we write in our minds. Sure things can get stressful and even sorrowful. We may experience illness, loss and despair. However we need not spiral down. Meditation and yoga allows you to clear the mind, dismiss the stories and find peace, contentment and joy. Just the act of connecting with your breath can give you a dose of healing energy more powerful than any pill.

To achieve and maintain emotional sobriety in my life takes dedication and practice every moment of every day. This is why I invest in practices that help to cultivate a peaceful and accepting state in my body, my mind, and my heart. For my body, I practice hatha yoga and go on long walks outdoors. For my mind, I practice meditation and read great works like the Bhagavad Gita, the Yoga Sutras and the Dhammapada. For my heart, I sing, listen to music, read poetry, and dance. All of these practices open my eyes to how truly connected we all are. Knowing that we are all in this together, that we all want emotional sobriety is what ultimately brings me the greatest sense of ease and well being. I have moments of clairvoyance, and like everyone, I inevitably forget. So, I return to my practices to remember. The path toward emotional sobriety is all about connection with and love of all living beings (and yes, this includes loving and accepting myself). I think the Metta Sutta says it best, “So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings.”

For years I struggled with anxiety, both generalized and acute like Panic Attacks. I did not realize until I started studying nutrition and working on my diet, how connected my gut and brain were. There are many tools available today to maintain your best emotional health. What I focus on is sleep, yoga and other forms of mind/body practices like meditation and breathing. However, a critical component for most people, is understanding how food affects their mood. Blood sugar swings and the wrong diet can cause havoc not only on your body, but your mind too. Working with a health coach to figure out how to optimize your nutrition will make you feel better. When you feel better, you are happier. Health and happiness are so tied to one another, so start with analyzing your diet with a Functional Health or Nutrition Coach and you will be amazed how much your emotional health will stabilize.

Kim Clavette

Certified Health Coach

Resolve early childhood traumas using neurokinesis. Learn techniques of self soothing and make them a part of your life. Maintain a healthy body, exercise, rest, nutrition. Find meaningful activities, work, hobbies, and passions, volunteering. Process emotional ups and downs as they happen. Practice being still and quiet, use meditation, pray, practice gratitude daily.

Maintaining emotional sobriety is only possible by maintaining healthy and meaningful relationships with other people. We process our emotions by being regulated and validated within a safe container provided by other people. We must talk to one another, hold space for each other, and learn to listen without an agenda. Once we are truly seen and heard, and also providing the same attention and validation for others, we are living a life of emotional sobriety.

Emotional Sobriety can be defined as living spiritually in balance with inner peace. This is a lifelong journey and requires one to clear protect and align in divine light. Addiction is just the gateway… the door opener to start the journey to health and wellness. Heal your soul to heal your addiction. After working in this field for over 20 years I have had the honor to sit with people from all walks of life on their road to transformation We go deep into the core issues of the soul to find the keys to change. With a higher camera over your life and the problems you can begin to see the pain as a great awakener. Take the invitation to transform and clear out the blocks to your best self emotional sobriety is another word for daring to become your authentic self. Drugs and alcohol just show you where to look to begin the amazing spiritual journey back to your great relationship with yourself.