09 Feb Interview: Ipek Aykol, LMFT
INTRO: How would you describe what emotional sobriety is?
Even though the term “sobriety” is being commonly used in society, the distinction between physical sobriety and emotional sobriety are not as commonly known. Physical sobriety refers to giving up drugs and alcohol which is a challenging process that involves intensive medical and therapeutic support. Emotional sobriety is more complex as it refers to getting in touch with your positive and negative emotions and allowing yourself to feel them instead of avoiding them. Emotional sobriety is staying sober no matter what you are feeling without using alcohol or drugs to make these feelings go away.
What are the first steps you think one should take to achieve emotional sobriety?
The first step to achieve emotional sobriety is to accept that recovery is a lifelong process. After this acceptance stage, one starts getting to know who they are. Getting to know yourself is a vulnerable and fragile process which can be done with the help of therapy as the individual will put things into perspective. Early in recovery, it is important to get therapeutic support in order to process the past, be in the moment, take control of emotions and take responsibility for one’s own feelings. It is important to have a support system to turn to when one is struggling. It is very important for individuals to make themselves feel better and go through emotional waves without turning to drugs or alcohol. Another important step in achieving emotional sobriety is to work on early childhood wounds and dynamics which can be explored with a mental health professional.
Why do you think emotional sobriety is important in long-term sobriety?
Emotional sobriety is important in long-term sobriety because if an individual doesn’t learn how to experience, take control and manage their emotions, they will keep going back to drugs and alcohol to cope with their feelings or to avoid them. When an individual is active in their addiction, they go to drugs and alcohol to cope with difficult feelings (i.e. pain, stress, anger, sadness). If an individual doesn’t learn how to deal with these emotions by using healthier coping skills and emotional management, it is very likely for the individual to use their old ways when these feelings arise.
How does one know that they are becoming emotionally sober?
An individual who is emotionally sober is able to regulate strong emotions. This doesn’t mean ignoring or avoiding difficult feelings. It means that an individual can feel these emotions and use their healthy coping skills (i.e.sharing, writing) to manage them. As most people struggling with addiction use drugs and alcohol to avoid painful memories, emotional sobriety entails being able to face these memories. If an individual is emotionally sober, they can resist the urge to participate in risky behaviors such as being around other individuals who are actively using. Emotional sobriety reflects on interpersonal relationships as the connections with other people deepen and get healthier. Lastly, another important sign of emotional sobriety is being able to live in the moment, being mindful instead of dwelling on the past, living in the past or escaping to the future; embracing what the present moment brings rather than trying to escape from it.
Is there anything you’d like to add about emotional sobriety?
Reaching emotional sobriety is a slow process and it takes a lot of time, effort and support. Everyone’s process is unique and different than others so the most important factor to avoid in this process is comparing yourself with others. Everyone’s ability to tolerate certain feelings is different as some people may handle stress, anger, sadness different than others. It is important to try different emotional management tools until you find the one that works the best for you. Being able to “feel” will be an uncomfortable experience to most recovering individuals at first. If this is the case, one has to tolerate the uncomfortable because it’s a sign that one is starting to feel.