Emotional Sobriety vs. Abstinence


When we are ready to put the drugs and alcohol down, many of us believe that sobriety is only about living without being hopelessly bound to substances. However, true sobriety is much more. Merely abstaining from drugs and alcohol is great – our minds clear up, we stop feeling the dreaded withdrawal symptoms that we ran from, and we can pass a drug test without a second thought.


The problem with solely being abstinent is that, for many of us, addiction is a three-fold disease which affects the mind, body, and spirit. It affects the mind because we have trouble differentiating the true from the false. It affects the body because when we take one, the phenomenon of craving ensues and we compulsively take another. Most importantly, it affects the spirit, because without living a spiritual life, we are left with a malady that will likely leave us desolate and miserable.

Abstinence: Is it Enough?

While in the midst of addiction, many of us develop unhealthy habits. Many of us lack healthy coping skills and are unable to foster healthy relationships. Many of us have a fairly negative self-image and get caught up focusing on the negatives in life. Worst of all, most of us are self-centered – we are always looking to manipulate the world around us to give us what we want. By merely abstaining from drugs and alcohol, we aren’t changing ourselves. We aren’t addressing our thought patterns, our behaviors, our relationships, or our spiritual connection. When these essential human aspects are neglected, we are bound to be overwhelmed by feelings of irritability, discontent, and restlessness.


Abstinence is defined as the practice of not doing or having something that is wanted or enjoyable. If drugs and alcohol were still enjoyable, we wouldn’t have sought out a recovery retreat. If we still view drugs and alcohol as something fun or as something that we want to do, many of us are bound to relapse. When we hit rock bottom, we are in a dark place. This is a place where the substances that were our solution to a spiritual malady for so long have quit working. They have become ineffective in managing our emotions.


Rather than letting go of the substances only, true sobriety that reaps happiness and joy comes from attaining emotional sobriety.

Emotional Sobriety

It is within emotional sobriety that we attain true peace of mind and purpose in our lives. Emotional sobriety involves letting go of our old selves and continuously trying to grow spiritually and emotionally. In emotional sobriety, our lives revolve around acting upon spiritual principles. A few ways that we do this include living in the moment, helping others, making amends, and maintaining healthy relationships.

Living in the moment

Living in the present moment means we are not obsessively worrying about what is in our future, whether it be tomorrow, next week, or years from now. It means we are not spending lengthy amounts of time feeling sorry for ourselves over the mistakes we have made in the past. When we are living in the moment, we are taking time, each day, to meditate and breathe deeply. We are practicing becoming aware of our surroundings and are counting the blessings that we have been given.


Living in the moment also means taking the waves as they crash into us – it involves accepting events for what they are rather than obsessively trying to control and manage situations. Practicing acceptance and meditation are the keys to actively living in the present. After all, the past and future are entirely out of our control. All we have is the moment at hand.

Letting go of self-centered thinking

In step 3, we say the third step prayer and ask our higher power to guide our thinking so that we can be of maximum service to others. When we complete our steps, we learn that our primary purpose is to carry the message of recovery to the next sick and suffering alcoholic and addict.


When we are practicing emotional sobriety, we are continually asking ourselves how our actions will benefit others. We are looking for people to help, speaking to newcomers at meetings, and are actively trying to think of others. Thinking of others not only helps the other person, but it helps us as well. It instills within us a sense of purpose and a feeling of joy. A life run on self-centered thinking and self-will is usually not a happy one.

Cleaning up the past

Most of us have caused harm to those we love while in active addiction. However, living an emotionally sober life means having the willingness to take responsibility for these wrongs and set out to correct them. In step 9, we set out to make amends and clean up the wreckage of our past. In these amends, we aren’t only demonstrating our regret for the harm we have caused, but we are inquiring about exactly how we can fix it.


Often times, cleaning up the past simply means changing our behaviors and treating others the right way. Sometimes, it can mean paying off old financial debts, fulfilling a prior obligation, and showing the willingness to change. Cleaning up the past gives us the ability to heal old wounds that have been festering, be relieved of guilt, and give our loved ones the chance to heal, too.

Fostering healthy relationships

In active addiction, fair-weather friends were common. They were there when we had something to offer them, but they didn’t really care about our well-being. When we come into recovery communities and twelve-step fellowships, we find that we are bound to one another by unique ties based upon common experiences and goals. We have all reached the dark depths that our addictions took us to and we are all aiming to live free from bondage.


In emotional sobriety, we develop friendships that are based on love, compassion, and tolerance. We set boundaries so that others don’t walk all over us, and we actively think of what we can offer within our relationships. We don’t use others for our own gain, but rather truly enjoy the presence of our support group. Not only are these relationships mutually beneficial, but they provide a sense of support and stability. Friends who have emotional sobriety will answer the phone when it rings, they will show up when others are in need, and they will be there to lend a listening ear during good times and bad.

Recovery Retreat in South Florida

At Peter Marinelli’s recovery retreat in South Florida, guests will be immersed in spiritual principles and will learn the importance of emotional sobriety so that each and every person can recover from the disease of addiction.


“Grounded in spiritual principles Through The Archway’s philosophy is simple and straightforward; it relies heavily on a culture of wellness and an attitude of willingness. Residents are introduced to the sober community and are provided with a rigorous course of action starting with education and ending with transformation. This is done through our own copyrighted workbook authored by our founder and CEO, Peter Marinelli.”


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