Day 4: Strenghten your Good, Intelligent Habits

Day 4 of 12 Days of Emotional Sobriety

Addiction can be thought of as a destructive habit that continues despite the negative consequences it creates.  It’s possible to change addictive habits but it requires commitment and ongoing effort to find a healthy balance in life. I once heard it said that if you stop drinking without replacing it with something better it would be as painful as watching paint dry. Boredom sets in quickly and drinking becomes a good option. Those who struggle with relapse often lack a solid set of good intelligent habits that replace the multitudes of behaviours that supported and justified their addiction.

It’s so important to have a routine of positive habits to replace the negative lifestyle of addiction. Whether that involved criminality or just plain laziness when it came to showing up for life, emotional sobriety is about cultivating inner peace & usefulness. This is a lifelong process and starts with each new day and each new challenge.

Many addicts grew up in families that created negative beliefs about themselves and the world. This negativity translates into self-loathing, self-doubt, learned helplessness and a loss of hope. These attitudes and outlooks on life are part of the addictive habit. Being committed to challenging and changing your limiting self-talk, is the first step to creating a solid foundation of good, intelligent habit formation. This will be followed in action by healthy, life-sustaining activities, that give back to the world in meaningful ways.

Tip for Today
Challenge yourself to a 24-hour ‘negativity fast’.  This will require a great deal of attention to your thoughts and feelings. Having a negative thought or feeling is not the problem – giving it energy by embellishing it as truth is the problem.  Each time you think negatively of yourself or someone else, quickly replace it with “I chose love today” or, “I suspend judgement for now”, or whatever sounds like a simple, positive antidote in the moment. Then immediately decide to do something useful. It could be attending to a chore, or calling a friend who is going through a tough time or taking care of some outstanding business.  Make a conscious effort to lay down good, intelligent pathways for health. Emotional sobriety is an inside job – that gets manifested in your (outside) world.

There is no better time than the holiday season to create a positive habit of giving to others, to help yourself and your emotional recovery.

Share this with your friends and family who could benefit from 12 tips to keep you emotionally sober this holiday season. Don’t forget to leave a comment below if this resonates with you or if you have tips of your own you’d like to share. See you tomorrow for tip #5!


Day 3: Structure Your Time and Energy Wisely

Day 3 of 12 Days of Emotional Sobriety

I did a test a few years ago that confirmed that I have a personality that “abhors routine”. I chuckled thinking that in my addiction that looked like total chaos!  In recovery, it can become a lack of structure. We all know how common the diagnosis for A.D.D. (attention deficit disorder) has become. I think of myself and so many other addicts I know and how we all could have been (and maybe still could be) diagnosed this way. A lack of structure and discipline can lead to an ongoing sense of confusion and turmoil, long into recovery.

All successful people have routines and structure. I have a morning routine that I am pretty committed to, that allows me to start my day in a positive and mindful way. I plan what I will do with my ‘free time’ based on what feeds my soul and creates something of value in my life. In contrast, if we jump from one thing to another, in hopes of fitting in or because we don’t want to be alone, we lack the discipline to make good decisions that enhance recovery.

Many addicts are ‘people pleasers’.  We do what we think others want us to do, and lack an internal GPS system to know and respond to what we want ourselves. We are busy filling up our calendars with events that help us feel wanted – often at the expense of getting what is needed to be done. This is especially true if what we need to get done isn’t something we ‘like’ to do. Our denial kicks in and we procrastinate and distract ad infinitum.

I’ve had to learn that discipline and routine are now a part of my new personality. I still like to break up the routine when I can, to keep my addicted brain happy, but I mostly know what I must do, and I plan my days and weeks accordingly. I stay connected to myself, I take 100% responsibility for the choices I’m making and I preserve my precious time and energy for the things that are both the most important (life responsibilities) and most enjoyable (a life worth living). The holiday season is a time of increased parties and invitations. Make sure that you are not moving into a chaotic spiral that is leaving you depleted rather than energized.

Tip for Today

Get your calendar out and look to the week ahead. Give yourself permission to structure your week, making it a priority to support your emotional sobriety. This might include: showing up for work (if you have a job), looking for work (if you don’t), daily household tasks (cooking, cleaning), time with friends/loved ones, time spent in recovery activities, quality time with yourself (take yourself on a date), prayer and meditation, reading books that stimulate your mind, learning, & shopping for the week.  See if you can conscientiously decide to make the most of your time and energy and then watch how successful you are in following through without distractions. You will become more self-aware of what, if anything, trips you up and you can then adjust accordingly.

Share this with your friends and family who could benefit from 12 tips to keep you emotionally sober this holiday season. Don’t forget to leave a comment below if this resonates with you or if you have tips of your own you’d like to share. See you tomorrow for the next one!


Day 2: Take 100% Responsibility for your Decisions and Attitudes

Day 2 of 12 Days of Emotional Sobriety

One of the common emotional deficits that alcoholic/addicts face is the tendency to blame others for their own errors or slip-ups. Sometimes we do this without even knowing, because we lack self-awareness. When we are not taking 100% responsibility, we get self-protective and push back against those who may be unhappy with our behaviour. Often I hear, “I knew it was wrong to get defensive as soon as I said it, but I couldn’t admit it.”

It’s obvious that one of the biggest blocks to overcome in being responsible is the swallowing of our pride. Pride is the opposite of humility (which is different from humiliation – and it’s too bad that these two words, that have such different meanings, sound so much alike).

Humility is the characteristic that defines a higher aspiration for ourselves. The world’s greatest teachers and mentors model high degrees of humility. It’s what makes them great. Humility is what shows the world that you are ok with you and at the same time, you are striving to be better.

Our attitude adjustment has two main components: redirecting our negative thinking to positive thinking in effortful ongoing ways, and recognizing that pride and ego are the culprits that prevent the ongoing growth of our emotional sobriety.

Tip for Today

If you do something that hurts someone in even a small way; or if someone tells you something about yourself that is hard to hear, try taking a big swallow (literally) and tell yourself, “I’m swallowing my pride and ego at this moment that wants to prove them wrong”, and simply say, “I’m sorry I hurt you. Is there anything I can do to make it better?”
Trust me, just saying that alone will make a huge difference. Staying current each day by cleaning up any wreckage you may have intentionally or unintentionally caused, will enhance your emotional sobriety enormously.

Share this with your friends and family who could benefit from 12 tips to keep you emotionally sober this holiday season. Don’t forget to leave a comment below if this resonates with you or if you have tips of your own you’d like to share. See you tomorrow for the next one!


Day 1: Increase Self-Awareness

Day 1 of 12 Days of Emotional Sobriety

I want your holiday season to be the best one ever. Improve each day by staying in touch with your thoughts, feelings and beliefs and then focusing on the ones that support your recovery and eliminating those that don’t.

Denial comes in many forms. One of the ways denial works is by telling you that spending time getting to know yourself is “selfish”. That getting comfortable with your uncomfortable internal states, is not necessary.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Knowing yourself and making healthy, conscious decisions that allow you to “stick with the winners”, is only selfish if you think that staying clean and sober to contribute to society and help others is selfish.  That doesn’t add up in my books.

Focusing on becoming a better version of yourself is a gift you give to those around you.

When sobriety feels hard, don’t ignore it – find a friend to talk to, journal about it or put the problem in your God jar and trust that you are not alone.

Then get into action – get busy with something that matters to you, that moves you along the continuum of good health and happiness.

Staying connected to your inner self allows you to begin to know – in your gut – whether something feels right for you or not.

It’s called intuition and it’s your direct connection to your highest self.

Tip for Today

If you have to make a decision and you are uncertain whether it will support your recovery or not – sit quietly for a moment and get centered inside yourself: imagine there is an elevator in your head and put the situation inside.  Now, let the elevator move slowly down your body and into your gut.  Open the door. You will get either a ‘resounding yes’ or a no.  Anything that is not a ‘resounding yes’ = a ‘no’. It’s that simple. Then check it out with your sponsor or mentor to ensure you are indeed on the right track.

My wish is that you will continue your journey towards long-term contented sobriety by actively doing the things that create healthy change in your life.

Share this with your friends and family who could benefit from 12 tips to keep you emotionally sober this holiday season. Don’t forget to leave a comment below if this resonates with you or if you have tips of your own you’d like to share. See you tomorrow for the next one!


Emotional Sobriety: How to Work Effectively with Addicted Partners

I recently taught a class for Dr. Ellyn Bader in her online couples training program on working with alcoholic/addicts on developing their emotional sobriety. I want to share some of the highlights of that class with you here.

Addicts by nature can be described as self-absorbed and emotionally immature. Getting a clear picture of the onset of their use can tell you a lot about their emotional development.  Increasing developmental capacities for relational success will move them along the emotional sobriety continuum.

What is Emotional Sobriety? 

Most people don’t know that the term “emotional sobriety” was first coined by Bill W., the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. In the early ’50s, after close to 20 years of working with alcoholics, he saw that like himself, many of these (mostly) men and women needed to continue their growth beyond abstinence. 

Emotional sobriety can be defined as:

“The ability to know what you are feeling. The ability to experience your feelings deeply without becoming overwhelmed by them. The ability to regulate your mood without the use of substances or unhealthy behavior.” (Tian Dayton, Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resiliency & Balance)

I also believe that the process of emotional healing from addiction is a continuum of growth that includes:

  • Living your best life
  • Being purpose-driven
  • Becoming ‘happy, joyous and free’


As a therapist, you can be more effective when working with addicted partners when you address the emotional areas of growth that are most prominent and necessary for emotional health.

Barriers if Partner(s) are in Active Addiction:

  1. Preoccupation(with their drug of choice): It makes focusing on the primacy of their attachment relationship with their spouse/partner unlikely if not impossible. The primary attachment is to their drug of choice.
  2. Impaired control: It’s difficult to build trust and count on a partner who has difficulty managing their own life. This unmanageability includes their emotions, their thoughts, and their behaviors.
  3. Persistent use/relapse/ uncontrollable urges: This creates a crazy-making roller-coaster ride for both partners, who hold out hope only to come crashing down with the next relapse.  Partners orientate around the addiction and walk on eggshells attempting to avoid triggering the next catastrophe.
  4. Dissatisfaction, irritability, delusional: There is generalized negativity that accompanies addiction. It is a classic glass ‘half empty’ worldview. The delusional aspect of addiction means that often the addict refuses to join in the reality of those around him or her. They hold out that ‘things aren’t that bad’ and believe that others are overreacting.

Yet, even if they have stopped, these and other underlying emotional deficits can persist.  When helping a couple to repair their relationship in the aftermath of addiction, there is much you can do to target your interventions with each partner based on knowledge of their emotional deficits.

If one or both partners are still active with their drug of choice, then it slows down the couples’ emotional growth. That’s why it’s essential to keep the issue of an untreated addiction ‘on the table’ and educate both partners about how it contributes to their lack of progress.

Interventions for Greater Emotional Sobriety:

1. Confront ‘switching’ addictions & all compulsive behaviours. 

Because addicts’ brains are wired towards seeking a ‘fix’, they tend to be compulsive in a lot of ways. Some will stop drinking, but start gambling, or stop drugging but start masturbating. Some choices, like workaholism, is often sanctioned and overlooked in our culture. Don’t be fooled – it is as big an issue as any other. Some serious behaviours are never reported to you and go under the radar. Be sure to ask the right questions because all addictions are emotionally destructive to the relationship.

One client came to therapy with a gambling addiction. He had spent money he didn’t have and borrowed from family members.  His wife gave him an ultimatum to get help or she was leaving. I later discovered that he also spent around 15-20 hours a week playing video games.  On top of that, he had a high-level job demanding 50-60 hours a week. Even though he insisted it was not a problem, I helped him understand that being a husband and father who could be relied upon, meant him being available to them, both physically and emotionally. His ‘checking out’ with video games had to stop.

2. Confront the negative projections onto their partner:

Along with an addict’s tendency to black & white thinking, his negative mindset means emotions are often “all or nothing”. An unwillingness to take ownership of painful internal states leads him to project blame onto his partner. Help him to acknowledge painful feelings, especially those connected with early life trauma.  At the same time, point out his emotional extremes as an integral part of his addiction. Working to expand his ‘window of tolerance’ means he can learn the necessary task of emotional regulation and self-soothing which brings to an end the emotional roller coaster for both partners.

Another client reported that after a routine fight with his partner, he couldn’t recover emotionally. He felt “hopeless…like there is no point to life anymore”.These types of responses ought to be a big red flag for therapists who can then address them as part of the bigger issue of emotional sobriety.

3. Confront oppositional behaviours that undermine the therapy.

There is a saying in the recovery community: “you can tell an alcoholic; you just can’t tell her much”. Don’t be sidelined when your client pushes away your attempts to point out how their emotional immaturity is showing up in their marriage. This denial often extends to their family of origin trauma as they cling to a fantasy of a loving childhood they never had.  As sad as that is, and as much as the healing of such trauma has to occur, communicate to them that you see through their attempts to escape the truth. 

One male client had grown up with two alcoholic parents. While having everything materially, he was not only neglected but shamed and belittled by his father. He refused to see how his upbringing was showing up in his current marriage, where he made unrealistic demands on his partner to give him the emotional validation he never received at home.

He was very angry when I said to him one day, “your father was a child abuser”.  After much back and forth, he finally let the truth sink in and it had a life-changing effect on him. He no longer needed to deny the past to tolerate the present. He no longer found it necessary to project his unresolved rage on his partner.

4. Repeatedly model and encourage compassion as the key to emotional sobriety.

Self-loathing resides at the core of the addict (and many other clients we see as well). It is the root cause behind their relapses and their lack of emotional progress in therapy. Helping them to acknowledge both the pain of their past and the pain they caused during their addiction is necessary for emotional sobriety. At the same time, they must begin to find self-forgiveness for it all. This gentle acceptance along with a commitment to being a better version of themselves is at the heart of emotional sobriety.

Conclusion:  Confrontation is Your Ally

This population of clients can be extremely challenging to work with. At the same time, they can be some of the most intelligent, accomplished and caring people you will ever meet. Our job is to keep them to task on those emotional deficits that trip them up every time – particularly when they are operating unconsciously.

While we must confront the emotional issues that keep them stuck in the cycle of addiction, it is equally important that they perceive that we care. Your relationship with them needs to be free from any collusion with their addiction or you are sunk. An addict is proficient in detecting when they are up against someone they can walk all over. They need to know you get them and will put their survival over your need to be liked by them. Show them you will continually and lovingly confront them with the truth. They will not be able to be honest with themselves if you do not model high-level honesty in your interactions with them.

I will have more to say on this topic in my next blog.

Here’s to learning and strengthening our ability to provide effective couples therapy to partners with addiction.