Emotional Sobriety

We practice all Twelve Steps of the program in our daily lives so that we and those about us may find emotional sobriety” (Twelve & Twelve p.106)

What is ’Emotional Sobriety’

In a Grapevine Article from January 1958, Bill W describes emotional sobriety as the ‘Next Frontier’. That article defines emotional sobriety as:

Emotional sobriety is the ‘spearhead for the next major development in AA — the development of much more real maturity and balance ( which is to say , humility ) in our relations with ourselves , with our fellows , and with God

Dr. Allen Berger in his outstanding book ‘12 Essential Insights for Emotional Sobriety’ describes emotional sobriety as a ’mental state in which we do not react to our changing emotions as though they were the governing facts of our lives.’ He goes on to suggest that ‘just as physical sobriety emerges as we gain independence from our addictive urges, emotional sobriety emerges as we gain freedom from our emotional storms’. He has a powerful image of the ‘balance’ of emotional sobriety as our emotional center of gravity. His description:

“We must become aware of and manage our emotional center of gravity if we are going to achieve emotional sobriety … Our emotional center of gravity is analogous to our physical center of gravity. Emotions have a ”pull” just like gravity. Our emotional center of gravity is that point where our emotions converge around a firm and flexible inner sense of self. When our emotional center of gravity is positioned well (“centered”) we exhibit an emotional balance in our lives. Our emotional responses become less reactive with and more tied to this firm and flexible sense of self.

When I relocate my emotional center of gravity outside myself – in a situation or in another person – then I become emotionally dependent on that situation or person: I depend on outside conditions to maintain emotional well-being.”

How Do Our Dependencies & Outcome Demands Impact Emotional Sobriety ?

Bill W in his Grapevine Article describes losing his emotional center of gravity in what many view as the key ’punch line’ of his article:

There wasn’t a chance of making the outgoing love of St . Francis a workable and joyous way of life until these fatal and almost absolute dependencies were cut away. 

Because I had over the years undergone a little spiritual development , the absolute quality of these frightful dependencies had never before been so starkly revealed. Reinforced by what grace I could secure in prayer, I found I had to exert every ounce of will and action to cut off these faulty emotional dependencies upon people, upon AA, indeed, upon any set of circumstances whatsoever. Then only could I be free to love as Francis had. Emotional and instinctual satisfactions, I saw , were really the extra dividends of having love, offering love, and expressing a love appropriate to each relation of life. 

Plainly , I could not avail myself of God’s love until I was able to offer it back to him by loving others as he would have me . And I couldn’t possibly do that so long as I was victimized by false dependencies .

For my dependency meant demand — a demand for the possession and control of the people and the conditions surrounding me .

Dr. Berger continues to describe what happens as we lose our emotional center of gravity:

If our emotional center of gravity is focused on other people and their reactions, external conditions, or other things outside … we can be impulsive, unbalanced, and even reckless. People with emotional sobriety will be emotionally balanced; their emotional center of gravity properly converges around what they can control – their actions and attitudes , as chosen by their true and authentic self.

Having a solid but flexible sense of self means we know who we are and who we aren’t. This suggests we have reached a certain level of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-support.

Bill describes the problem we face in growing in emotional sobriety this way …it’s important to remember that he’s writing this with over twenty years of physical sobriety … reinforcing the limitless journey of emotional sobriety:

Those adolescent urges that so many of us have for top approval , perfect security , and perfect romance — urges quite appropriate to age seventeen — prove to be an impossible way of life when we are at age forty – seven or fifty – seven. 

Since AA began , I’ve taken immense wallops in all these areas because of my failure to grow up emotionally and spiritually. My God , how painful it is to keep demanding the impossible , and how very painful to discover , finally , that all along we have had the cart before the horse! Then comes the final agony of seeing how awfully wrong we have been , but still finding ourselves unable to get off the emotional merry – go – round. 

How to translate a right mental conviction into a right emotional result , and so into easy , happy , and good living — well , that’s not only the neurotic’s problem , it’s the problem of life itself for all of us who have got to the point of real willingness to hew to right principles in all our affairs.

Even then , as we hew away , peace and joy may still elude us. That’s the place so many of us AA oldsters have come to. And it’s a hell of a spot , literally. How shall our unconscious — from which so many of our fears , compulsions , and phony aspirations still stream — be brought into line with what we actually believe , know , and want! How to convince our dumb , raging , and hidden “ Mr . Hyde ” becomes our main task . 

I’ve recently come to believe that this can be achieved . I believe so because I begin to see many benighted ones — folks like you and me — commencing to get results .

How Do Our Emotions Impact Our Progress?

Ray A. in his insightful book, ‘Practice These Principles: Steps 1,2,3’ describes the movement and importance of embracing emotional sobriety as:

Most of us find that emotional growth lags behind character building, so that our moral disposition to do right is often limited by our emotional inability to feel right. Anger, fear, resentment and a variety of other emotions, while less damaging than when we drank, continue nevertheless to undermine and sabotage our moral effort. Our moral and emotional dispositions are at odds. We are still unable to do that which we now know to be right and which we very much want to do.

One of the challenges we face involves facing our fears many of which can be traced to a worldview concerning self reliance. Ray A offers some powerful wisdom in helping us begin to understand the root of many of these fears and the basic antidote to address these fears.

Emotional Sobriety Resources

GUGOGS website postings

Emotional Sobriety – The Next Frontier

Dangers of Self Reliance

Knowing It’s Not Personal

Surrender’s Role In Emotional Sobriety

Step 1 Surrender As A Foundational Discipline To Physical and Emotional Sobriety


Acceptance & Expectations

Breaking The Bonds of Perfectionism

The Experiment And Experience Of A New Way Of Living

Paddling Your Own Canoe

Fear of Failure

Emotional Sobriety – As BIll Sees It

Accepting Imperfection

Fill In The Blank Worksheet Resources From 12 Essential Insights To Emotional Sobriety

Insight #1 Waking Up From Our Sleepwalking

Insight #2 Living Life Consciously

Insight #3 Discerning Our Emotional Dependency

Insight #4 Knowing Its Not Personal

Insight #5 Realizing That No One Is Coming

Insight #6 Accepting What Is

Insight #7 Living Life On Life’s Terms

Insight #8 Discovering Novel Solutions

Insight #9 Breaking The Bonds Of Perfectionism

Insight #10 Healing Through Forgiveness

Insight #11 Living A Purposeful Life

Insight #12 Holding Onto Ourselves In Relationships

You can print these worksheets from within each insight. You can also access/print the entire set of worksheets.

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