Controlling Your Emotions During Recovery


controlling emotions

They call it emotional sobriety.

One of the keys to recovering is to gain some self-control.  Obviously self-control is absolutely central to quitting a substance and to staying that way.  But as you start to live sober, you’ll gain control over yourself in a much larger sense.  You’ll control, not just the urge to drink, but many more emotional traits.  There are some cause and effect qualities to this—the gains in self-control come from sobriety, and increased control and a better emotional life will facilitate ever more sobriety.

But the bottom line is that it’s absolutely crucial to control your emotions and to achieve pure emotional sobriety.  The idea is to become healthier overall, and not just sober.  The reason for this is, while drinking causes serious health problems, one of the main reasons it’s key for the alcoholic to stop drinking is the bad things the drinking does to her relationships and to other components of his emotional life.

Some of the traits you are striving to develop during the early and middle periods of your sobriety are:

  • greater rationality
  • increased ability to overcome stress
  • increased positivity
  • increased ability to own up to flaws and to overcome them
  • greater sel-esteem and confidence, which drives just about everything else


Here are some things to watch out for.


It may be that you engaged in some self-pity during your heavy drinking periods.  The self-pity may have fueled your drinking.  You may have pitied yourself for the pain and other symptoms you encountered during your alcoholism.  You may even have engaged in self-pity due to the fights you got into over your drinking, the girlfriend who may have left you, etc.

Once you get into sobriety, there can be a chance of self-pity due to the sacrifices you’re making.  The problem is that self-pity will keep you from moving forward.  It’s very much like a weight around your waist.  Not only do you spend time and energy on self-pity that would be better used elsewhere, but having an attitude that you’re suffering or being abused just doesn’t facilitate improvement.

Too much negativity

When I quit booze, I went on a big positivity.  It was a bit corny and it was not without its growing pains, but I really made an effort—a successful one—to look at everything from a positive standpoint.  It felt a bit weird or dorky, and yet in some ways it felt wonderful.  I’d look at everything in my life, including all the people I interacted with, through a lens of positivity.  It laid the foundation for the work I needed to do, since if you are down in the dumps and if everything seems nearly impossible, you’ll run into troubles.  One of these is a new addiction.

Replacing Addictions/ An unhealthy approach to recovery

When you’re trying to quit, you’re trying to quit.  You’re going to have a bit of tunnel vision, and I respect that.  But it’s important not to try so hard just to quit that you don’t care how you do it or what you do in the process.

Now, in some of my posts I’ve encouraged the reader to throw himself or herself into other activities or to really put themselves out there into other activities to keep their minds off recovery and its stresses, etc.  I want to be clear, though.  I’m not advocating that you trade one addiction for another.  Obviously I’m not telling you to get into gambling, sex addiction, porn, or other things that can screw up your life or otherwise end up being another alcohol. But I’m also warning against allowing yourself to get addicted to weight lifting or downloading music or other things that truly take on the form of addiction.  The reason is not so much that there’s a problem with exercising too much or anything like that, but that if you are approaching these other activities as compulsions or addictions, that means you haven’t gotten rid of that part of your personality that clings to addiction.

That means that you may backslide, and it means that you’re always susceptible to being out of balance in some way.  It may be OK to indulge in some chocolate cake to drown some yearnings for liquor, but you don’t want full-blown addictions to creep in.

Emotional Rollercoaster

Having giant and abrupt swings in moods is disorienting and generally hard to cope with.  Sometimes they indicate that your efforts to make improvements are short-lived and incomplete.  The problem with this is that it will discourage you—having your highs lead to lows is not only disorienting, but will make you feel those highs or gains may not be as meaningful as you may have thought.  This can get you second-guessing yourself.

How To Succeed

So, to get to emotional sobriety, based on what I’ve said so far, as you can tell, it’s not easy.  One of the main things to do is to break your sobriety into various tasks.  For instance, you may have particular goals having to do with repairing certain relationships, fixing a particular self-esteem issue, etc.  You need a list and a way of charting progress.

But once you’ve done so, what are some ways of meeting these goals?

Self-esteem first

Here’s what I found: self-esteem is the biggest issue, and it has to come first.  When I became clean, I saw things a lot more clearly.  I was able to take stock of things and do some soul searching.  I realized that I had been thinking a lot of bad things about myself for a long time.  I’d been abusing myself in a lot of ways while drinking.  Always chasing drink and ways of covering everything up, what I was doing was negating all the things about myself that could’ve been special or interesting.  Rather than cultivating my best qualities, I was doing something very simple and kind of dull—just drinking too much.

Once I stopped doing that, I started to ask myself what I liked most about myself, and what I didn’t like so much.  I looked at some of my traits, such as my intellectual curiosity, my caring and my respect for underdogs, the pride I take in my work, some unassuming qualities that make up a lot of my being, and I realized I really needed to cultivate those things, having let a lot of them really rot.

Then it was on to fixing some things I didn’t like so much.  I’d say it took me four to five months to fix self-esteem issues.  One thing I’d mention is that I’m not so much saying that alcoholism causes poor self-esteem, per se.  But, as I’ve said above, it does involve really letting yourself go.  But everyone can run into self-esteem issues, and if your way of dealing with them is to cover them in Jack Daniel’s, well, then, amigos, you’re going to be in deep trouble when you come out of it.

But self-esteem is extremely important for getting anywhere with sobriety.  Only after really caring can you excel.  Many alcoholics go through four or five false starts, and these are due to her not being ready yet—she or he hasn’t gotten the self-esteem back up.

Your meditation

I myself don’t quite sit on the floor with my knees out and count my breaths or anything like that.  However, for years, my mediation was just staring out the window in the morning.  I’d have my morning coffee, but I wasn’t thinking about how the coffee tasted or how high I was getting from caffeine.  I just looked, and just let things get clear.  From there, I got into thinking about how I was going to think positive things about everyone I interacted with that day.

This might not sound like meditation, but it has to do with clearing the mind.  It may not be clear in the sense of nothingness or some Zen state, but if I have a clear and uncluttered idea of what I want to do, that’s clear.

I put it this way because some people can’t handle flat-out meditation—I know I can’t.  But if meditation for you is fishing on a quiet lake just after dawn; if it’s shaving in the morning; if it’s quiet time while driving, the radio off, maybe quiet classical music; even if it’s somehow a loud racquetball game; wherever you can be and your head is clear and you’re feeling solid and good, be sure to get there each day.  This is the place where you make your plans for each particular project, where you keep on track.  It’s absolutely imperative to stop and get prepared like this.

Accept and deal with Imperfections

During your process, you’ll backslide a bit.  Now, I’m not referring to knocking back a six pack or something like that.  I’m talking about backsliding with some of your improvement projects, etc.  You’ll fail to be positive the way you want to be, you’ll go into rollercoasters, etc.  You might have too many cravings and may even drink in moderation.

The important thing is that you are able to accept those as normal.  Don’t accept accept them, but accept the idea that it’s not the end of the world.  Naturally, you’ll want to keep tabs on them and work your way through them.  But don’t let them hinder your progress or make you think you’re unusual or that you’re doing a bad job.  Being able to do this shows that you understand what a long haul it is.  Thinking that it will be a steady rise to perfection shows you don’t have a perfect understanding of the process.

Keep reading this and other sources.  Know that you’re not alone, and keep fighting the good fight.