Episode 073 - Could emotional sobriety work for you?
Welcome to episode 073 of the podcast! It’s great to see you.
This week I’m talking about getting a better handle on your feelings because emotions will come knocking, but you can choose which ones you let in, and which ones you park for dealing with at a more appropriate time.
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Transcript of episode
Hello, I’m your host Lorraine Stone and this week I’m talking about getting a better handle on your feelings because emotions will come knocking, but you can choose which ones you let in, and which ones you park for dealing with at a more appropriate time.
Known in the 12 step community as emotional sobriety, this is a form of shutting the door on certain emotions to allow yourself into a calmer state. Because as we all know, a quick scroll through Instagram, for instance, can easily set you off. You can feel rubbish about your life because you’re seeing other people who are posting all this stuff claiming this wonderful life they’re leading. And you feel you can’t have that because you have this chronic illness now and you are stuck at home, or you’re exhausted so much by the time you’ve done everything else that there’s nothing left to give.
And when this happens, it can be quite common to almost marinate in these emotions that you are feeling stuck with. And then you become over focused on them. And as you keep replaying these thoughts, you get more and more anxious and stay in a stressed state.
For example, if you take an argument that you’ve had, even with a complete stranger, how many times have you replayed it over and over in your head thinking “if only I’d said this”, or “if I’d only just done that instead” You spend and waste so much energy on re-experiencing these situations. How often do you replay experiences that went really well for you?
Trying to analyse emotions, especially the negative ones, is completely natural, but it’s extremely detrimental. Your emotions should not be the only tool you use to decide how you want to act. And this is what we’re doing in the rooms with emotional sobriety. It’s a process used to help people manage their emotions, in order to prevent the typical result of turning to substances that they would abuse. It can be used by anyone and it can help you to process feelings in a healthy way. So you don’t get trapped in a spiral of negativity.
First, find your emotional neutral.
Step number one is about your baseline mindset when you are feeling most like who you are. This can feel quite difficult to do, especially if you are quite early in the illness stage of your life. But the way to track it is observe as strong emotions crop up through the day. In my case, I would get angry and I would swear more. Because I felt so numb to a lot of things that were going on around me because I had shut down during my abusive marriage, I wasn’t always aware of my emotions, but I was generally aware of my actions.
So I was able to say “Oh, hang on why am I swearing? I must be annoyed at something”. So when you’re feeling overwhelmed like this, step back from what you’re doing. Make a few notes. It’s a great thing to keep a journal for. And as you look back over these you will notice patterns in your emotional reactions to certain situations.
I talked about this before where you have a circumstance happen, you have thoughts about it, you have an emotion, then you take your action based on the emotion that was triggered by the thoughts. If you had a different emotion to a situation that happened, you would have likely had a different action.
So it’s about tracking each of these things to find what exactly caused you to behave like that. And sometimes, I found this quite interesting, it would be person specific, as well. There was a particular someone in my life who could irritate me so easily and I would snap, but if someone else did the same thing, it wouldn’t bother me at all.
The goal here is to know your neutral, so that when you are being triggered, you can feel that you are being triggered and then the next steps are what you can do to bring yourself back into neutrality.
Next, choose a healthy distraction.
People say that they gain weight when they quit smoking. It’s not the quitting cigarettes that make them gain weight, it’s not smoking that keeps them from gaining weight. It’s that when they put down the cigarettes, they pick up food.
There’s a reason why a lot of alcoholics and addicts become runners. They still use running in an addictive way because they are replacing their addictive substance of choice. As soon as they start to feel something they will go for a run instead of turning to the bad habit. I have known addicts go for five runs a day to process what they’re feeling and to avoid picking up. Yes, we would then have to deal with the fact that they are running too much.
When you do feel intense emotion that is difficult to sit with, that is completely okay. You don’t want to ignore it or the source of it forever. But right now you need to be able to focus it elsewhere so that you can come back to it later with a clearer head. So if a circumstance has occurred, and you are feeling really sad, to avoid the overwhelm, flip that on its head. What could you do instead of being sad that actually makes you happy?
Would putting a comedy show on tv make you laugh? Watching kittens online, which always make me laugh. It’s about flipping from one to the other. Sometimes it could just be a chat with a great friend. Others it could be some feel good music. Perhaps you just need to go take a shower and just feel the water flowing over your body to be able to feel more connected with the nature around you. And if you are in a space where taking a shower is exhausting, which for many of us who have a chronic illness it absolutely can be, then it’s ok go to your kitchen or bathroom and run your hand under a lukewarm tap. This can simulate the same effects of having a shower just by having that water run over you. You can sit and watch it and it can be such a mindful experience.
Which leads us on to number three, which is allowing yourself to surrender.
We have a saying in the rooms to “let go and let God”. That does not mean necessarily that your higher power is a religious God. Back in the days when AA and the 12 steps started, nearly 100 years ago, it was very much a religious thing. And it was God. It has changed so much over the years, but we still seem to use the same saying. Same doesn’t mean it’s right. But let go and let God is less of a tongue-twister than let go and let higher power.
However, the point is, if you’ve tried to distract yourself and you’re still feeling overwhelmed it’s time now to let yourself sit within that emotion without judging yourself. Sometimes the only way out is through it. It can help you to accept you’re dealing with something tough and that you’re going to have to go through it for a while.
The important thing is while you accept and let go of how your feelings are making you want to react, you also decide a timeline for sitting quietly and thoughtfully with uncomfortable emotions without turning to the negative coping mechanisms such as oversleeping, toxic relationships or as I mentioned earlier, the other typical addictive distractions people turn to. We commit to the idea that you will not feel this way forever, before saying, all yours higher power, I’m doing something else now. And then we go back to trying the healthy distractions.
And finally, reframe your thoughts.
As you continue with strengthening your ability to process your emotions and practising your healthy coping skills, you tap into the cognitive restructuring. Basically looking at the circumstance or experience from an outsider’s perspective, by playing devil’s advocate to find a different way of thinking.
If you’ve had point A to point B and you are currently at point A again, imagine you’re talking to your younger self. What might you say to your younger self to enable them to get to point B with a different behaviour and a different outcome? There’s a very strong possibility you will not believe your older self’s or current self’s advice at first, but as with everything, practice makes perfect. And it becomes easier to see how you’ve managed to grow over time when these situations pop up again, and you instinctively start to behave differently.
If you enjoyed this podcast, if something resonated with you, I want you to know we cover this in detail in my SHIFT to Alignment programme. I can teach you the tools that I learned and adapted to get my life back after an abusive marriage and then diagnosis of a chronic health condition, to now be living life on my terms, my way.
Thanks for listening, and remember – you are worth it, and you get to choose.
Have a lovely day.