Episode 162: What is Emotional Sobriety?

In this episode, Angela and John talk about emotional sobriety while taking calls from listeners, and responding to comments in the YouTube chatroom. The term emotional sobriety originated from a letter that Bill W. wrote to a friend in 1953. Bill, sober for twenty years, was suffering from depression and was frustrated that the AA program didn’t seem to help him with depression as it did for his drinking. Giving it some thought, he concluded that he needed emotional sobriety, which he defined as freedom from unhealthy dependencies on people and circumstances. 

Mentioned during this episode: 

Bill Wilson’s Letter “Emotional Sobriety – the New Frontier”

Dr. Allen Berger 

Unpacking Bill Wilson’s 1956 Letter on Emotional Sobriety


0:00:00 John: AA Beyond Belief is a podcast by, for and about people who have found a secular path to sobriety in Alcoholics Anonymous.


0:00:26 John: Hello and welcome back to another episode of our Sober Distancing series here on AA Beyond Belief. Every Friday, Angela and I get together for a live stream on YouTube and we discuss a topic that might be of interest to secular people in recovery in Alcoholics Anonymous. Last week, we posted on our Facebook group asking for ideas for various topics and somebody put out emotional sobriety and we thought that would be interesting so that is the topic of the day. We can talk about emotional sobriety, Angela and take calls and comments through the chat room. What do you think about that Angela? 

0:01:11 Angela: I think that it sounds pretty good. I think it’ll be fun and I’m hoping that we get a few callers because I’d like to hear what people have to say about it.

0:01:21 John: Yeah. I did a little bit of research for this one and sometimes when I do a lot of research, I put so much information on my head and it causes a problem but I read what I thought was the origination of the term emotional sobriety and I think it is and it was taken from a letter that Bill Wilson wrote in 1958 to a friend and at that time, Bill Wilson was sober for 20 years and was suffering depression, terribly and he was frustrated that all of his work in Alcoholics Anonymous with the fellowship and even the steps and so forth didn’t do a lot to relieve his depression.

0:02:03 John: So he started thinking about what might be causing this and he wrote to his friend who was suffering the same problem with depression and Bill came to the conclusion that he thought that his depression was the result of unhealthy dependencies that he was placing on people and circumstances for his own sense of self-esteem.

0:02:27 John: He came up with this idea of emotional sobriety which was a way of dealing with these unhealthy dependencies on people. Rather than through originally, our unhealthy dependence on alcohol, he was looking at unhealthy dependence upon people for emotional sobriety. It was interesting.

0:02:50 Angela: Yeah. You said that you had listened to… Somebody translated and that was different from the original letter.

0:03:00 John: Yeah. Bill’s letter… And I’ll post a copy of it with the podcast but it’s written in his vernacular, which is really odd. He was a lucid guy that was born in the 1800s and… So the way that he words things is a little bit different. It’s just like reading the Big Book but anyway, he wrote this letter and when I read his letter, I really had a difficult time relating to it but Allen Berger, who is a psychologist and he’s written some books like 12 Stupid Things that Hurt Your Sobriety or something like that.

0:03:35 John: Anyway, he’s written a lot of books and he did a really good job. He put together a series of talks that specifically breaks down Bill Wilson’s letter and I learned a lot from that, which I found interesting. I can’t believe this but we already have a caller. Should we take this call, Angela? 

0:03:55 John: Sure. Maybe they know more than we do. [chuckle]

0:03:57 John: Let’s see what’s going on here. Hey, how are you doing? 

0:04:02 Andy: Very good. How are you guys? 

0:04:03 John: All right. Who is this? 

0:04:05 Andy: Great. I’m Andy and I’m calling you guys from Austin, Texas.

0:04:10 John: Hey, Andy.

0:04:10 Andy: And I’ve…

0:04:11 Angela: Hi, Andy.

0:04:11 Andy: Listened to your show a few times. Hey Angela. Hey John. Listened to your show a few times and really, really enjoyed it and I don’t know that I have a whole lot to add to this but I thought I’d call in anyway and give you guys some support.

0:04:29 Andy: The term, this particular thing, emotional sobriety and what is it, to me, it’s kind of a fluffy thing that maybe we talk about. Physical sobriety is pretty tough, clean. You know what that is. It’s either there or it’s not and we get these little medallions for various times of physical sobriety but nobody gets any medallion for periods of emotional sobriety because they might be a little bit harder to attain. You might have to keep giving them back.

0:05:04 Andy: Yeah, at least I find it… It could be an up and down road for me. I sometimes fight depression and those things and that can certainly screw with my emotional sobriety and there’s some… Kind of a little bit about the tools perhaps we use to feel emotionally sober or what I would call, grounded, I guess would be the best term that I’d probably use for emotional sobriety and I know when I feel that and I know when I don’t feel that but I don’t always know why I’m one way or the other.

0:05:47 Andy: So if you guys have any insights into that from your experience, that’d be pretty helpful for me. I just know it’s one of these things that I have emotional sobriety then I don’t and I’m not always completely clear on why it comes and goes and maybe it’s just part of life.

0:06:07 John: Well Angela and I were talking just before we got on and she mentioned… And I agree with her. She said that she thinks that emotional sobriety, she just sees it as the program, basically. Isn’t that right, Angela, that you just saw that as recovery in general? 

0:06:20 Angela: Yeah, it’s just recovery. [chuckle] It’s what we do after we do the Steps because in the Steps, we learn about ourselves and truly get honest about how we think about things and the messages we got, all of that kind of stuff and so this is, in my mind, just the applying that to our lives on a daily basis.

0:06:49 Angela: One of the quotes that I was reading in Joe’s book, the AA Beyond Belief he said, let’s see, “The beginning of self-knowledge, recognizing that your motives are the same as other people’s” and that’s from Mason Cooley and what he was talking about there is our continuing to seek approval from other people and want to control and want to not be controlled and all of that and so for me, I think… Or when I’m thinking of emotional sobriety, I’m thinking of how well we’re doing in our self-regulation of stuff and like you said and that can vary.

0:07:33 Angela: Sometimes we do well at it and sometimes, it’s not as easy and we have other things to play in our life. Sometimes it’s depression or anxiety or I don’t know, the occasional pandemic. [chuckle] and yeah and so to me, I think that it’s pretty much the same thing as recovery but I really like what you said about how it’s easier to say what sobriety is, physical sobriety because you either are drinking or you’re not. [chuckle] but with emotional sobriety, that’s much, much more difficult.

0:08:12 Angela: Although I do have an idea now for an entrepreneurship of making emotional sobriety clients and I’ll let you guys know about that.

0:08:20 Andy: Cool! I like that. I like that you’re equating it with recovery because it’s so much more open, I think, than my definition that I’ve been using of just feeling grounded or feeling good because maybe… You’re in recovery when you’re not feeling good and you’re in recovery when you’re feeling good. I think your definition gives a lot more leeway for being human and having the ups and downs. I think I’ll adopt that one. I like it.

0:08:46 John: Yeah.

0:08:48 Angela: Alright, great, thanks, Andy.

0:08:48 John: Well thank you, Andy, I appreciate your call, thank you very much.

0:08:51 Andy: Alright, great, thanks, guys! I really appreciate your show.

0:08:55 John: Oh, thank you, thank you. Appreciate that.

0:08:57 Angela: Yeah, thank you.

0:08:57 John: Well, that was nice. Yeah, I also thought the same thing. Whenever I would think about emotional sobriety, I would just think of the program itself because the only step that even mentions alcohol is the first step. All the rest of the steps have to deal with our emotions basically. How we react to life and I always thought in terms of step six and seven, I always thought of those steps as my effort to grow as a person and to deal with how I react to life and everything and so I always thought of those steps as step six and seven and then, if I ever heard the word “emotional sobriety”, I just thought of it as a way of not letting my emotions run me and just a way to have a better way of reacting to life, I guess.

0:09:53 Angela: Right, yeah, no, I agree and in “The Alternative 12 Steps: A Secular Guide to Recovery” I like in that, that… Well, one; the majority of the book is about emotional recovery. So one person that I’ve been going through it with in the last year as she has more sober time than I do but that was one of the comments she made in going through the steps with this, is that it seems to be much more about emotional recovery or emotional sobriety than how she’d done the steps any other time before and particularly, the suggestions from probably step eight through 11 in this book have a lot of things that are really trying to get you to look at how you’re thinking about things and how to be able to sit with your feelings and act instead of react and take responsibility in the moment and all of those kinds of things.

0:11:00 Angela: So yeah, I like it. I find that to be super helpful. One of the things that we thought of when we saw this topic, I believe that the person who posted it was posting it from the point of view that I know you and I have both heard in the meetings of more of a pejorative, like that person doesn’t have emotional sobriety or judgment or something along those lines. What do you think they’re getting at with that? 

0:11:34 John: When I was first getting sober, all I cared about was not drinking and not ending up in jail. If I could just not drink and not go to jail, I was good and so when I would hear other people talk about more loftier goals, I wasn’t there in my hierarchy of needs yet. I wasn’t ready to deal with my emotional growth or personal growth. I just said “I just needed my basics covered.” and Angela, it took me a long time. I had a lot of instability financially, just transportation, getting around. I had a hard life, the first couple of years. [chuckle]

0:12:09 John: So those first two, three years was really spent just taking care of myself physically to make sure that I had food, clothing, all that basic stuff, freedom and then after I had those basics covered, then I started thinking more in terms of the quality of my sobriety I guess but still, I always hung on to the idea that all I really cared about, the most important thing to me was to not drink because I knew if I drank, I would just go back to repeating what I had lived before and just have worse problems and I knew if I didn’t drink, that I would have a chance for a decent life and I did see my life getting better by not drinking and gradually and surely, it did get better.

0:12:47 John: So yeah, when I would hear that early on, I thought… It was hard for me to relate to but later, I could relate to it and I understood the whole idea of just working on myself, self-improvement and dealing with my emotions and reactions to life a little bit better but when I was reading this, not reading but when I was listening to Allen Berger, I really learned a lot from him. There’s a lot of stuff. You can find that. If you have Amazon Music, it’s for free, it’s called…

0:13:33 John: Anyway, it’s Allen Berger, I’ll post what it is but he goes through this series of talks about Bill’s letter, about emotional sobriety and he basically came to the conclusion that what we need to do is we need to examine what it is about us that causes us to create this faulty self. In other words, he says that we’re born with this idea that the true person that we are isn’t good enough to be loved and accepted by others so we create this false identity, this ideal person that we should be to get the love and acceptance that we want and that person is almost impossible to be and the whole idea of emotional sobriety is to become your own person and he really went in some interesting detail about all of that, which I found really fascinating.

0:14:31 Angela: Yeah, well it’s kind of interesting then that if that’s the background of it, what I’ve heard at times in the rooms when somebody is talking about emotional sobriety or judging somebody else that they’re often, I guess judging them or saying it because the person is not optimistic or doesn’t seem to be super happy or all of those things positive, that if you’re in emotional sobriety, then you’re supposed to be happy, joyous and free all the time and when some who have any amount of sober time display some of that stuff, sometimes it’s taken as that they need to work on their emotional sobriety.

0:15:25 Angela: And to me it’s also the same as when somebody is referred to as dry or something along those lines. I’m like, if the person doesn’t drink, then they’re sober. The quality is different in all of us but I think that’s what people are getting at generally with emotional sobriety, is the quality of somebody’s recovery program and it’s just interesting because sometimes we don’t know what’s going on with everybody else’s lives or why they’re behaving the way they are and things like that. It’s kind of an odd thing.

0:16:04 Angela: Another thing in my district or the district that I was in here, they do a workshop every February called When Chocolate Doesn’t Work Anymore and it’s a day long kind of event where they have different panels and discussions on emotional sobriety and so that was interesting to me when I’ve been sober a little while to put it together that that’s what that was about. I got the idea that you’re supposed to be working on stuff but I thought it was all part of sobriety and doing the program. I didn’t know that they had a separate kind of idea for what emotional sobriety was but it was a good workshop.

0:16:53 Angela: They do stuff like four step, little journaling things where you get to work on a couple of items that maybe you hadn’t been looking at or felt some resentment for and then expanded on that and how different people did that in a shorter period of time so in little snippets. That was kind of cool.

0:17:17 John: Yeah and when you were talking about how people would look at someone in a meeting and think that they weren’t happy or like other people could be, something that I picked up from Allen Berger is that there’s an idea of differentiation. I’m not pronouncing that right, differentiation. I didn’t know I couldn’t pronounce that word. Anyway. The whole idea of that is, he used the example of a cell. A cell is undifferentiated and when a cell is undifferentiated, what it will do is it will take on the qualities of other cells that it’s around so if it’s undifferentiated and it’s around these cells that are going to make an ear, then it will make an ear but once the cell becomes differentiated, it has its own DNA and it will only do what it’s supposed to do and so the whole idea is that people should be individuals.

0:18:19 John: I think what happened to me is, I was undifferentiated when I got into AA and I was influenced by my environment so I was like a cell that took on the qualities of all the other cells in that meeting room and I kind of lost myself. I was actually, my emotional sobriety was being impacted because there was this pressure that’s put on me but maybe unknowingly of I don’t want to be that guy that everyone else is judging as having a poor quality of sobriety because I’m not happy or whatever, you know what I’m saying? 

0:19:02 Angela: Right.

0:19:03 John: When in truth, if I could just differentiate myself from the rest of the room and just be true to however I was feeling at the time, that is actually more emotionally sober because I’m at least connecting to whatever I am feeling and not trying to be… Conform myself to whatever the group was. I just found that whole idea really interesting because that’s just something I kind of discovered about myself just in the last year or so.

0:19:30 Angela: Right. Yeah. No, it makes sense to me.

0:19:33 John: Yeah and you’ve heard too about people talking about how in meetings how they grew up, they talk about sobriety as kind of growing up, like they never grew up. That people would say that they were stuck, like if they started drinking when they were 12 but they were always like a 12-year-old. Have you ever heard of that? 

0:19:36 Angela: Right. Yes. I think so.

0:19:36 John: Some people think about emotional sobriety as just kind of growing, growing up.

0:19:36 Angela: Yeah. Well and you know, a lot of it is maturing just in general. The natural process hopefully of maturing as well. I was thinking about something on the group part that you said, what was it? 

0:19:36 John: About how you kind of adapt to whatever the group…

0:19:36 Angela: Yeah. I think a lot of us have experienced in different places the idea that you shouldn’t have your own differentiation and that you should… If you don’t have the big book with you that you’re carrying at all times and underlined and have all this stuff in it and be working these steps as they are written in the book and do all of those things, then you’re kind of put in as an outcast and I don’t even know that in some of those places they even call that emotional sobriety. We might be in a highfalutin subject right now so for some people but yeah, the judgment in there and the being able to get to a point where you can sit with your own feelings and your own ideas and do that within the group, I think that’s some pretty cool emotional sobriety and some good recovery right there but it’s not easy to do.

0:21:32 Angela: When I was thinking of this subject, I was thinking of one of the things my home group does for me is that it has certain trusted people that kind of act as a container to hold some of my stress and uncertainty or my difficult emotions or things that may be too scary for me to handle on my own. I can go in there and say that I’m upset or I’m sad or this happened or I don’t know what to do about this and that it’s an okay thing for me to do that and in just doing that I can process it. Sometimes people can share what they did if they had a similar thing but part of it is just sharing it and that I have been concerned at certain times that sharing some of that might be seen by some people as not having quality, emotional sobriety or quality sobriety because if I have been sober a number of years and I’m still struggling with my partner or the neighbor or some sort of thing like that, then what does that mean? 

0:22:41 Angela: And so it is something that I have been concerned about before but ultimately, I decided that I needed to process it and that I’m committed. It’s okay. Yeah.

0:22:56 John: Yeah, me too. You know what? I have always talked about whatever was bothering me in meetings. If I was having a problem in my life, I would bring it up. I’d talk about how I felt about it, what was going on with me and if you heard me, you’d probably think my life was a mess but that was how I would kind of get myself on track. That was what was helping me. So sometimes if you hear somebody talking honestly about themselves and that they’re a little confused or they’re afraid or whatever, it’s not that the person doesn’t have their act together, it’s that the person’s getting their act together. It’s they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. That’s someone actually to emulate. It’s not someone to cast aside as an unhealthy person, I don’t think necessarily.

0:23:44 Angela: Right. Yeah. First you have to do their inventory and then cast them aside if that’s necessary.

0:23:53 John: I’ll tell you something else that was interesting, this whole idea of dependence. The emotional sobriety being that this whole idea that you don’t want to be dependent upon someone else to make you feel okay and Bill Wilson looked at AA itself as a dependency that he needed to cut off and that was a really interesting thing to read that Bill Wilson did… He realized that he needed to be independent, not dependent. It’s like Allen Berger says, you don’t want to trade an unhealthy dependency for a healthy dependency. The whole idea is to be independent.

0:24:33 Angela: Yes, yes. I agree and I think we’ve talked about that a little bit in this sober distancing podcast thus far so I won’t go into it anymore but it is a big topic for me right now, the idea of overdependence on certain things within the AA structure or dogma or whatever and how that can be damaging to people and it’s something that it’s interesting because I can’t talk about it with everybody because there are some people that it steps on what’s important to them and so I feel like in my life, part of my differentiation or individuation or whatever it is, is that I can hold in one hand the AA’s faults and their dogma and the ways that they actually harm people and the ways that it falls short on a lot of different things but I can also still work within it and help people and be a voice of secularism and show people that they can get sober, which is the first thing and then move on to recovery and have a better life but I can hold both of those different ideas at the same time and to me, that’s a big part of what this whole thing is about is that I’m not too attached to either of those ideas and so yeah.

0:26:10 John: Yeah, it’s getting away from black or white thinking and living in the gray area I guess. There’s 26 people in the chat room. Unbelievable. A couple of comments, I can read Bill Harris writes, “emotional sobriety was the beginning of serenity for me. Stuff happens but I began to be able to react calmly to adversity” is how he sees it.

0:26:33 Angela: Nice. Nice.

0:26:36 John: And then Bubbles Wan. I think this is how you say this? Says “Emotions, feelings eww ick. The two worst words in the dictionary. I’ve often heard that one’s emotional growth is linked to the age one became addicted to alcohol.” Yeah, I’ve heard that. “and I sort of think that emotional sobriety is sort of wavelike hence calling the top or peak of the wave a high quality serenity. The Valley of the wave would be realizing that one sobriety could be jeopardized by the low points and taking action.” Oh, that’s really good.

0:27:08 Angela: Yeah, that’s interesting. With the age thing, that’s a difficult one too. At least for me, I think it’s a personal thing because when I started drinking alcoholically, I was later in my 20s and when I stopped I was in my 30s and so I don’t believe that I was behaving like a proper 20 something in my 20s when I was drinking alcoholically. I was probably behaving like a 14-year-old. I don’t know how much credence I give to that idea. I can see where it came from and how it might be helpful for some people as far as processing what they need to do or what their next stages of development are but it doesn’t make as much sense for my particular situation.

0:28:04 Angela: Now if we go to my other solutions for what was going on with me, I was a compulsive overeater far before I ever started drinking alcoholically and so if we look back at that, that’s probably like about age 12 that I started doing that and so yeah, I could see a little bit in there that that’s a continuation, which alcohol was the continuation after I could no longer compulsively overeat but again, it could also be even sooner than that with developmental trauma and stuff. It’s an interesting idea but I don’t know. Well like everything in AA and recovery and stuff, it can be different for different people.

0:28:55 John: Yeah and my drinking was bad. I started drinking young but it was really bad in my early 20s, my early to mid 20s was the worst of my drinking, which was really a relatively short period of time but that was also a period of time when I should have been learning how to be a responsible adult which I guess my drinking diverted me. I think we got another caller. Let’s see, take this call.

0:29:18 Angela: Okay, great.

0:29:19 John: I love to get these calls. How are you doing? 

0:29:23 Jackie: Hey, it’s Jackie.

0:29:26 John: Hey Jackie.

0:29:27 Angela: Hi Jackie.

0:29:28 Jackie: Hey Angela, hey John. How are you guys doing? 

0:29:31 John: Not bad, not bad.

0:29:32 Angela: Yeah, I’m good.

0:29:34 John: So can you enlighten us? 

0:29:35 Jackie: Yeah, good.

0:29:36 Angela: Yes, we would like to hear it.

0:29:38 Jackie: Yeah. Can I please? 

0:29:39 Angela: Yes, please. Please do.

0:29:41 Jackie: You know what, I love this stuff. Yeah. Well I was thinking of a bunch of stuff. I mean first off, I feel like we’re pretty like-minded, at least the three of us and probably a lot of folks listening, which is all that dogma and the people that come into AA and they say the same story all the time. They share a meeting, the same story and they’re also very quick at least in my experience, to tell me how I’m supposed to feel. I remember going to a meeting a couple days after my mom had passed away and some stranger I’d never met before trying to tell me that I should just pray to God to take this pain away, which I thought was so dumb. I feel like we should grieve when people die.

0:30:37 Jackie: I think that’s what some people think emotional sobriety is and I think you guys have been alluding to this, that I should just be okay when people I love die or if I lose a job or there’s a pandemic or whatever, right? And it’s interesting because I feel like I, like many of us, I was so desperate when I got sober and just was willing to stand on my head if you told me to. Anything to feel better and so I just drank the Kool-Aid and soaked in all the dogma and then the shit hit the fan for me in double digit recovery and it’s so interesting because I feel like Bill in a way.

0:31:18 Jackie: It was like I hit a terrible time in my life and I felt like it was so unfair that I had been sober and I had done all this stuff and for me, what happened was, actually that’s when I realized I didn’t think there was a God. Well for me, I know there is no God now, you know? Which was really interesting but it took me to a journey to go within. Just like you guys are all talking about, to seek professional help, to differentiate, to not have to drink the Kool-Aid anymore because it wasn’t working, right? You people, not you people, those people told me “Oh, just do this and you’ll be happy, joyous and free.” and it didn’t work. It didn’t work and so I’m grateful because it did take me on a whole other path.

0:32:13 Jackie: Almost like I won a second sobriety date because although it was really hellish and painful, it took me to a place where, I mean I’m not happy, I mean I can be I guess happy but I’m content. I’m just okay most days and so I guess the word I was thinking when I was listening to you guys, trying to figure out if I should call or not, was balance, right? Not that I have achieved it but it’s in the striving for the balance. Do you know what I mean? because I don’t think I’ll ever get it but it is like not being pulled to those extremes.

0:33:00 Angela: Right, yeah and then not beating yourself up when you’re not on the higher road and feeling great and wonderful and all of that. Just being like “Oh! I’m working towards balance and today it’s not that great.” so we’ll try again later or tomorrow or something like that.

0:33:21 John: Allen Berger said in one of his tapes on this, he said that in line to what Jackie is saying, it’s not necessarily about suppressing or controlling emotions but it’s just basically coping with life on life’s terms so that if you have a death in the family, you recognize that fact and he was talking about… He was using for example Viktor Frankl’s book “Man’s Search for Meaning.” and so Viktor Frankl was looking at people in Auschwitz who… And he was looking at those who did better from a psychological standpoint and what he found was, the people who let go of the idea that people care did better.

0:34:03 John: In other words, you’re in this concentration camp and you have this idea that you’re raised with that people care about each other but the Nazis don’t care about you, they don’t care about you and if you think that they care about you and if you’re looking for something from them, you’re not going to do very well, psychologically but the people who realize the truth, that the Nazis don’t care about them, those people don’t care about them but they found their own value from within, they dealt with the reality that they were in.

0:34:33 John: In other words they said, “The Nazis don’t care about me but I care about me and I’m going to keep myself going.” It’s a dramatic way of looking at it but I think their emotional sobriety was just recognizing the fact that they were dealing in and not looking for… Just the reality of the situation, I guess and dealing…

0:34:56 Angela: Yeah. Oh, that makes sense to me.

0:35:00 Jackie: Yeah, absolutely.

0:35:00 Angela: Reality is something that I think we were all either avoiding in our using and stuff but the thing that’s quite difficult for us, that’s why we have all of this stuff written about acceptance and surrender and blah blah blah and looking at our own stuff and sorting all of that out is so that we can deal with reality and live in reality and reality isn’t always fun so yeah interesting.

0:35:31 Jackie: Yeah. When I first got sober, I had a big red shirt… A shirt that said, “Reality, what a concept.”


0:35:41 Jackie: Because it was so elusive to me but even… You guys both know that I’m really into this mindfulness stuff and to me, that too has grounded me in emotional sobriety. The ability to sit still with myself with not a lot of distractions, except for this monkey mind of mine and just sit through stuff. Absolutely, acceptance, mindfulness, whatever you want to call it but you just can’t change reality. You just can’t. [chuckle] and I just think for a long time, I thought I could and yeah, I can’t.

0:36:20 Angela: Yeah, that makes sense.

0:36:20 Jackie: Oh and also, I want to tell you guys, I have two books sitting here, they’re both called “Emotional Sobriety”.


0:36:26 Jackie: One is called… because I’m crazy about book-buying. One’s called “Emotional Sobriety Two: The Next Frontier”, it’s from the Grapevine but I think John, that it has that… I think it has Bill W.’s letter on the front, that you keep alluding to.

0:36:43 John: Yeah. I bet it does.

0:36:44 Jackie: “The Next Frontier: Emotional Sobriety”. Yeah, it’s pretty interesting and then it has just a bunch of stories from AA people talking about it but then the other one is actually by, I think a therapist or something. It’s called “Emotional Sobriety: From Relationship Trauma to Resilience and Balance”. So yeah there’s all kinds of literature out there for this stuff. Yeah Angela, I’ll send you a copy of that.


0:37:08 Angela: If you could just send me a… Yeah, a copy of your entire library, that would be great, I would love that. [chuckle]

0:37:19 Jackie: Okay. Wait and vice versa, please.


0:37:22 Jackie: Anyway guys, I have to tell you, every week I have to sit here and say “Don’t call in, you can’t call in every week.”


0:37:29 Jackie: So I’m trying to be good. I just really like you guys.

0:37:33 John: Oh, thank you.

0:37:33 Jackie: And love what you’re doing and so I try to pause and…

0:37:39 John: Well, I love it when you call. We need callers.


0:37:43 John: It helps keep us going.


0:37:46 Jackie: That’s great, that’s great. Well I love this stuff and really like what you guys do. I appreciate everything you do and yeah, if you need me to call back, just text me.

0:37:56 John: Alright.

0:37:56 Angela: Okay. [chuckle]

0:38:00 Jackie: Yeah, I’ll talk to you all later.

0:38:00 John: Alright, take care. Thank you, Jackie.


0:38:02 John: Thank you very much.

0:38:02 Jackie: Bye. You’re welcome.

0:38:04 Angela: Bye.

0:38:04 John: Well, that’s cool.

0:38:07 Angela: Yeah, Jackie’s great. If people decide that they don’t want to call in, we can actually just call Jackie.

0:38:15 John: Right, we could. [chuckle]

0:38:16 Angela: We’ll be like, “Jackie, what do you think about this subject?”

0:38:19 John: Yeah, we could… It’s like that one show…

0:38:21 Angela: She’s great.

0:38:21 John: You’d call…

0:38:23 Angela: The Phone-a-Friend? 

0:38:24 John: Yeah, Phone-a-Friend. [chuckle]

0:38:25 Angela: Phone-a-Friend? Yeah like “Nobody’s calling in, no one likes this subject. I’ll phone a friend. Jackie.”

0:38:32 John: But also, this whole thing about emotional sobriety, what Jackie was saying that there’s books out there about it, Allen Berger thought it through too. He actually came up with a way for inventorying your emotional sobriety and so what he would do, he would say pretty much like you’d do your inventory in the Big Book, where you have these columns and your first column would be, you write down whatever an upsetting event is. The example he used is this guy who was struggling with his sobriety and would always relapse and it was causing problems in his marriage and his wife could never trust him and was getting tired of his continuing relapses.

0:39:15 John: Anyway, he comes back from a meeting after he got his six-month chip and he was so happy about it and he was disappointed when his wife wasn’t. This was his upsetting event. He wasn’t getting the validation from his wife. His wife wasn’t happy about this so the second column is to look at what your unhealthy dependence is and in his case, his unhealthy dependence was trying to get that validation from his wife and then, you look at the demand in the third column and his demand was that his wife be excited and happy about his six-month chip.

0:39:54 Angela: Right.

0:39:55 John: So then, you look at what do you do instead? Or what did you do? And in this particular case, the guy was upset with what his wife did so he just withdrew and started feeling bad about himself. That was how he reacted but what he needed to do and this is the fifth column, what he needed to do to stay centered was to understand that his sobriety was for him and he needed to feel good about it. It didn’t matter what his wife felt about his six-month chip. He needed to feel good about it for his own sense of self-worth, I guess.

0:40:31 Angela: Right. Wow! That’s great, I love that.

0:40:33 John: Yeah, I thought that was pretty interesting. I’d never seen that before. I don’t know how different that is, really, from just your normal inventory [chuckle] because you look at your normal inventory, you look at some resentment or feeling that you have about something. Then you look at your part in it or how it affected you and then you learn from it. It’s pretty much, essentially, the same sort of inventory, I guess.

0:40:58 Angela: Right but if you frame in a different way or use different columns, then it seems a lot more exciting to the rest of us who’ve been so… [laughter] for a little while are like, “Alright, a new inventory. Let’s go.” [chuckle]

0:41:10 John: Yeah but it did get me to think because here I am, I’ve done a lot of work on myself, I guess. I do my best but yeah, there are times when I probably still am looking for validation from other people, I was wanting other people to like me and so forth and I think it would be probably a good idea for me to stop and do an inventory like this. If I’m upset about an interaction that I have with somebody, to stop and think about “What is it? What is it about me here that I’m so upset?” and just, yeah.

0:41:45 Angela: Yeah, no. I like that and I think it’s important and for me, with those spot inventories and stuff is, the work is still allowing myself to sit with it. kind of like what Jackie was saying with meditation, just to sit with the feeling without attaching to it. I think with this type of stuff, I have been working on sitting with the feeling and just recognizing that I’m resentful towards whatever it is and that that kind of sucks and I have anger and I have this and that and the other and that if I share it with people or I write on it or go to a therapist, that usually it resolves itself or the strong feeling that I’m finding unpleasant will eventually pass and so yeah, I still continue to work with that and that’s some of the basic stuff just in recovery in general, is learning that the feelings that we have are temporary. [chuckle]

0:42:55 Angela: So that whatever feeling I’m having right now is not going to be the way it’s going to be forever and I recall vividly in early recovery that I felt that way all the time. That whatever I was feeling was horrible, unless it was great but it was going to be that way forever and it’s something I struggled with depression as well. Because that dark passenger, as I sometimes have called it, it tells me that this sucks and it’s not going to get better and it’s sucked before and you might convince yourself that it’s going to get better but it’s going to suck again and all of those things are true but I’ve also learned that they’re all okay, because it does pass.

0:43:42 John: I was thinking about depression because… I don’t suffer from it so much now because I’ve been treated for it and I’ve taken antidepressants so I don’t get depressed but during that period of time when I was suffering from depression, that seemed to be the time when I was really motivated to try to find a way to get out of it I guess but I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I guess I felt like the depression was motivating me to grow and learn about myself and now that I don’t have that depression, I have to have some other motive and usually, what happens is, there’s gotta be some sort of a problem in my life that presents itself for me to start taking time really, to do an inventory.

0:44:31 John: I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I wonder if I’m not really doing as much as I probably should do because I’m not feeling that depression. I still feel sad when I need to feel sad and so forth but I don’t fall into depression anymore.

0:44:45 Angela: Right. You probably should look at that because… No, I’m just kidding.


0:44:52 Angela: No, what I was thinking of was more of, with depression and stuff and whether or not you’re working on things or continue working on things. My sponsor told me a long time ago that our minds are problem-solving machines and that one of the problems that I could work on was solving for happiness or solving for serenity and that if I worked on those things, it gave my mind something to do. Yeah. I agree. I don’t think that it’s necessarily depression that you have to have something like that to be continuing to grow or that you have to be in an active addiction or any of those things.

0:45:40 Angela: I think that our minds are problem-solving machines and if we’re bored or don’t have something, it’ll create a problem for us to solve and so again, some of this emotional sobriety and recovery stuff is important to be able to recognize that as what’s going on, rather than attaching too much to whatever the problem is that we’ve created because sometimes we can become extremely obsessive and get ourselves into trouble and sometimes it does lead to relapse.

0:46:17 John: Yeah and also, after a person has been sober for a while, you do get a little bit of stability in your life. You’re not going through all these dramatic problems and so forth like you were when you’re drinking. I guess I do have that too. I do have some stability simply because I have met the basics of my life and I’m sober so I’ve got that and it’s more difficult, I guess to recognize when something is off now. For me now, it’s always related to work. It’s some kind of work problem that makes me stop and think that “Wow, there’s something here I need to look at.” because otherwise, I don’t really… I feel like I’m okay. [chuckle] For the most part.

0:47:00 Angela: Yeah. [chuckle]

0:47:01 Angela: Yeah, which is cool I think. Sometimes we don’t talk about that either because it can be uncomfortable particularly in the early years when you’re feeling okay. When you’re not in some sort of dramatic thing or a dramatic relationship or dramatic job situation or whatever it is, when it’s like you realize that “Oh wow! Everything is okay for the moment.” That can be very unsettling. [chuckle]

0:47:30 John: Yeah, it’s weird. I swear to God, I thought, during my early sobriety, my first 10 years anyway. I thought that I needed to have that chaos because I would still have these problems. Even after I stopped drinking, I would have these problems in life and I thought I was self-sabotaging myself but that really wasn’t the case. I just had to deal with some stuff, I guess. I just had to learn from my mistakes in sobriety.

0:48:01 John: Mary is writing. She says “For me, emotional sobriety is about maturing and feeling comfortable in my own skin. Now in my mid-60s, I’ve never had more serenity. Thank God, I no longer have the angst and stress I had in my 20s.” She kind of describes what I just talked about for myself too. When I was in my 20s, I had all that angst and so forth and not so much now.

0:48:20 Angela: Right, yeah.

0:48:21 John: Maybe it’s just getting older.

0:48:22 Angela: No, I totally get that. Yeah. I look forward to having what Mary has. If I’m lucky, then someday I might.

0:48:34 John: We have time if anybody wants to call. The number is 844-899-8278 so feel free to give us a call.

0:48:45 Angela: Something that came up in my mind as we were talking about this is… When I got sober, there were some people around my age that were getting sober as well and I think that, for some people, it depends on when they get sober. Some people don’t have a little cohort or anything like that so I think it’s your location and age that might play into that but one of the things that I noticed was that some of the people in the group were…

0:49:19 Angela: If they got into a relationship or they got into a situation and they weren’t behaving the way that a sober, emotionally sober person should be acting, that sometimes that they would drink just so they could get a restart on their recovery and they could say “Hey, I was doing this because I was on my way to a relapse.” Then that would excuse that behavior and they would restart their recovery again because of that and so that was something that I talked to my sponsor at that time about and she gave me the tool or the idea that I don’t have to drink to restart my sobriety or my recovery or whatever it is that’s going on with me. That I can just do it [chuckle] that I don’t have to go to the extreme of messing up my life worse, by drinking again or doing some other substance to relieve my pain.

0:50:29 Angela: That I could actually take some of these tools that I was starting to work with and use those and look at it again, do an inventory, whatever it was that I needed to do and that was helpful for me because again, I saw it with quite a few people in my age group and my little cohort that they were doing that and some of them didn’t make it back to recovery, at least as far as I’m aware.

0:51:00 Angela: So yeah, that’s my plug for this week, is that if you’re struggling, you don’t have to drink or use a substance to restart your time. The time thing is, whatever. [chuckle] That’s another one that is difficult within the rooms because it takes time to get time and all of that kind of stuff but again, it plays into emotional sobriety and that not everybody who has a lot of time is behaving or the best role model for how to have a balanced life. Some of them are and that… Yeah, I think that, for me, I’m more impressed with people who talk about their recovery time and stuff because sometimes it takes people quite a few tries to get this thing going and if you do relapse, it doesn’t mean that you didn’t learn anything from the last time that you were in recovery and trying to work on things. I think that that’s something to consider with emotional sobriety.

0:52:13 John: It totally is.

0:52:16 Angela: As some of the language we use.

0:52:16 John: And you’re smart not to put people on pedestals [chuckle] and assume, just because they have so much time, that they have their act together because you’re right, there are people who don’t and that’s just something that we have to accept because that’s the fact of our existence, our life. Not everybody perhaps in an AA meeting has our best interest at heart and that’s something to be aware of. There are predators in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s something that… It’s a fact and we have to be aware of that and deal with it and it’s like… That’s part of our emotional sobriety, is not needing the… [chuckle] Not needing to believe, I guess, that everybody is good but you need to… I guess it’s important to trust people and so forth but it’s just to have that reality, I guess, that sense of freedom.

0:53:07 Angela: Yeah, nobody really talked to me about developing discernment early on in AA. [chuckle] And so that is something that would have been helpful but yeah, discernment is something that has grown in me or that I’ve learned from being in recovery and again, it’s not all from AA, sometimes it’s from therapy, sometimes it’s from books and other things like that but learning to be discerning of who you place your trust with. Learning to let people show you who they are. That’s one of the things I got out of my first inventory, is that I didn’t let people show me who they were, I jumped into friendships or relationships or whatever it was and then I made up my own idea of who the person was and then they usually didn’t turn out to be what I had made up.

0:54:03 Angela: They for some reason, had their own ideas about who they were. [chuckle] and that for me in friendship, it’s important to give a little to start a friendship but also let people show me who they are because eventually, they will and just as people get to know me, they’ll see who I truly am but that it’s a time thing and it takes some discernment and so not to just throw my vulnerability out at anyone is…

0:54:39 John: That’s where people say “That if somebody tells you what they are and who they are, believe them.”

0:54:43 Angela: Yeah, to an extent.

0:54:46 John: Oh, I mean [chuckle] I meant that like…

0:54:49 Angela: Oh, you know, I don’t know. [chuckle]

0:54:51 John: Yeah. I guess it can’t be a blanket statement because of course they could… I guess that doesn’t really work.

0:54:56 Angela: Yeah. [chuckle]

0:54:56 John: I guess I’m thinking about a certain politician who is… [chuckle]

0:55:01 John: Right. Yeah.

0:55:03 John: Yeah, he tells you what he’s… Whatever! 

0:55:06 Angela: Yeah. No, I don’t know about that.


0:55:09 John: Yeah, That might not be…

0:55:11 Angela: Listening to four steps. I hear from people who are at fifth steps, I guess and the person that they think they are is not the person who I see in front of me and helping them to see a little bit more of the person that I see in front of me is part of that so again, learning the balance in discernment and what all of that means. There’s so much! So much.

0:55:39 John: Well Angela, do you want to talk a little bit about, I guess the news, if people haven’t heard about ICSAA being postponed? 

0:55:48 Angela: Not really but we can. [laughter]

0:55:52 John: Well, I already posted it on AA Beyond Belief and it’s been posted on the Secular AA Coffee Shop group but basically, it’s not a big deal… Well it could be a big deal for some people but we had to postpone that conference for a year, because of the coronavirus situation and I think it was the right thing to do but fortunately the hotel is going to give us the same deal the following year so that’s what we’re going to do.

0:56:23 Angela: Yeah, there was some discussion about different ideas of how to handle it. If we move it to spring or move it to something else or not have it altogether or have it digitally and several of us heard from people on what would work best for them and so as a group, we decided that postponing it for another year would probably be the best for right now and if we have to look at that differently at some time, then we probably will but yeah.

0:56:58 John: I think most people understand. I think it was really the only thing that we could have done but anyway, for anyone who doesn’t know, if you’re listening to this podcast now, you know, I guess. [chuckle]

0:57:08 Angela: Right. [chuckle]

0:57:09 John: I always like to break the news, Angela.


0:57:13 Angela: Great, well, with the…

0:57:15 John: I’m always in competition with Roger, an AA agnostic, break the news first.

[overlapping conversation]

0:57:15 Angela: Yeah. I’m usually like “Umm, yeah. I guess I heard that too.” so anyway. [chuckle] If you have questions then you know how to reach most of us from Secular AA and we can let you know the best of what we know right now but again, hopefully there’ll be a vaccine out by that time and some people who are suffering some difficulties financially will be able to make up for that and be able to go but yeah, there was a lot of different factors into why this was probably the best decision for us to make at this time.

0:58:00 John: Anyway, that’s that. We’re coming up on an hour. If there are no other callers, give one more chance for someone to call in if they’d like to. Yes Brie, it was the conference in DC, the International Conference of Secular AA, it was scheduled for the end of October of 2020 but we rescheduled it for the end of October of 2021 because the situation at present just wasn’t likely that we could put that conference on.

0:58:29 Angela: Yeah and even if things are starting to re-open over the summer, there are still a lot of questions about again, finances for some people and safety for some people. Our population may not be traveling as much yet, at that time either and so by putting it out another year, it seems like it would be the best for the majority of people who were planning to attend it so…

0:59:00 John: Well, I enjoyed this discussion about emotional sobriety. I actually learned a lot preparing for this. It gave me an opportunity to stop and think about it and I might take away some of what I read and maybe start putting it to use. I think it’s all about just learning to cope with life, on life’s terms.

0:59:17 Angela: Yeah, just being able to be in reality and cope with reality and try to find balance in your life.

0:59:26 John: Yeah. I will go ahead and close this one out. Thank you everybody for hanging out with us in the chat room and thank you for all the people in the future who will be listening to the podcast, as it airs on Apple. It’s always a lot of fun to do this and I appreciate you all giving us the opportunity. So that’s it, that’s another episode of AA Beyond Belief.

0:59:52 John: We’ll be back again with another episode every Friday. We will be posting these live YouTube streams and I actually have some other episodes that I’ll be posting that were recorded in the past. I’ve got one coming out this Sunday so we’ll be posting on Friday and Sunday new episodes of the podcast. So anyway, thanks everybody for listening, we’ll be back again real soon. Take care.
1:00:14 Angela: Thanks everyone.