Many years’ ago, I had a boyfriend who liked to call me late at night, after he’d been drinking too much. He was a sweet, sentimental drunk. Eventually, the romance turned to friendship, he found AA and stopped drinking. But, he never worked on the problems that he drank to escape. He was the same person, just sober.

I ‘ve had clients who were 100% sober but their friends call them “drama queens” (why not “drama kings”? but that’s another column). They never had a substance dependence, but they sure had a drama dependence: without intense emotions and constant crises, they wouldn’t know how to function.

Recently, I attended a workshop on “Emotional Sobriety”. The idea really made sense to me as a therapist: it’s not really about whether you drink or use crystal or some other substance to numb out. The main point of being emotionally sober is that you learn to handle your shit so that it doesn’t handle you. Let’s look at what it means to be emotionally sober.

Emotionally sober people:

Work out their unresolved childhood wounds: what is it that you used to drink/use to avoid feeling? Was it loneliness? Social anxiety? Depression? Whatever it was that you were running from, it’s time to deal with it. If you don’t, those negative emotions are going to continue to run your life, and you won’t experience the freedom of having worked them out.

Live in the present, not the past or the future. Either you haven’t healed from traumatic relationships or experiences that still haunt you, or you focus so much on the future that you ignore where you are right now. All your hopes and energy are on the future: “Someday I’ll have a great job/lover/home of my own.” “Someday I’ll be happy.” “Someday…blah, blah, blah.” And you don’t do anything in the present to make that someday come about.

Use gratitude as a tool: start a daily habit where you are grateful for things…little things, big things, any thing! This keeps you grounded in the present, the only place you can really be happy. The past is gone and the future may never arrive: focus on the present.

Begin to create new friendships. If your old friends still drink/use to avoid their problems, they may drag you down now. A strong support network is crucial to your long-term health. It doesn’t happen overnight, so be patient. Give new friendships time to grow and deepen.

Learn how to calm yourself down when times are rough. Self-soothing skills are useful when life throws you a curveball. Books, friends, seminars, counselors, prayer, meditation… use whatever works for you to ground yourself when bad stuff happens.

Find meaningful activities, work, hobbies and passions: things that really matter to you, whether anyone else likes them or not. Focus on pleasing yourself and your old drama will begin to melt away.

Get clear on who you want to be. Many people in recovery are so focused on what they don’t want to be: “I don’t want to be a lonely, sad drunk anymore.” But, they forget to clarify who they do want to become: “I want to be a secure, calm person who enjoys life and can handle whatever comes my way with grace and serenity.” Sure, it’s a lofty goal, but why not aim high?

Explore what a healthy sex life could be. Be willing to let go of old ideas/break old patterns relating to your sexual/erotic life: try new ways of relating physically/sexually/romantically to others and see what happens.

In conclusion: it’s great to get clean and sober, but it’s not very pleasant if you don’t work on the reasons that you drank/used in the first place. And whether you’re in recovery from substance abuse or just a plain old sober drama queen: clean out your emotional “wounds”.

Don’t just put a psychic band-aid over a whole lot of ugly stuff from your past that you’ve been avoiding for years. Instead, get in there, go deep and find your own emotional sobriety. You have nothing to lose but your drama (and, really, what did it ever do for you?)