How I maintain emotional sobriety

By Judy Michaels Safford


“Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows”

- Rumi

My definition of emotional sobriety is to allow and be present with whatever emotion presents itself.  I welcome the emotional waves and their accompanying gifts today. This is a far cry from the past where my thoughts linked emotional sobriety with spirituality. I used to think:

  • When I'm enlightened, nothing will bother me.

  • When I am psychologically mature, I'll be above emotions.

  • When I am old and wise, everything will simply pass through.

These fantasy messages combated the old haunting voices that judged, blamed and shamed me with guilt. It was wrong to have anger, resentment or complaints. “If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all,” my dad often repeated.

For many years, being stuffed with food helped me to squelch and ignore unnamed emotions. My world witnessed me 50 to 70 pounds overweight, a yo-yo dieter with a mission to fix herself and those who crossed her path. Nightly, I prayed to lose weight, but took no action. My self-disappointment masked by know-it-all behavior was challenging for my family. Who will Mom be tomorrow? Believing I was in control only fooled me.

After 30 years of pain, disappointment and desperation, I found a 12 Step program. Another 30 years passed before the Ayurvedic way of caring for myself manifested in my path. As I tenderly balance my doshas, I more easily welcome emotions.

My process today for maintaining emotional sobriety is:

  1. Recognize the feeling

  2. Locate it in my body

  3. Describe the emotion: What is the temperature of this feeling (warm, cold, hot)? If it had a color, what color would it be? What is its density? How does my body feel?

  4. Sit or lie down in a posture that connects my meridians. I quietly breathe and listen in silence for guidance.

Years ago, I spent many months helping a woman work through several of the 12 Steps. She was grateful. Shortly thereafter, she decided to work with someone else. As we parted, she mentioned that she planned to use my material in her new business venture. Even though I felt used and discounted, I bypassed the feelings and went straight to gratitude. Recently, I heard the woman's voice in a meeting and resentment came back. I realized I had not honored my feelings. Taking that to heart, I put the feelings on paper and began to write a response to my inner child: It's okay to be angry. Of course you feel hurt.

I continued until all my feelings were on paper and my small self was satisfied, heard and understood. Sharing this writing with my mentor helped me embody freedom from the resentment.

Running from emotions no longer frees me. Emotional sobriety offers me the joyful surrender that allows a fully present life.

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