An excerpt from
12 More Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery
by Allen Berger, PhD., Hazelden Publishing
Part one of a four part series on Optimal Recovery and Emotional Sobriety
Sober Suffering: Caused by Focusing on How Life Should Be
I have been in recovery for over forty six years and a counselor or psychologist for forty four of those years. During that time I have helped thousands of men and women start their journey in recovery or helped them deal with their sober suffering (which is a term used by Fred Holmquist to describe the experience that many people experience at some point in their recovery).
What I discovered is that their sober suffering shared something in common – it was caused by a variation on a recurring theme. These men and women demanded (this was the recurring theme) that life should conform to their expectations. Their demands made it difficult for them to cope because they had the cart before the horse – meaning that they were hung up on how life should be. How does this happen? How do we end up putting ourselves in such a position?
Here’s what causes this mess: Wherever we focus is where our energy goes. When our attention is concentrated on what should happen we cannot use our internal resources to discover a creative adaptation or solution to whatever situation we are facing. We get knocked off balance and find ourselves unable to regain or recover our balance.
This is the cause of our sober suffering: we get knocked off balance and don’t know how to restore our homeostasis. We don’t know how to self-regulate.
How can we use this insight to grow ourselves?
A principle that has guided my clinical work is that the problem is never the real problem. The real problem lies in how we cope or don’t. This is the key to optimal recovery. Life is what it is, it is how we cope with it that counts. Any demand that life should conform to our wishes keeps us stuck and immature. It keeps us from realizing our full potential. It keeps us from growing up. It diminishes our potential.