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Lesson 1: What Is Sobriety?

What is sobriety? The dictionary would tell us that it’s a state of living sober, but what does that mean? Regardless of who we ask or whose research we follow, the definition of sobriety can be complex, encompassing various elements that work together to move us to a place of health. It’s important to take on this mindset when we are pursuing sobriety and lifelong health. Our pathway toward health is not paved with only one type of stone or based on overcoming only one area in our lives—it is paved with a variety of stones that change over time based on our needs throughout the process.

This process of healing and maintaining a steady condition of health often takes on a theme such as “living in sobriety” or “being in recovery,” but what does this look like? We simply cannot stop harmful behaviors and expect a lasting change. It will require a process of changing our brain—how we think, feel, and act—which can only happen through self-awareness.

Look at this definition of sobriety.9

  • Restoration: accepting life on God’s terms, with trust, grace, mercy, vulnerability, and gratitude
  • No current secrets
  • Working to resolve problems
  • Identifying fears and feelings
  • Keeping commitments to meetings, prayer, family, church, people, goals, and self
  • Being open and honest, making eye contact
  • Increasing in relationships with God and others
  • True accountability

We have already approached some of these issues through assessment tests, facing our fears to remove the masks we wear, weekly commitments for better sleep, and developing our Recovery Action Plan. As we go through this workbook, we will continue to gain new tools, insights, and understanding of what sobriety and restoration will look like for each of us.

There is no single “quick fix” pathway to healing. What makes matters worse is that many of us have never been here before. We’ve started the path toward healing, only to feel

defeated and give up a short time later. It’s difficult to maintain direction when we don’t know which way to go.

If we want to sustain lifelong healing, it requires a submission to God’s leading. We have to follow Him because we don’t know where we’re going. When it comes to following God’s lead, what was true for the Israelites as they crossed the Jordan River is true for us.

Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. 2After three days the officers went throughout the camp, 3giving orders to the people: “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the Levitical priests carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it. 4Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before. But keep a distance of about two thousand cubits between you and the ark; do not go near it.”

JOSHUA 3:1-4

The Israelites were instructed to follow the Ark of the Covenant, which was a representation of God Himself, so that they would know which way to go. They had “never been this way before” and needed God to lead the way.

It may seem scary to not know the way or to give up the control we want in our own healing and trust God’s leading. However, when we submit to God’s leading, we experience His grace and blessing like never before. The next verse of Joshua 3 reveals this truth:

Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.”

It is exciting to think of what God is going to do in us and through us as we move toward health! None of us will experience true sobriety if we do not yield to God’s leading in our lives. This will require a new level of trust and faith for many of us, and in return, the development of a deep love relationship with God.

My late night, online activities are not hurting anyone. I’ve tried to stop, but why should I? This is really no different than the fantasy video games my husband plays online. It’s not really real, so what’s the harm?

For the past year, I have developed a pattern of staying up late after my family goes to bed. Initially it was to catch up on chores. At one point, while perusing various online chat rooms, I stumbled into romantic and sexually explicit conversations with men. I have been married for nine years, and until now, found our sex life mundane. Initially I felt guilty, but my online fantasy chat-life has given me a newfound sense of exhilaration, even providing more enthusiasm and energy during sex with my husband. In many ways, this is a win-win situation for everyone.

I am very careful to delete my browser history every night, leaving no trail of my online activity. It’s not really a secret, but I would hate for my husband to see it. I don’t want to hurt his feelings. Besides, he’s really the one benefiting from my newly acquired sexual appetite.

Sonja

At what point do we have a problem that needs to be addressed? When does our behavior become the problem?

These are great questions. So often, especially when we hear the word “addiction,” we immediately tell ourselves, “I’m not an addict! That’s not me!” All of us have an image that comes to mind when we think of someone who is addicted, but many times it reflects a stereotypical, Hollywood version that is far from reality.

But, what happens when we use this language or ask these questions:

  1. Is our behavior something we’ve struggled with for a long period of time?
  2. Is our behavior something we’ve tried to stop on our own, but can’t?
  3. Is our behavior causing us harm or harming those around us?

Sonja has convinced herself that her behavior is not hurting anyone. This is a lie. Her behavior is hurting her. It may seem exciting in the moment, but she had to work past the feeling of guilt to get to a place of justification. In many ways, she has readjusted her moral compass and made changes to her thought process. This is contributing to how she feels about her current behavior, as well as influencing her future behaviors.

THOUGHTS  FEELINGS  BEHAVIORS

There is no way around it: our thoughts influence our feelings and our feelings influence our behaviors. Having an awareness of this cycle and how it contributes to our relationships is foundational to our healing. For many women, not only separating their thoughts and feelings, but also identifying them in this process takes time.

Defining the difference between thoughts and feelings is imperative. We’ve all heard someone say, “…it made me feel like they were judging me because I was letting my kids eat snacks…” This is not a feeling, but is a perfect example of a thought. Feelings are best described as one word: happy, sad, playful, excited. Feelings reflect an emotional state. A thought is a full sentence that leads to a feeling.

Here are a few examples of how our thoughts lead to how we feel:

  • I thought they were going to raise my rent, so I felt worried.
  • I thought we were having a girls’ night tomorrow, but it was canceled. I am disappointed.
  • I thought my big work project would be completed soon, but it has been delayed. I feel frustrated.

So often, we know what we’re thinking but can’t identify what we’re feeling. Or, we know how we feel, but are not sure why or where the feeling is coming from. Use the following exercise to further explore the relationship between our thoughts and feelings.

CHALLENGING UNHEALTHY THOUGHTS

When it comes to our inner voice—talking to ourselves in our head—many of us understand the analogy of a tape recorder. Over time, the messages we pick up about ourselves, our identity, and our behaviors are recorded on imaginary tapes. These tapes rewind and replay—over and over—throughout our lifetime. Unfortunately, it is our negative messages—our unhealthy thoughts—that replay with the greatest frequency, especially when, in the moment, we are feeling frustrated, stressed, or lonely.

Research suggests that we talk to ourselves at a rate of 4,000 words per minute; for some people, this is as much as 10 times faster than they can talk out loud.11 This is possible because when we talk to ourselves, it is more condensed—we have a greater understanding of the meaning behind what we are saying.

As previously discussed, thoughts are full sentences and feelings are one word. Our thoughts and feelings are closely related, in that many of our feelings originate from what we are thinking.12 The conversations that take place in our mind—the tapes that continually play—influence how we are feeling.

Raising awareness to how our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviors will help us gain insight into the motivating factors that drive our behaviors in relationship.

Looking Ahead

Complete the Group Check-In, Self-Care lesson, and Change & Growth Analysis in your
Unraveled: Weekly Tools before the next group meeting.