Enjoy Sobriety

Enjoy Sobriety

Out of balance?

The Practice:
Enjoy sobriety.

Why?

By “sobriety,” I mean healthy self-control, a centered enjoyment of life, and an inner freedom from drivenness. We typically apply this sense of balance and self-care to things like food, drugs and alcohol, sexuality, money, and risky behaviors. And if you like, you could bring sobriety to other things as well, such as to righteousness, contentiousness, over-working, or controlling others.

At bottom, sobriety is the opposite of craving, broadly defined: you’re not going to war with what’s unpleasant, chasing after what’s pleasant, or clinging to what’s heartfelt.

Personally, I think of sobriety in terms of the big picture, and in the context of a life well-lived. Pigging out over a luscious meal with friends once a month is one thing, but over-eating daily is another. Bottom-line, if you can’t do something within appropriate bounds, you can’t do it at all. Most of us – me included – know where we tend to go too far and need to establish a more wholesome balance. And obviously, any behavior that harms others should go to zero.

You might think of sobriety as a kind of loss, but it’s actually fueled by a sense of gain. Sure, there’s a place for using your will. But studies show that willpower gets depleted fairly quickly in most people. Instead of willing yourself to avoid the bad, enjoying the good – the benefits of your sobriety – will naturally draw you in a higher direction.

How?

Set yourself up to succeed. Do what you can to take care of your deeper needs so you feel less driven to distract yourself, numb out, or get high. Reduce temptations; if you’re trying to stop drinking, don’t have alcohol in your home. Get support, from an honest conversation with your partner to a 12-step program (or secular alternatives) and/or counseling. Don’t underestimate the power of craving: if you’ve tried to change in the past and not succeeded, recognize that you’ll need to increase your inner and outer resources for sobriety to have a different result this time around.

As they say in Tibet: If you take care of the minutes, the years will take care of themselves. Take it a minute at a time, a day at a time. When you have a chance to enjoy your sobriety, really help the experience sink in, which will gradually incline your mind and brain toward the high road instead of the low one. Sober traits are grown in your brain by actually installing sober states. If you don’t register your positive states – if you don’t take the dozen seconds or so to help them sink in – they make little or no difference to your brain: then there’s no learning, no improvement in neural structure or function, and thus no lasting benefit. (For more on this, see Hardwiring Happiness.)

So, to support and maintain your sobriety, enjoy and really take in its benefits. At the start of a day, an evening, or even a minute, commit to and enjoy the anticipated positive results of sobriety. While you are being sober in some way, enjoy the results. After being sober, looking back, take in the sense of its benefits.

Enjoy the bliss of blamelessness. The feeling that there is nothing to be ashamed of, that you are taking an honorable path. The knowledge that you are putting distance every day between yourself and problematic past behaviors. Enjoy the sense of worth, of self-respect.

Enjoy the pleasures of a clear mind and a healthy body. Be glad about not putting toxins – the source of the word, intoxication – into your body and mind. Feel good about the gift you are giving your future self.

Enjoy the results in your relationships. Enjoy not feeling embarrassed the day after, or hung-over, or tired because you stayed up too late. Savor the respect of others. Be glad you avoided needless quarrels. Feel good about not harming others. Be glad you’ve cleared the field, so you can focus on getting your wants met in the relationship.

Enjoy learning how to manage stress and have fun in more wholesome, psychologically mature ways.

Enjoy the freedom in not being compelled to drink, etc. The pleasure in feeling in charge of your own actions, mind, and life.

Enjoy the opportunity to learn about desire by not fulfilling it. Be more realistic about the actual rewards of indulging desires; enjoy waking up from the spells cast – “Drink this! Smoke that! Eat these!” – by addictive hungers. Enjoy how sobriety supports your practices in the upper reaches of human potential, including in spiritual life.

Most deeply, enjoy relating to the world and to your life not gripped at the throat by desire. Enjoy the inner peace that comes from not being compelled to do things that may feel good in the moment but have big lingering costs for you and others.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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