When I was nearly 17 years sober from my major addictions, my guru told me that there had come a time in his own sobriety journey when he wanted more than just abstinence from alcohol and drugs. He wanted peace of mind. He went on to tell me that, since making a few decisions at that time, he had pretty much achieved a relatively peaceful state of mind for another 20 years. 

20 years of relative peace of mind without major mental fluctuations is very appealing to me, who is someone prone to wallowing in emotionalism and catastrophizing even the tiniest of disturbances.

If you look up the meaning of ‘sober’, you will find that, in addition to being free of drunkenness, it means ‘serious, sensible and solemn.’ Solemn means dignified. Dignified has an air of confidence and worthiness of respect. I equate dignified with having integrity.  Integrity denotes being honest and having strong moral principles and existing in a state of being whole and undivided.  In some cases, the word ‘sobriety’ implies achieving life balance.

When I am not sober—physically or emotionally—I am far from dignified, I definitely lack integrity, and I am certainly not achieving life balance.

From what I’ve gathered over the years, a person who is abstinent from booze and drugs but not recovered from the extremes of emotionalism and mental chaos is, by recovery-slang definition, a ‘dry drunk’. And even people who haven’t been addicted to a substance or a behaviour can fit this description.

So, if sober doesn’t mean solely abstinence from alcohol or drugs, but also from the behaviours and states of being where my mind lacks dignity and integrity, then let’s identify where I’m not ‘sober’ in my own life and how can I fix that.

When I lack integrity and confidence in who I am, I rely on self-seeking behaviour to validate me—whether that be in the form of attention-seeking and people-pleasing or seeking comfort in food to numb my mind.  So, the major area in life where I could definitely benefit from emotional sobriety would be around validation-seeking. 

My validation-seeking comes in many forms, but most prominently in gym and body obsession, fame-whoring and name-dropping/putting on a comedy routine instead of just doing what feels good for my body—which for me is yoga, or being quiet and not needing to be the centre of attention. 

With the help of my guru, when I first identified that I wasn’t always being myself and instead casting an image, I asked him how I would go about changing that behaviour if I was so raw and inexperienced in even knowing who I am.

He told me to come from a place of humility (authenticity.)

There was something soothing and gentle about those words and the energy that stirred around them. 

Let’s now look at what humility means as a word. The most widely-accepted meaning is ‘modesty’ or ‘simplicity’ and ‘unpretentiousness.’

What would this look like practically for someone like me who puts on a show in everything I do? Who can’t reveal romantic interest and show emotion to almost anyone?

My guru gave me examples:

If I’m wanting to make a joke at someone else’s expense who happens to not be present, to choose not to do it. Making a joke at someone’s expense who is not present, does not really affect them because they are not there. It affects ME. It chips away at my integrity and self-esteem because I am not being myself. I am keeping the people in the room at arm’s length again by casting an image. Humility would be to keep my mouth shut and be the quiet and kinder person that the authentic me actually is. 

Or when I am seeking casual validation on ‘dating’ apps and the like, and returning home feeling empty and used. Do not do it. Practice mindfulness around the behaviour and reach out when needed to people who understand, as to diffuse the enticing power and lure of the momentary gratification. This behaviour brings a quick validating high, and an inevitable crash that leaves me worse off in the long run. It may seem at first a boring idea to stay home or keep the apps shut off, but not giving in to this behaviour is actually investing in my self-esteem—it’s like saving money for something I truly want. 

And here’s the big one for me: how do I come from a place of humility when I am with someone I’m interested in but too fearful to tell them my feelings or to make a move? 

In an earlier post, I wrote about my fear of being perceived as emotional or needy if I revealed my feelings for someone. This fear caused me to be emotionally shut off (and single for my entire life.)

So how do I overcome this?

As simple as it sounds, I tell the truth. And I don’t buffer it with anything. What I mean by not buffering it with anything is: if I’m attracted to someone and I tell them I’m attracted to them and I buffer it with “I’m really nervous to tell you this, but…,” I would take out the nervous bit and simply tell the truth that I’m attracted to them. The buffer just becomes something to blame if things don’t go the way I want; kind of like, ‘I knew I shouldn’t have been that forward.’ or, ‘I knew from the start that I was silly to think he would like me back.’ The buffer can then become the means by which I talk myself out of revealing my feelings the next time I have them.

It’s super scary to think about actually stating clearly my feelings for someone, and it’s also incredibly liberating and empowering when I do it. Owning my truth is definitely worlds better than being lost in that dark and bottomless pit of surmising (instead of actually knowing) what the reality of a situation is.

From a social media standpoint, I put this ‘coming from a place of humility’ to practice the afternoon after my conversation with my guru.

I had met with my guru on a Saturday night, and then I had run a half-marathon the next morning. After the marathon, I was battered and broken, and I posted my running resume on Facebook with my declaration that I was done running and heading back to yoga!

When I posted my running resume, I acknowledged that I had run many races in my life and had qualified for the Boston Marathon (I humbly accept your accolades.)

Along with the post was a picture of me holding my medal.

When the comments started pouring in, I quickly noticed a theme of people congratulating me on my Boston qualification, as if they interpreted it as having happened that day.

I panicked. My first instinct was to edit my post and reply to every comment in a major damage-control effort to clarify that I wasn’t insinuating that I had qualified for Boston on that day.

And then I paused.

My intent had never been to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, but rather to make a joke that I’m broken from many years of running, and that it was long-overdue for me to get back on my mat.

So, I did nothing.

Well, my heart fluttered, and I obsessed on the idea of someone thinking I was lying, but I let it be. I allowed myself to be imperfect. I allowed people to think what they were going to think. I decided I would only explain it in person, should someone come up and congratulate me on my qualification. I came from a place of humility. I gave up the control of the way people perceived me. And it felt good.

Maybe it’s the wisdom mixed with bravery that comes with age and experience, or maybe it’s that I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired–or maybe it’s a mixture of both. Whatever the reason, my belief now is that being truly myself in all situations will illicit the response that is meant to happen in any given moment. I don’t need to be anything that I’m not.

For me, this is integrity. This is ‘coming from a place of humility.’ This creates peace of mind—no lies to remember and no images to manage, and no social media posts to fix.

This is the beginning of emotional sobriety.

Michael DeCorte

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