Ask the Todd’s – Sobriety

We received a question for our psychologists recently on our website regarding sobriety. Here it is…

How important is counting days of sobriety in the recovery process? Does it become destructive when it becomes an obsession in and of itself or when you start to base how you feel about yourself on how much sobriety you have?

Great question about sobriety.

While sobriety can certainly be a great marker of recovery, it can also create internal tension that may in fact lead to the sexual acting out that ends the sobriety and sets back the recovery process. In essence, this means that sobriety is not acting as an indicator of recovery, but as a white-knuckling experience of trying to stave off a craving, which doesn’t actually address the root problem. I see many folks who look to sobriety as a means of recovery who want to avoid genuine human contact and disclose their struggles, temptations, and emotions. Again, this scenario is setting the individual up to fail in that recovery is not a process that takes place in isolation, but in healthy connection.

It sounds like part two of your question reveals a clue to the solution for your concerns. Sense of self acceptance is based on some externally oriented marker, in this case a behavior, sobriety. When that external condition is not met, the shame that drives sexual acting out grows. Shame can be seen as a sense of self defined as “I am essentially bad.” The recovery process is centered around transforming that shame into appropriate guilt, which defines self as “I am essentially good, but have done bad.” While it may seem like semantics, the essence of a healthy self is one that is able to modify their behavior once it has been deemed “bad”, whereas a shame-oriented self will take the behavior underground, which creates further shame, tension, and isolation, creating a breeding ground for unhealthy and addictive behaviors.

If you are recognizing that it has become a destructive part of your recovery, I would suggest speaking with a sponsor, accountability partner, or counselor about strategies for freeing self from the pressure of counting days. The stress it sounds like it is inducing will very likely trigger the relapse you are working to avoid if it remains unaddressed. – Dr. Todd Bowman

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