Sober living through mindfulness

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One of the definitions of sober is to be “habitually temperate”. So this raises an important question for those of us looking to find sobriety. What exactly is sobriety and temperate living? Also, what is sobriety as it relates to behavioral addictions like sex, spending, gambling, and working? How do we find our ways to being habitually temperate?

A few ideas come to mind about this issue. One is that the affect of shame has much to do with the action of addictive, intemperate behavior. When we feel shame we want to escape from it. One of the most effective escapes is manic defensive behavior such as the ones I noted above. When we have compulsive sex or compulsively shop, gamble and/or work we defend against the affect of shame. Unfortunately this backfires, as it is not a temperate response. Instead it is a flight response that actually results in more shame and so the cycle begins.

Temperate behavior requires a level of mindfulness. Mindfulness includes being aware of our own feeling states but also to be aware of others and their subjectivity. We are able to begin to assess the level of our own manic defenses if we note the impact it has on our own well-being as well as on the dynamics with others. Are we treating ourselves kindly? Are we treating others kindly? Or are we tyrannical, voracious, inconsiderate or hostile. It is also important to be cautious about how this mindfulness works. In the early stages of our work on ourselves we are strictly directed to study our behaviors, thoughts and feelings. If we pursue change too quickly it can be a way of acting out the intemperateness of our lives and the affect of shame. Just notice for now. Change can follow.

One last thought about this is that in my experience it is shame that is the culprit. Healthy shame can come from humility and can allow for healthy containment, consideration and reflection. Unhealthy shame is toxic and often comes from critical messages in our childhood and can even be inherited from the generations before us. We can only put shame in its proper place when we understand the roots and when we begin to engage in our own esteem enhancing, temperate way of life. Gently start with mindfulness. Gently start with studying your own ways. Shame is dissipated by our mindful curiosity.

Dr. Michael Crocker

April 26, 2014