Emotional Sobriety

12 Smart Things

Review by Archer Voxx

During the past few years, one of the areas I have focused my personal recovery on is emotional sobriety. It is a subject that I am passionate about. The book “12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and the Drugs Are Gone: Choosing Emotional Sobriety through Self-Awareness and Right Action” is the best resource I know for developing an understanding of emotional sobriety and obtaining a set of useful tools that plug directly into the 12 Step recovery program.

Many of us reach a point in our recovery where we have a sponsor, work the 12 Steps, and have achieved several years of solid recovery. Then, we find ourselves asking the question: “Where can I take my recovery next?” I would like to recommend that exploring the subject of emotional sobriety and incorporating its principles into your recovery toolkit is a wonderful way to enhance your recovery experience.

My personal journey to take my recovery practices to the next level led me to “12 Smart Things”. The book, in my opinion, is ground-breaking and important work on the subject of emotional sobriety. It is a short book, practical and easy-to-read, that provides a wealth of information you can use on a day-to-day basis. Most important, it is not simply a repackaging of existing AA concepts with a different “spin”. It is a unique and relevant book that supports the 12 Step process.

Berger is a veteran of the Vietnam war. Before, during, and after his tour in Vietnam he struggled with alcohol and drug addiction. He has been in recovery since 1971. He holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and has a therapy practice in the field. I mention Berger’s background because I believe his combination of personal experiences, knowledge of AA, and his professional training in psychology positions him to address the subject of emotional sobriety with insight and authority.

Emotional sobriety (independence/maturity) is about achieving emotional balance in your life. This is accomplished by reducing your dependence on people, places, and things for your well-being. The book, “12 Smart Things”, is a guide that helps you achieve improved emotional independence. It accomplishes this by providing twelve areas to investigate and practice that will move you toward an emotionally balanced lifestyle.

For me, the principles I learned in the book have helped me significantly with Steps 4-7 in the AA program. By working Steps 4-7 of AA, several times, I have developed an understanding of my character defects. What “12 Smart Things” has done for me is to help me identify what is, perhaps, the major source of those character defects. That is, my lack of emotional independence and my continued efforts to control, be right, get my way, and otherwise force the world into being the perfect, Archer Voxx controlled planet.

To provide an overview of the contents of the book and the interesting information in it, here are some highlights:

Introduction – The book leads off with a definition of emotional sobriety and then illustrates the benefits of emotional sobriety in the area of living “life on life’s” terms. The Introduction then covers three important and very interesting areas that represent a foundation for understanding the 12 Smart Things:

  1. Emotional Differentiation – This is a concept that takes a moment to grasp but when I “got it”, it represented a real epiphany for me and paved the way for a whole new understanding of myself. At the center of this discussion is developing an understanding of what a “false self” and “true self” are, and why people who try to live a life driven by a perfectionist, idealized “false self” develop unhealthy emotional attachments. I cannot give this subject adequate attention in the context of this short book review. I must conclude here by saying that the concept of emotional differentiation is fascinating and very beneficial to understand.

  2. Bill Wilson’s Letter – In this part of the Introduction, Berger highlights a letter to the AA Grapevine in 1958 by Bill Wilson (Yes, our Bill Wilson – one of the founding members of AA). In this letter Bill suggests that emotional sobriety should be the next frontier that AA should pursue. As Berger points out, this is the first time in any literature that the concept of emotional sobriety was articulated by anyone. In the letter from Bill you are given a first glimpse into the world of emotional sobriety through Bill’s words. One of my favorite excerpts from Bill’s letter is: “Suddenly I realized what the matter was. My basic flaw had always been dependence – almost absolute dependence – on people or circumstances to supply me with prestige, security, and the like. Failing to get these things according to my perfectionist dreams and specifications, I had fought for them. And when defeat came, so did my depression.”

  3. “Unpacking” Bill’s Letter – Next, as a part of the Introduction, Berger provides insight into the contents of Bill’s letter and the underlying, profound implications of what is being suggested by Bill. As I read Bill’s letter and Berger’s “unpacking” of it, I felt that Bill was suggesting to AA an advanced way of dealing with one aspect of “obsession” of the mind (described only briefly in the Big Book) using a more modern, scientific basis. Bill had sought psychotherapy to deal with his continued anxiety and, perhaps, some of the concepts he was exposed to were influencing his thinking about how AA should mature for the benefit of its members.

The Path to Emotional Sobriety – The majority of the book (90%) is dedicated to a discussion of the twelve tools, 12 Smart Things, that you can use to improve your emotional sobriety. Berger refers to these as “Smart Things” because the people who have a high degree of emotional intelligence, self-esteem, and emotional resilience practice these principles:

  1. Know yourself – and how to stay centered.
  2. Stop allowing others to edit your reality.
  3. Stop taking things personally.
  4. Own your projections as an act of integrity.
  5. Confront yourself for the sake of your integrity.
  6. Stop pressuring others to change, and instead pressure yourself to change.
  7. Develop a healthy perspective toward yourself, your feelings, and your emotional themes.
  8. Appreciate what is.
  9. Comfort yourself when you are hurt or disappointed.
  10. Use your personal compass to guide your life.
  11. Embrace relationship tensions as the fuel for personal growth.
  12. The “problem” is not the real problem.

I find the book to be very useful as the next step in the process of working with sponsees; after we have worked through the 12 Steps of AA. The book is also being used very effectively in the Al-Anon community because these principles are effective in reducing obsessive thinking, enabling, and codependency.

Clicking on the book will take you directly to Amazon.com where you can learn more about 12 Smart Things.

Dr. Berger also has many other great books in the recovery area, including the “12 Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery” series.

You can see those books – and much more – by visiting his website here: Allen Berger, Ph.D.

Archer Voxx is an author, public speaker, and advocate in secular AA. He has two books that are used in the secular AA community as principle references.

You can access these books on Amazon by clicking here on the titles: The Five Keys – 12 Step Recovery Without a God and Alcoholics Anonymous Universal Edition.


8 Responses

  1. Rob T says:

    Thanks for your response! The response about reading the book. I was not able to respond to that so thanks backwards.

  2. Roger says:

    I just spend a half hour or so reading various pages of the Adult Children of Alcoholics on Amazon.com and I found zero references to a supreme being. So it too – along with 12 Smart Things to Do When the Booze and the Drugs are Gone, of course – is a secular book.

  3. Roger says:

    A very good question, Rob. I don’t know. Maybe Mike will respond…

  4. Rob T says:

    Is this book secular, or the usual religious stuff?

  5. Roger says:

    And here it is, available at Amazon:

    Adult Children of Alcoholics

  6. Mike P. says:

    Adult Children of Alcoholics is another resource. And it’s in a format with we are familiar in that it’s a 12 step program.

  7. Bob F. says:

    For more information on emotional sobriety, see the writings of Dr. Murray Bowen, M.D. His concept of differentiation provides a very insightful explanation of the origins of emotional dependence and ways to reduce this very limiting ‘character defect’.

  8. Richard K. says:

    Yes recovery is not about the drinking or drugging. It about the not drinking or drugging. How do l live my life. I relied on substances to get me through. Emotional sobriety is something that l had to be taught. The patience and love of the people in AA, gave me that. I made many mistakes. But l wasn’t judged, or even corrected. Through self awareness l was able to see how to handle situations which used to baffle me.

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