Emotional sobriety is finally taking its rightful place in recovery. We have been seeing more and more folks like you and me begin to discover a dimension to their recovery that they never knew existed. This is very exciting. I love it when I see that light bulb get turned on. I've often referred to emotional sobriety as the missing link in achieving full recovery—or what I like to call optimal recovery. In previous writings I've explored various aspects of emotional sobriety like keeping our emotional center of gravity within, learning to hold on to ourselves, not letting other people's limited perceptions of us define ourselves, pressuring ourselves to change, and to see struggle as beneficial and grief as necessary. In this article I want to explore how completing unfinished business also helps us achieve emotional sobriety. So many of are plagued by painful past experiences. Regardless of what happened, we can find ourselves stuck in the past. This creates much sober suffering (which is a wonderful term coined by Fred H., author of Drop the Rock: The Ripple Effect). Why? Because the unfinished business has a way of making us react to the present though as though it were our past. This creates a lot of trouble because it interferes with our ability to cope with what is. When we are stuck in the past we can't deal well with what is going on now. It is easy to conclude that sober suffering means that something is wrong with our recovery. But this is a mistake. What will determine if something is wrong with our recovery is how we respond to what is happening. I've said this many times in my writings but it is worth repeating, "The problem is not the problem, the problem is how we cope with the problem." Recovery doesn't mean we will be free of problems. It means that we will discover new and better ways of dealing with them instead of turning to alcohol or other drugs. We learn how to live life, on life's terms, rather than continue to think that life should conform to our expectations. The good news is that regardless of what caused so much pain in our lives—whether it be a significant loss, physical or verbal abuse, neglect, over indulgence, abandonment, adult-child sexual molestation, rape, or some other unspeakable traumas—we can always grow from the experience. But in order to grow from these experiences we need to learn how to claim our experience instead of letting our experience claim us. Thom Rutledge, a brilliant author and therapist, put it this way, "Learn from the past, and then get the hell out of there!" He's right on. Many of us are stuck in the past and don't know how to get the hell out of there. I hope to give you a few tips on how to release the past so you can get on with living here and now. If we are going to grow from a traumatic experience we need to learn how to digest the experiences we had in the past. Today there is much talk about a phenomenon that we have called "Post Traumatic Growth." PTG is defined as the growth that can take place when we properly digest a traumatic experience. Let's talk about what we need to do to properly digest a trauma or any other painful and disturbing experience. The Psychological Imperative Mirrors the Biological Imperative The biological imperative involves a process that operates outside of our awareness—unconsciously. It is governed by the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system is a division of the peripheral nervous system which influences the functioning of internal organs. The autonomic nervous system is a control system that regulates bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion, body temperature, respiratory rate, pupillary response, urination, and sexual arousal. The autonomic nervous system moves us to satisfy a biological need or gratify a desire. It is mobilized into action by needs or desires. Let's focus on the digestive process. When we are hungry we make contact with our environment to satisfy this need. We ingest food to satisfy our hunger. What happens next is quite fascinating. Our body takes what was not us (food), and makes it us (this is called assimilation). It separates what is nurturing from what is not. It does this by breaking down the food so we can digest it. The first thing that happens in the digestive process is biting and chewing. The better we chew up our food the more we aid the digestive process. After we chew up our food and swallow it, it moves into the digestive track where it is further broken down for digestion. Our stomach releases certain acids and enzymes to begin the process of separating what our body needs from what it does not need. Once the food is processed by our stomachs and broken down into smaller molecules, it moves through the small and large intestines where nutrients are absorbed into our bodies, and where the waste (that which won't become us) is moved through the intestines to our bladder or anus to be eliminated. It seems strange to say it this way but it fits: We take what we need and discard the rest. When we absorb the nutrients from the food we eat it is no longer alien to us. It becomes us and we are indistinguishable from the nutrient that has been absorbed into our bodies. If we eat something that is toxic our bodies will forego the entire process and eject the toxins by inducing either vomiting or diarrhea—or both. Our psychological imperative operates along the same parameters. We digest our experiences: we chew them up, digest them, and separate psychologically what can nurture us and then eliminate the rest. If we allow ourselves to re-experience the traumas, we can begin to digest it or re-solve it. We will take what can grow us from the experience and eliminate the rest. But to do this we need to digest the experience, chew it up and break it down to separate what will nurture us from what needs to be eliminated. There is no easier, softer way. We have to re-experience the situation and the feelings associated with it, but hopefully this time we can resolve it with the help of a good therapist. Growing from Traumas In order to grow from a traumatic experience, we need to go back and relive it. But this time, we take care of the unfinished business. We say what we didn't dare say. We stand for ourselves as we wished we could have. If we need to, we shout, scream, cry, rage, and declare we will never forgive the person who violated us. When an experience is really toxic, we may even need to vomit to rid of selves of the toxins. This is the process that will help us digest a traumatic experience. This is the process that will help us separate what will grow us from what won't. We strive to find the words that will best reflect what we needed to say but didn't because we were frozen with fear and flooded with feelings. The bottom line is that we need to trust ourselves—our organismic wisdom—that will move us toward resolutions. We are wired to complete unfinished business, to move towards wholeness. We need to get out of our own way: to let go and let God. Doing this alone is not recommended. We need a guide: a good therapist who can help us process our experience. Remember recovery is the discovery of new possibilities. This is what I try to facilitate in my clinical work and in my retreats. I hope you will join me.