As anyone in recovery from alcohol or drug addiction can attest, life's challenges don't magically disappear once you get clean and sober. But you can learn to react and respond to life's difficulties in healthier ways by developing emotional sobriety. Listen in as psychologist and author Allen Berger discusses the how-to of emotional sobriety with host William C. Moyers: What emotional sobriety is, why it's so important to "feel your feelings" and how to more fully embrace the ebb and flow of life. Listen or read the transcript of part one on Coping with Life on Life's Terms and part two on Staying Centered and Connected. Part One Read the transcript below or listen and subscribe on iTunes or Google Play, or watch on YouTube. Part Two Read the transcript below or listen and subscribe on iTunes or Google Play, or watch on YouTube. Part One: Coping with Life on Life's Terms 0:00:16 William Moyers Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on the issues related to substance use prevention, research, treatment and recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I'm your host William Moyers. I've worked at Hazelden Betty Ford for 23 years now. But before that, I was a patient in 1989 and again in 1991. That's how much I liked treatment. And my imperfect journey is a stark reminder not only on the power of addiction, but also on the promise and the possibility of recovery. Remember it is okay to ask for help and there is always hope. My guest today is Dr. Allen Berger. Dr. Berger is an expert when it comes to the issues around emotional sobriety. Welcome, and thank you for being here today, Allen. 0:01:07 Dr. Allen Berger Well thank you, William, it's a pleasure to be here. 0:01:11 William Moyers Tell me, what is emotional sobriety? 0:01:12 Dr. Allen Berger Well it's such a good topic because actually, it was first discussed by Bill Wilson. When he wrote the Twelve and Twelve. Which is amazing. This is back in 1950. 0:01:25 William Moyers Bill Wilson being a co-founder of— 0:01:25 Dr. Allen Berger Bill Wilson a co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. So he's writing the Twelve and Twelve and in the—in the first paragraph, when he's talking about the twelfth step, at the end of it he says if we practice these principles in our daily affairs, that we and those about us, achieve emotional sobriety. Now, that sentence is so often overlooked in recovery. That the purpose of the Twelve Steps is to help you achieve emotional sobriety. So it raises a lot of interesting questions, doesn't it? 0:02:00 William Moyers It does. And certainly you have a keen perspective on this professionally and as a psychologist, right, you have your PhD in Psychology? 0:02:09 Dr. Allen Berger That's correct. I have a PhD in Clinical Psychology from the University of California—Davis. And my other—my other qualification is more personal. 0:02:15 William Moyers Yes. Personal. Tell me about that. 0:02:19 Dr. Allen Berger Well just recently I celebrated 47 years of being clean and sober. My journey in recovery started in 1971. I just came back from Vietnam. I was in the Marine Corps at that particular point in time. And the Marine Corps just started a program that rehabilitated us instead of shipping the problem back into civilian life, right? So they decided that we were worth rehabilitating. And that's when my journey started. At the Connie On Marine Corps Air Station in 1971. And something happened Tuesday night they didn't know what they were doing William they had no idea, it's a new program, I was the third marine admitted into this program. The third day of the program's existence. So it was brand new. The officer in charge had a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. I have a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. I realize he didn't know much. [both laugh] I mean, but you know, he knew he didn't know much. 0:03:17 William Moyers Yes. Yes. 0:03:18 Dr. Allen Berger So, and they didn't know much. And what they did is they turned to the Twelve Step community. And in Kailua which is right outside the base was a thriving AA fellowship. And they had a lot of young people who were being kind of brought into the program by this incredible woman, Flobird, that's another story for another time. But she was amazing. She was like a Pied Piper of young people. And this is—they invited a couple young people to come and share with us marines. And this one fellow walks in, I'll never forget it was a Tuesday night. Hippie, he had his Birkenstocks on, his shorts on, his Hawaiian print shirt, hair in a ponytail. We're just back from Vietnam so we're all imagining this is a guy is out protesting, we're over there fighting, right? Putting our lives on line. So there was a real funky energy in the room. But after five minutes it changed. Because the experience I had and many others in that room had that night was that this man was free from himself. And that kind of freedom I only knew when I got high. 0:04:19 William Moyers Yeah. 0:04:21 Dr. Allen Berger I only knew when I was drinking. Then, I wasn't so controlled by the insecurities I had, right, the anxiety I felt. By being lost in this world, not knowing how to cope with things, feeling stupid and ignorant and all those other emotions that I had no idea how to grapple with. And here was a man that was comfortable in his own skin. And that really—that really something woke up in me. That night. I wanted what he had. 0:04:49 William Moyers And here you are 47 years later. 0:04:50 Dr. Allen Berger 47 years later. 0:04:52 William Moyers Not only walking that walk a day at a time but also giving back. To others. 0:04:55 Dr. Allen Berger Giving. Yes. 0:04:57 William Moyers Have you—you talked about being in recovery not having had a drink or a drug for 47 years, have you also been emotionally sober for 47 years or did that come later? 0:05:06 Dr. Allen Berger Well that came later. That came later. I mean at first I had to have a great solid foundation. And not picking up that drink or using that pill or smoking that joint or whatever it was. 0:05:18 William Moyers Right. 0:05:19 Dr. Allen Berger But then, I started to see that I was really challenged in terms of how to cope with life. And as we talk about this and I'm so excited we are having a chance to talk about emotional so—sobriety—'cause in my opinion it's not talked about enough, first of all. This is a very important issue that I hope we can push to the foreground. What I was struggling with, and I didn't realize it until I'd say about two decades ago, I had a strong expectation that life should conform to my ideas. 0:05:48 William Moyers Right. Yes. 0:05:51 Dr. Allen Berger And that was such a setup for me, William. Such a setup. 'Cause I kept trying to put a square peg in a round hole. 0:05:56 William Moyers Right. Right. So the emotional sobriety piece it goes way beyond just not having a drink or a drug. It speaks to the essence of who we are as people in recovery. Share about that. 0:06:11 Dr. Allen Berger Well it's who we are as people in recovery. It's finally what I like to think of it—I like to think of this is as moving towards optimal recovery. That's a phrase that I've coined recently. 0:06:19 William Moyers Moving towards optimal recovery. 0:06:24 Dr. Allen Berger And that is all about self-realization. It's the realization that I can be the determining force in my life. Now that doesn't mean I'm controlling everything. 'Cause you and I know a big part of recovery is letting go, of that control, right? And being able to deal with life on life's terms. But what it means is that I find a way to cope with whatever's happening to me. And I let go of these expectations that life should be the way I think it should be. See those should's were killing me. I like to tell people I was "shoulding" all over myself. 0:06:59 William Moyers Yes. Me too. 0:07:01 Dr. Allen Berger [chuckles] Yes. We do that. That's part of what happens because you know as a psychologist, I pay attention to our development. And one of the ways that we develop is we start getting these ideas of who we should be in order to make life work. And that happens very early on. And those concepts are not gonna work later on. We've gotta update that operating system so to speak. If we're gonna be able to learn how to live life and optimally like I like to say. 0:07:29 William Moyers To your point, I think the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says that our drinking or our drugging is but a symptom of our disease. Meaning that if we want to recover, we've got to not only put the drink or the drug down, but we have to grow up, we have to work on our emotional sobriety. How does that work? 0:07:46 Dr. Allen Berger Oh that's, see that's so important what you just said. It's a symptom of our disease, right? The disease being that my well-being was so dependent on things going a certain way. See that's the—that's where I needed to grow myself. That's where I needed to grow up so to speak. Because as long as I kept demanding that things go the way I wanted them to go, I was not gonna grow up. Because I was trying to control and manipulate and getting people to do what I wanted them to do. And I had some very creative and clever ways to do that like we all do. 0:08:21 William Moyers Sure. 0:08:21 Dr. Allen Berger It's pretty amazing how manipulative I can be. But what I started to realize was that instead of trying to change people, places and things for me to be okay, that when I put that energy in here [points to heart] and addressed my emotional dependency. And that's what we're gonna call this. That my need for things to go a certain way is an emotional dependency. I have to have things go a certain way for me to be okay. I had to face that. Now, that's not any easy issue to face. Not when I thought I was so independent. So together and all that other nonsense. And I like Earnie Larsen calls it "the big lie." Right? The big lie we tell to ourselves, right? That we have to be this way or have to be that way. Instead of dealing with who we are. 0:09:04 William Moyers So Allen, in this day and age, we—you and I both know, Hazelden and Betty Ford knows this too, that there are many pathways to recovery. There's not just a Twelve Step pathway although that has certainly worked for millions of people. It's been a cornerstone of our program now for almost 70 years at Hazelden Betty Ford. But—but there are many pathways to recovery. Are you suggesting that to have emotional sobriety you have to be able to embrace the Twelve Steps, or can you find emotional sobriety through other forms of effort? 0:09:36 Dr. Allen Berger Oh I—I don't think that emotional sobriety is in any way dependent on working the Steps. 0:09:40 William Moyers Okay. 0:09:41 Dr. Allen Berger I do think it's a great methodology. And technology to help you get there. But in any program of recovery, you have to help a person pay attention to and develop an awareness about how they're coping with life. Because for me it was so easy to address my discomfort by getting drunk. Like taking a pill. By smoking a joint. And that obsession I had with being comfortable, that was one of the things I had to give up. And in any approach to helping people grow, you have to say there has to be some willingness to be uncomfortable. For a period of time until you can find a way to be really comfortable. To expand that comfort zone. And the only way to expand it is push yourself out on those boundaries, right? Push the envelope. So that you feel that discomfort. If you embrace that with what we call a meaningful endurance, then you're well on your way. Meaning that I know that my suffering if I digest it the right way will help me grow. And any good program's gonna do that. 0:10:49 William Moyers And yet we're still going to experience suffering in recovery. 0:10:51 Dr. Allen Berger Oh yes, yes, yes. Very true. Very true. And see, when patients come to see me William and it's—may sound strange, but somebody'll sit and across me say 'You know, I, Dr. Berger, I just, can you help me be hap—you know happy in my life, I wanna be happier than I am. And I say, I'm interested in that but what I'm more interested in is helping you be able to fully experience everything that happens in your life. To embrace the joy but to embrace the sadness. Right? So if somebody can do that, then they can let go of these ideas that life has to be this way. 'Cause if I can cope with whatever is put in front of me, boy, my self-confidence— 0:11:35 William Moyers Sure. Wow. 0:11:35 Dr. Allen Berger My sense of myself as having agency in this world increases incredibly so. 0:11:42 William Moyers What do you say to people who have been struggling with opioids? We know we have an opioid epidemic and many of them are gaining access to care through the use of medication, the appropriate use of medication. Yet that's all that they're using as their recovery tool. It's not just about taking medication. 0:12:02 Dr. Allen Berger No, it's not. And—and look, if that's a gateway to somebody doing the work that we're talking about. And let's use an analogy in terms of in clinical psychology. If I got a patient that's so depressed and they can't get to their appointments, going on an antidepressant's a good thing. 0:12:18 William Moyers Right. 0:12:19 Dr. Allen Berger They're gonna show up for their sessions. I'm gonna have a chance to start working with them. 0:12:23 William Moyers Sure. Great point. 0:12:24 Dr. Allen Berger And addressing some of the dynamics that are causing that depression. Same thing with an opiate addict, right? An opioid addict. If they're out there using and not in my office, I can't have access to them. I can't help them start to challenge these things. So that medically-assisted you know treatment that we're talking about right now, drug replacement therapy, definitely has a role for someone who's tried many times to get clean without that. And if it doesn't work, you're—the message you give and that I give and I love it, keep trying. 0:12:55 William Moyers Keep trying. 0:12:55 Dr. Allen Berger And the next time, the miracle might happen. 0:12:58 William Moyers Right. [nodding] 0:12:57 Dr. Allen Berger The next time and we never know. See that's where our science isn't so precise, right. We don't know what's gonna create that miracle. But I've seen it, you've seen it happen in your life. Somebody's struggling. Years of relapse. And then all of a sudden one day, bam! Something clicks in a different way. Than they've ever seen before. And that changes things for them. 0:13:20 William Moyers Tell us a little bit about the role that relapse plays in this journey. 0:13:24 Dr. Allen Berger Well it's a big, significant role. There's very few people that just come into treatment and are able to get it together and then and not drink or use after treatment. The important thing—and this is part of growing up—the analogy I use for people. See I want people to learn how to digest their experience. So let's process that for a minute, right? So what happens in terms of digestion is I take a bite of an apple, my mouth, I start chewing it up, that begins the digestive process. Certain enzymes are added through my saliva. I swallow it, it goes into my stomach, now my stomach actually twists and turns and breaks that thing down. And other chemicals are released so that when it goes into my intestinal track, my body now takes from that apple what it needs and eliminates the rest. That is the prototype for healthy functioning in life. Is we take our experiences and we digest them. We process what's going on. Now, sometimes that means you're gonna be crying. Sometimes you might be yelling. Sometimes you might be so anxious and lost you don't know what to do. And see that's why that doesn't happen. The one piece of research that stands out in terms of when they say is there such a thing as an alcoholic personality or an addict personal—answer is no. Introverts can become addicts. Extroverts can become addicts. Doesn't matter about those. But what matters—what has shown up that's across the board is that we fail to learn from our experience. 0:15:01 William Moyers Yeah. And so the point is we need to remain teachable if we're going to be able to absorb everything that comes our way on this journey. 0:15:07 Dr. Allen Berger We've gotta digest our experience and get away from all of these ideas that say this shouldn't be happ—see if I'm doing a "should" on myself, I'm not gonna digest that, right? 0:15:17 William Moyers Right. Right. 0:15:18 Dr. Allen Berger I'm gonna get busy with wow, I'm upset about this, this shouldn't be going on. Instead of embracing it and seeing what that means for me. And how I can grow myself. With that experience. 0:15:29 William Moyers Where can people find out more about your perspective and this whole discussion around emotional sobriety? 0:15:39 Dr. Allen Berger Well they there's first of all, I—I'm a Hazelden author, so I've written four books. All of my books touch on emotional sobriety. So the first one was Twelve Stupid Things that Mess Up Recovery. 0:15:49 William Moyers I remember that one. 0:15:50 Dr. Allen Berger That's—that's become a popular mainstay in the recovery field. But the second one was devoted to this whole topic. And it's Twelve Smart Things To Do When the Booze and Drugs are Gone. And that's all about becoming aware of these issues. My third book was about making amends. The Twelve Hidden Rewards of Making Amends. And we talk—I talk about emotional sobriety in there. And my last book, Twelve More Stupid Things That Mess Up Recovery, really digs into several topics around the emotional sobriety in an important way. The new book, hopefully that'll be out next year, will be Twelve Core Concepts of Emotional Sobriety. So there's that avenue. My website I have many audio recordings on this. There's I do emails every week people can sign up. So that's www.abphd.com. So abphd.com you can sign up, people can get my emails and—and start to learn about this whole very exciting and I think incredibly important stage in recovery. 0:16:53 William Moyers People can also get to you through the Hazelden Betty Ford website. 0:16:56 Dr. Allen Berger That is correct. 0:16:57 William Moyers On our publishing page. A lot of people think that Hazelden is an addiction treatment provider and we are, but we're also been a mainstream publisher for a long time. Featuring books like yours and a lot of others. 0:17:08 Dr. Allen Berger That's true, that's true. It really was the first recovery publisher and really has established its niche in the recovery field. 0:17:16 William Moyers [reaches over to shake hands] Thank you very much, Allen, for being with us today to talk about the fact that after we put that drink or our drug down, we begin that journey of recovery which really is at its essence about emotional sobriety. Dr. Allen Berger, thank you for joining us today. Thank you all for tuning in and watching or listening to this podcast produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. On behalf of our executive producer, Lisa Stangl, I'm William Moyers. Please tune in and join us again for another edition of Let's Talk. Part Two: Staying Centered and Connected 0:00:15 William Moyers Hello and welcome to Let's Talk, a series of podcasts produced by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation on issues related to substance use prevention, research, treatment and recovery from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. I'm your host William Moyers. I've worked at Hazelden Betty Ford for 23 years now. But before that, I was a patient at Hazelden in 1989 and because I liked it so much I went back in 1991. My imperfect journey is a very powerful example of the power of addiction. But also of the promise and the possibility of recovery. There is always hope. It is never too late to ask for help. Welcome to my guest today, Dr. Allen Berger. Thanks for being here today, doctor. [they shake hands] 0:01:01 Dr. Allen Berger Thank you, William. 0:01:02 William Moyers Clinical psychologist who has been walking this walk for a long time now. Tell us just a little bit about your own recovery. 0:01:08 Dr. Allen Berger Well, you—47 years, you know, as we talked in our last podcast. It's the journey started in 1971 at the Connie On Marine Corps Station. And it's been an incredible journey since then. I was a high school dropout. I didn't mention this before. That I was a teenage alcoholic. My mom did not know what to do with me. I was having blackouts at the age of 13 years old. Started going to high school and I didn't wanna go to class. I wanted to go find out where the party was at. So I was not showing up. Started my sophomore year. They—Principal called me in and said 'Look, you—obvious you don't wanna be at school so we're gonna either kick you out or you can drop out. I dropped out. And I was lost. I was lost. Now all of this happened after my father passed away, in 1963. I was very close to my dad and I didn't deal with those feelings at all. 0:02:02 William Moyers And you were young. 0:02:03 Dr. Allen Berger I was young, 11 years old. And just the way my family coped with it, you know, it just wasn't healthy. I didn't process or digest as we talked in the last episode. The importance of digesting our experience. I didn't. I just pushed it aside. I tried to ignore it. I froze myself in many ways. I didn't want to want anymore; I didn't wanna feel anymore, all those things. And when my this guy at the park, Robert Square Park was the place to if you were a cool guy, you hung out at Robert Square Park. 0:02:35 William Moyers Where was that? 0:02:36 Dr. Allen Berger That was in Chicago. 0:02:37 William Moyers Chicago. Okay. 0:02:37 Dr. Allen Berger Northwest side. And that's where the cool guys were at. And one of the cool guys came up to me with an old style beer. And it was a hot summer day and he says, go ahead, Berger, take this. And I took a drink. And I don't know if I was born an alcoholic, but the minute I took that drink, an alcoholic was born. Because it worked. It connected me to myself again. I felt alive again, William. And that was it. If one was good, more was gonna be better. And I was off to the races. You know that story. I don't have to tell you that, you know. 0:03:09 William Moyers Right. We're all the same that way. Yes. 0:03:11 Dr. Allen Berger We're the same that way. And look, through that intervention in 1971, hope came into my life for the first time. Not only hope but I could see that there was another possibility. And see I define recovery now when I work with people it's a discovery of new possibilities. I didn't even know that there was a new possibility back then. And here there was a new possibility of me creating a life. That could work for me. And I had no idea that was a possibility. And that's what happened in my early recovery. 0:03:46 William Moyers And you've spent so much of your professional life talking about the importance not just of putting down the drink or the drug but growing in recovery. Absorbing our experience and the emotional sobriety component of this journey. 0:04:01 Dr. Allen Berger That's very true. And see I saw right away that even though I wasn't drinking or using, I still had no idea how to keep my balance. Let's talk about a concept here that's really important. 0:04:14 William Moyers Please. 0:04:14 Dr. Allen Berger I call it our emotional center of gravity. Like your physical center of gravity is when you're standing and you're lowering your legs that athletic stance, right? Your feet are about a shoulder width apart, you bend your knees, and now you're firmly connected to the earth. This is where gravity is passing through you and connecting you to the center of the earth. That stance is important for any athletic endeavor. Because you're balanced, you can move, you can react. You can respond to any way. Well there's an emotional center of gravity. And see, when your sense of self is firmly connected to who you are, then nobody's gonna be able to knock you off balance. You become the determining force to how you respond to things. So look if we were having a difficulty and you say 'God, Allen, I really don't like how you said that to me. Well, if I'm emotionally sober so to speak, I'm gonna stop and the first thing I'm gonna do is I'm gonna check myself. Let me see if I hurt you in some way. Did I cross a boundary? Was I insensitive to your needs? Because I wanna own that, you see? That's the first thing. But, if I don't see that I'll say God, I can see you're really struggling, I've checked into myself, I don't see that—that I've done that to you, let's talk more about it. See, in emotional sobriety, you stay connected during trouble. You don't get alienated from someone. I can't emphasize this enough. You stay connected while there's trouble, you don't get alienated. And see if I am dependent on you, then what you say is gonna be too important. If you say Allen, I think you did that wrong and my ego gets involved, I'm gonna have to either convince you that what are you talking about? I'll gaslight you and try to make you think oh, no, that didn't happen at all! Or whatever! But I'm gonna dismiss you, I'm not gonna deal with you. Or I'm gonna try to people please you and say oh I'm sorry, sorry, but not really feel I'm sorry. You see what I mean? Any of those maneuvers on my part aren't dealing with what's really going on between us. And so when I am centered, when I am over my emotional center of gravity, I can stay connected to you while we're having trouble and I don't need to run away. See we talk about it as cooperation with integrity. 0:06:28 William Moyers Cooperation with integrity. 0:06:29 Dr. Allen Berger [in unison] With integrity. And so many of us haven't learned that. And the emotional dependency gets in the way. 'Cause emotional dependency—I'm making everybody else and everything too important. A lot of people come into my practice with marriage problems and say I don't think my husband loves me anymore. The problem is that you're too important to him. And he can't love you when you're too important to him. And people don't get that! Because it sounds so weird, right? To say it that way even when I say it now it sounds strange to say it. 0:06:59 William Moyers [both chuckle] What are these unenforceable rules? 0:07:02 Dr. Allen Berger Well that's where emotional dependency comes in. so if I'm dependent on you or my wife or my friends or my classmates or my peers for how I feel, then I'm gonna have all kinds of rules on how they're supposed to behave to make me feel okay. And I'm gonna enforce those rules! If you do something wrong, I say, William that's—you're not being a very good friend! You know. You didn't call me when you had that party, how could you let me not invite me to that party? That's just my rule about that you should be thinking about me all the time! But see, our unenforceable rules have a lot to do with what we want. And they totally dismiss the other person. So in a healthy relationship, it's more I to thou. I'm as important as you. Not more or less. And vice versa. 0:07:50 William Moyers But that can also be true if we're just driving down the road and somebody cuts us off and we don't know them— 0:07:54 Dr. Allen Berger Same thing! Right, that they may be having a difficult time. I see if I'm emotionally dependent on everything going my way when he cuts me off my first thing is gonna be how dare you do that to me! As though right you've just crossed the King's path and how could you cross the King's path? That guy may be rushing off to the hospital 'cause his wife just may have—be having her child. You see, I don't want to—to impose my demands that people have to do things my way for me to be okay. I need to find a way to be okay in this world. 0:08:27 William Moyers What is the rule—the relationship between emotional sobriety and resentments? 0:08:33 Dr. Allen Berger Well, look, we—there's a saying in the rooms and— 0:08:37 William Moyers The rooms of recovery. 0:08:38 Dr. Allen Berger In the rooms of recovery. That says expectations are premeditated resentments. Because that's what's gonna happen. You see when I'm imposing all these things on you if you don't do it my way, then I'm gonna be upset with you, mad at you, I'm gonna say this is a toxic relationship and get you out of my life or whatever other ways I respond to that emotional dependency. There's three ways. It's we either try to control the person and rebel against them, we try to people please, or we just run away. We call it moving against, moving towards, or moving away from. So those are three typical the fight, flight, or freeze kind of responses. But you know I wanted to share a personal experience with you. 0:09:18 William Moyers Please. 0:09:18 Dr. Allen Berger To highlight how this works. In terms of that emotional center of gravity. I'm a father again, I have a six-month-old in my life. Little Cecilia Marie was born. 0:09:27 William Moyers Wow, better you than me! 0:09:29 Dr. Allen Berger And then I have a five-year-old and Maddie is like I said five years old. So I have two children at this later stage in my life. 0:09:36 William Moyers Yes. 0:09:37 Dr. Allen Berger Which I love it. But six years ago when my wife was pregnant with Madeline, we went through an experience that really highlights this whole thing. So, she's at UCLA, she's a Cancer Biologist, she's working on—she's in a lab there working on her post-doc. And we go, we're using the midwives at UCLA and we're attending you know well baby evaluations and assessments all the time. And they take—they do all this genetic testing. UCLA's got this huge grant. So they wanna identify any problems so they can help parents prepare to deal with whatever they have to deal with. It's a really great program. So they take about a quart of blood out of my wife because the funny thing is, if she doesn't have a problem, doesn't matter what I have. [chuckles] She's the determining force in this. 0:10:23 William Moyers Yes. Yes. 0:10:25 Dr. Allen Berger So, we think everything's fine, we're past our first trimester, we're moving along, I'm driving to work. All of a sudden I get a call. She is panicked. She's got tears in her voice. You have to come back. When you left, they called me up. And they reviewed my genetic testing and we have a problem. And well my heart drops. And her heart—she's in. 0:10:46 William Moyers Of course. 0:10:47 Dr. Allen Berger She I know nobody—no parents wanna hear this at this state. So I go back, and I find out that if I test positive for this gene, then our unborn child has a 25 percent chance of having what they call spinal muscular atrophy. If it's the worst case, and it gets me sad when I think about this, the child is gonna live for a year and a half. The best case, you get 14 years. Never independent from life support. So, you can just see what state of mind that put us in. 0:11:24 William Moyers Of course. 0:11:26 Dr. Allen Berger I mean, we are devastated. 0:11:28 William Moyers The sky is falling. 0:11:29 Dr. Allen Berger The sky is falling. That's a great way to say it. So we go home that day, I call my sponsor, you know, I'm trying to find a way to get my balance back. 'Cause I'm way knocked off balance. She's off balance. I reach out to my friends. Everybody's loving and supportive. But it's not helping me. It's not helping her. We go to bed that night, we try to get some sleep. And you can't sleep when something like this is going on; it's very restless sleep. Falling in and out of it. 0:11:54 William Moyers Sure. 0:11:55 Dr. Allen Berger But in the back of my mind, I kept saying okay, Dr. Berger, you talk to people about this emotional sobriety all the time— 0:12:00 William Moyers Yeah, right. Yeah yeah. 0:12:01 Dr. Allen Berger What about this? What's goin' on? How come? And I don't know, maybe God speaks to us through our unconscious, but I woke up the next morning and something hit me like this. [snaps fingers] I said I'm letting this situation determine how I'm gonna cope with it. If God gives me Madeline for a year and a half I'm gonna love her a lifetime in a year and a half. If I'm so fortunate to have her for 14 years, I will thank this God for that 14 years. The minute I said that [snaps fingers], all changed. 0:12:39 William Moyers You were free. 0:12:40 Dr. Allen Berger I was free. I was totally free. I shared it with my wife. The same thing happened to her. She was totally free. And then the second thought came to me that even added to that, Madeline won't know the difference. Her reality will be her reality. And she'll see two loving people in her life and we'll be making the best of whatever it is. That's emotional sobriety, William. I took that whole thing and I brought it back inside me and now I focused on how to best cope with it. I brought the best of myself to that scene. And I was totally free. And that's what emotional sobriety is. It's freedom. 0:13:26 William Moyers Life on life's terms. 0:13:28 Dr. Allen Berger There it is. That's it. That's it. 0:13:30 William Moyers Because we find recovery, but we still have to live life and life is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. And we've experienced that in the story that you've told and I've experienced it in my journey. 0:13:41 Dr. Allen Berger Many times. 0:13:42 William Moyers Stuff happens. 0:13:43 Dr. Allen Berger Good friend of mine Dr. Harry Harutunian said to me you didn't even know you had an expectation that you should have a normal child. 0:13:52 William Moyers Yeah. Yeah. 0:13:53 Dr. Allen Berger So that's such an unconscious expectation. But it was right there. See that was the unenforceable rule. 0:13:59 William Moyers Right. So Allen you talk about emotional sobriety, you also elude to the role that faith has played in your journey. What is the role of faith in emotional sobriety? 0:14:13 Dr. Allen Berger Well, it's for me, is when I connect to the best in me. I think of it as the God, you know God in me, right? Is that's my faith. Is that I know that there is something much bigger than me here. I was raised pretty much to be an agnostic in my family. 0:14:30 William Moyers Really. 0:14:30 Dr. Allen Berger So I don't have any religious orientation. 0:14:32 William Moyers Interesting. 0:14:33 Dr. Allen Berger My mom was a Roman Catholic, my dad was raised an Orthodox Jew, both of them for their own personal reasons said forget it, we're gonna let our kids find their own way. And what that meant for so many of us that were raised in households is we had no religious exposure and experience growing up. My first was in the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous. And I started to struggle with this idea of a God as I understand him. 0:14:56 William Moyers Right! 0:14:56 Dr. Allen Berger And that God is—is that force, that lifeforce. Sometimes I jokingly think of it as the force in Star Wars. [Moyers laughs] That when I connect to it, it's I'm flowing with life. I'm not swimming against the stream. And that's how I think of that force and that faith in my life. And I know if I get out of my way and tap into it, just like this experience here. 0:15:18 William Moyers Sure. 0:15:20 Dr. Allen Berger I let go of things having to be my way and said what's my best response? So if we're gonna give people a tip, you know, if you get upset, start to look at what is going on with you. And if they start to dig into it, they're gonna be able to uncover a demand that is based on an expectation. That's based on an unenforceable rule. That things have to go their way. And instead of demanding that, start to say, what can I do to deal with this situation and how can I bring the best of me to cope with whatever is going on. 0:15:54 William Moyers That's a good place to end our conversation today. Dr. Berger, thank you for taking the time to share your experience, strength, and hope. Not only professionally but personally with our audience today. On behalf of our executive producer Lisa Stangl, I'm William Moyers. Thank you for joining us on another edition of Let's Talk, a podcast on the issues that really matter to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation. And those people who are walking the walk one day at a time. We hope you'll join us again for another edition. Thank you.