Regain control of thoughts in addiction recovery
The thoughts we have in addiction recovery can be very powerful. They can be dark, distressing, funny, emotive and creative. Thoughts can be random, they can be quite literally anything and are always something to be mindful of.
In active addiction, our thinking will have led us down a dark and destructive path. Our best thinking may have landed us in rehab, homeless, friendless, moneyless, or in the rooms of a support group. This is how powerful thoughts can be.
Coming into recovery we have to learn to consciously connect with our thoughts and identify the truth from the false. If we don’t, we face total self-annihilation.
Addiction is a deadly illness that lies to us constantly through our thought processes. Rarely in active addiction would we have questioned our thoughts' validity.
The thoughts of a person afflicted with addiction have the power to kill. This is what we are up against, every minute of every hour of every day … for the rest of our lives.
Happily, there is light and there is hope, we can and we do recover. We recover from a hopeless state of mind as we learn how to identify our thoughts. We further learn to discard any that are unhelpful to our addiction recovery. Replacing these thoughts with healthier and more supportive ones.
Identifying the illness talking
Some may refer to their addictive thoughts as the voice of ‘the addict’, ‘the alcoholic’, ‘the demon’, ‘John Barleycorn’, ‘the ego’ or ‘the illness’. Some may prefer not to label it at all. Whatever your preference, suffering from addiction often feels like a continual battle with our own minds. Constantly trying to separate what our addiction wants and what our recovery needs.
During active addiction, addiction had all the power. It won every time, humiliating us, isolating us, judging us, shaming us and even dehumanising us. Our true selves had been repressed. Often to the point where we had no clue who we really were. Our loved ones also no longer recognised us. They feared our every move as they witnessed addiction overwhelm our lives and dictate everything we said and did.
Coming into recovery, the voice we had become so used to believing and relying on for direction needs to be quashed - if we were are stand a chance of a healthy and happy continued recovery. This is where learning to identify and reframe our negative thoughts in addiction recovery becomes crucial to staying alive.
A happy life has no room for negative thoughts and harmful behaviours.
Of course, we will still have negative thoughts about ourselves, other people and the world around us. But the power we need to overcome addiction is in identifying which thoughts serve our recovery and which do not.
Which thoughts are our addiction talking and which are in alignment with our best interests. This is by no means easy, at least not for most that suffer from addiction and especially not in the very early days of recovery.
Examining our thoughts in addiction recovery
Many of us will have undergone extensive therapy, CBT or counselling to help us accept a new and healthier way of thinking during the early days of our recovery.
Professional help is always a good idea for anyone that suffers with an addiction. Indeed, therapy can be helpful at any point where we feel we hit a brick wall or have nowhere to turn.
However, as we go through life and go our own separate ways, we can once again easily become separated from the language of recovery. This is why support groups and connecting with like minded others is so valuable to each and every one of us.
By staying connected, we are able to guard our thoughts, discarding the thoughts that do not serve our own addiction recovery and embracing the ones that do.
Every action starts with a thought. Whether that action is positive and helpful depends on the nature of the thought process behind it and our intent. This is where we can take charge of our thoughts by being mindful.
Admitting powerlessness over the first thought
We have no control over the first thought that enters our mind. Its nature can depend on any number of things, our mental health, conditioning, circumstances, subconsciousness, personality and situation.
We do however have a choice as to what we do with that thought. This is where examining whether the thought is worth investing in or setting aside can be of great assistance. The more in tune we become with ourselves and our recovery, the more we can exercise mindfulness and apply it to our thought processes. Moreover, we are less likely to seek quick fixes to a temporary thought problem.
Sometimes we have a big decision to make. Perhaps we have an event happening that makes us feel unsettled. This can send our mind into an unmanageable scramble. Having a plan that works for you can be invaluable in such circumstances.
For some, writing thoughts down can be helpful, others prefer to talk their thoughts through with someone they trust. Whatever your preference, it’s always helpful to stop and pause when a distressing or potentially dangerous thought comes to mind.
Applying mindfulness to the mind
Mindfulness is not just a form of meditation, it is being aware, being present and being connected. You can either have a mind-full, or, be mindful.
Mindfulness is a very powerful tool that enables us to observe our thoughts in addiction recovery on a conscious level.
Being mindful allows you to become more aware of the inner workings of your mind, your body and your surroundings. Mindfulness helps to stop negative thoughts from snowballing, as you learn how to recognise the inner critic.
Thoughts control our emotions, if we let them. Oftentimes, thoughts can seldom have any bearing on reality and this is why it is so important to guard them.
Connecting thoughts to feelings during recovery from addiction
As a quick example of the power of thoughts in our addiction recovery, try thinking of a time where you felt angry, sad or frustrated. Picture this scenario in your head. How do you feel? What is your body doing? Are you holding any tension? Is your internal dialogue accelerating? What is your mind saying?
Now, try to think of a time where you felt safe, warm and loved, perhaps with a loved one, a pet or in a certain place. Perhaps you have a place in your imagination that you can go to when you need a calm moment. How do you feel now? What are your thoughts? What is your body doing? Can you feel your thoughts slow down or calm? Do you feel more relaxed?
Neither scenario is real in the here and now. Both are recalled or made up, yet they still have the power to dictate how we feel right now
Mindfulness is about living in the moment. Its simplicity means everyone can apply it to their life.
Right here, right now, you are reading this, perhaps forming some sort of opinion or perhaps you're not thinking very much at all. Having a focus slows down the chatter of the mind if it is relevant to the present.
Mindful relaxation techniques always use a focus that is relevant to the now. Focusing on the present helps to stop thoughts creeping in around the past or the future. When they do appear, you let them go without judgement and return your focus back to the present moment.
Now obviously it is impossible to be mindful all day every day, but with practice you can train your mind to stay more and more in the present and in alignment with mindfulness.
Flipping the script and changing our thoughts in addiction recovery
One way of changing our mindset immediately (aside from drinking or taking drugs) is to apply gratitude. How often do we wake up in a negative headspace, perhaps still reminiscing over a past event or projecting negatively into the day ahead. How about instead we stop and start with gratitude?
Gratitude is a simple way of flipping a negative script. You may say, “What have I got to be grateful for, I've lost everything, my family no longer trusts me?” Or you may think “My life is dull, boring and has no purpose”
Whatever our current circumstances, gratitude can always be found in the very simple and free things in life, if we are willing and search with our heart. If you are reading this, you are taking an interest in your recovery. You are, at the very least, making a start.
Be grateful for your beating heart, the air you breath, what you see, hear, touch, taste or smell. Right here, right now you are alive, you are safe, you are grounded. Everyone is completely unique, no two people are exactly the same, what you bring to life is down to you.
When we are really struggling with negative thoughts and emotions, we often find relief in helping another person who is struggling. This doesn't always have to be another addict or alcoholic, it can be as simple as thanking a cashier for their service, holding a door open for someone or offering to carry someone's shopping.
We all have our own unique qualities to bring to the table, we all have something to offer, we are all survivors of something.
Having awareness of our thoughts and differentiating what serves our recovery and what does not is very much an ongoing process. Here, we can learn from others, from peers, mentors, teachers and gurus.
Keeping an open mind is one of the most important things in recovery. We have to unlearn in order to learn and accept that we will make mistakes. We are human after all. It is how we view and perceive our mistakes that matters the most. Flipping the script, our mistakes can become valuable learning experiences - if we remain open minded.
Finally, by reprogramming our mind with a recovery language, the addiction language becomes easier to spot. The more we focus on our recovery the more we grow in recovery - How true was that of our addiction?
- 7 Ways to Take Control of Your Mind: https://www.addrc.org/7-ways-to-take-control-of-your-mind/
- Garland, E. L., & Howard, M. O. (2018). Mindfulness-based treatment of addiction: current state of the field and envisioning the next wave of research. Addiction Science & Clinical Practice, 13. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13722-018-0115-3