Dealing with those  battles inside your head.

Ever find your mind racing down a path you don’t want to travel? Catastrophizing about the future? Engaging mental gymnastics inside your head to debate points or events now irrelevant? Why do we torment ourselves so?

My experience indicates the answer is this: automatic negative thinking. Sure, part of this emotional turmoil is related to post-acute withdrawal. But even for many of us with years of abstinence, this “debate society” in our heads often won’t shut up.

In our addictions, we cultivated and grew a vast crop of distorted thinking patterns. Defense mechanisms that allowed us to deny, justify, rationalize, minimize and cast blame for our addictions and indefensible behaviors. Irrational thinking that was impulsive, made assumptions, jumped to conclusions – negative conclusions. And these patterns of thinking became automatic.

Just because we are suddenly clean and sober, doesn’t mean we aren’t still stuck in our own BS.

So how do we get unstuck? Becoming more self-aware. Practicing new ways of thinking.

One technique I use is “thought stopping.” I try to catch myself when my brain starts hurtling down the tracks of negativity. How do I know this is happening? For me, I find myself first starting to feel uncomfortable and irritable. My blood pressure goes up. I can feel my face flush and heart rate increase. My mind begins racing with thoughts of how I would have, could have, should have, must ____________ (fill in the blank). I’m either trying to rewrite history, or author the future.

When you feel this way, stop. Deconstruct what is going on. Usually, we are triggered by something. What was that activating event? Keep in mind that whatever this trigger was is objective. In and of itself, it does not cause your emotions. Your beliefs about the trigger are what result in your emotion and reaction.

So look at what your beliefs are about this event. My old ways of thinking would be conflicted, pessimistic, catastrophic.

That negative thinking results then in my feeling stressed, uncomfortable and increasingly agitated, irritated and angry. I don’t like feeling like this – but I know a way to not feel this. That’s right. Using. So the natural result is getting an urge or craving to use. Score one for your disease.

It takes work and practice to identify, dispute, and then change our old ways of thinking. I liken it to learning to shoot a basketball jump-shot when all you know is a two-handed-push shot from your chest. Your way old way worked for a while and you made some baskets. But it quickly lost its effectiveness. And certainly has no place in a game beyond grade school. Learning the new way takes willingness, open-mindedness, practice, attention, focus and…time. You’ll feel uncomfortable. You may miss more shots initially using your new method. But eventually, your game, self-confidence and effectiveness will take a leap forward. Score two for your sobriety.