One byproduct of entering recovery is the multitude of gifts that sobriety can offer us. Some of the perks are more obvious than others, such as improved health, relationships, overall satisfaction and contentment. Although life steadily improves after active addiction, there is the stark reality of the state of the life you have just awoken from which may have been contributing to your active substance use disorder in the first place.
Many of us may be overwhelmed in our early days of sobriety with thoughts and feeling of depression, anxiety, self-loathing, shame and low self-esteem. Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it may feel impossible to feel anything differently.
Being in active addiction is like being highjacked from your own thought process, where you have ZERO control to any other outcome, than to feed your addiction; and we have the science to prove it. The good news is that we are using a fraction of our brain functioning and the science has proven that even if our executive decision making has been damaged from extended drug and alcohol use, we can regenerate other areas of our brain to compensate.
Our brains are beyond powerful, and we often underestimate the power of our brain. This has been verified many times when people end up in an emergency department thinking they are having a heart attack and after running a battery of diagnostics only to conclude it was a panic or anxiety attack induced by stress.
With an average person receiving 35-45 thoughts per minute, totaling to a staggering minimal of 50,000 thoughts per day, you can see how the odds are stacked against us. We are all in constant battle with our minds. Unless you start to fuel it with the highest quality thoughts possible, you are setting yourself up for daily battle against yourself.
Think of your mind as the Central Process Unit (CPU) that runs a computer.
Let me be clear about one thing; what you think and tell yourself, does matter! One of my favourite quotes by Henry Ford is “Whether you think you can or can’t, you are right. So, choose wisely.” In other words, you are going to get more of wherever you focus your attention.
Mind nourishment, like physical nourishment should not be any different. We must constantly feed our mind with the highest quality octane, or overall ‘feel good’ like vibes. If we wish to embody joy and gratitude, then we must constantly recommit to thoughts that align with our goals. In fact, how we safe guard our minds with quality thoughts should be no different than the way we protect and treat our body. Evaluating all inputs is vital if we want to up our game integrating our mind, body and soul.
Our thoughts are powerful! Our subconscious mind is like the CPU in a computer in that it sends signals to our mind and body about what to do, next.
Sometimes our wiring can appear faulty, and sends us messages that are contradictory to what we really want to do. For example, maybe you have been struggling with managing an addictive behavior like emotional eating or drinking more than you like. You know that you do not wish to engage in “X”, but before you know it, you find yourself caught up in the powerful cycle even though you swore you would not be here again. You do not wish to engage in the activity, yet you find yourself once again in the same position… hence the addictive brain.
This is because our subconscious mind is responsible for our motivation and is tied intimately to emotions and feelings which are making the decisions for us, which is not coming from our conscious brain.
So, what can you do if you don’t know what to do?
Firstly, understand the cycle and know that you can choose to slow the process down by being a witness to what is happening as it plays out in real time. Ask yourself if you ‘indulge yourself’ will the activity promise you what you hope it will deliver? For example: if you are trying not to overeat and lose some weight, is this behavior in alignment with your goal?
There’s a tactic that is often used in 12 step communities, which metaphorically asks you to play the tape to the end. By following the likely chain of events, what is the most likely outcome? Ask yourself is this the outcome that you really want? Can you do anything else in the next few minutes until the craving subsides? Over time you will start to make decisions ‘consciously’ by reprograming your unconscious mind and integrate both your conscious and unconscious minds which will help you align with your goals. The trick here is to go easy on yourself, otherwise you will exacerbate your stress response which will have your mind looking for ways to self soothe.
Have compassion for your journey, and where you are at. It takes time to unlearn ways of adapting to stressors. Stressing about the progress you have yet to make on the road ahead certainly won’t serve you in any way. Practicing mindfulness is also a good way to help you become more aware of your thoughts on a regular basis. It also helps you cultivate an attitude of gratitude, which in turn helps amplify your current mind set so you have compassion for where you are at in this present moment.