Most people trying to overcome an addiction soon realize that recovery is not spontaneous. It requires discipline and patience, and therein lies the problem with recovery.
Addiction’s lure is its promise of immediate gratification, the quick feel-good. Being addicted means relying on immediate gratification and, as the pattern of addiction continues, our ability to delay gratification erodes. Recovery, on the other hand, asks us to forego the quick feel-good and calls upon us to show a patience we have all but lost during our addiction.
While recovery requires a physical tenacity, to bear the strain of withdrawal, it also requires a mental tenacity. Hopelessness, fear, self-pity, and resentments conspire to wear down our resistance and draw us into relapse. Meditations, the slogans of Alcoholics Anonymous, affirmations, and psychotherapy’s “self-talk” technique are designed to bolster our confidence when it falters. But, often we maintain a self-defeating philosophy of life that underlies our thoughts and actions. Like weeds with long roots below the ground, our defeatist thoughts keep reappearing because we have not challenged the philosophy behind the thoughts.
Below, are twelve self-defeating messages commonly believed by people in the throes of addiction. Each message holds a certain level of truth, and all have been carried down through generations. But each is over-generalized. When we adopt these beliefs as truths for all occasions, we destroy the confidence, determination, and willingness to seek support we need to continue the day-to-day internal struggle to achieve sobriety.
The Self-defeating Thoughts are;
- Ignore things and they will go away.
- People will hate you if you cause them any discomfort.
- You can do anything you want as long as it isn’t hurting anyone else.
- People don’t really care what happens to you.
- No matter how hard you try, you’re never going to get ahead.
- If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself.
- If you want people to like you, you’ve got to keep a smile on your face.
- You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
- A promise to people should satisfy them.
- Life is supposed to be fair.
- You are not responsible for your behavior if you’re sick.
- What you don’t know won’t hurt you.
As you identify these or any other self-defeating messages, the challenge you issue to refute the message can include an acknowledgment that the message may be sometimes true, or often feels true to you, but cannot and must not be true for you in your recovery. So, you convert the messages into a more helpful philosophy: “I cannot ignore things and expect them to go away; I cannot expect people to hate me if I cause them discomfort; I cannot do anything I want just because I believe it isn’t hurting anyone else….”
Meanwhile, the messages you use to replace these philosophies should emphasize a kindness and concern for yourself and those around you that will attract you back to life and away from addiction. By challenging the messages of defeat and cynicism you can weaken the power of the hidden enemy of your recovery: the thought processes that were cultivated during your addiction.
By Larry Tyler, M.Ed., LDAC, lives in Maine, is a licensed substance abuse counselor, trainer, writer, and clinical supervisor. He provides sex offender and domestic abuse groups, and co-founded Resources In Mental Health and Substance Abuse, Inc.