Thinking Ourselves Sober
Positive Thinking and Addiction Recovery
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | May 07, 2019
Addiction impacts our view of the world, creating a perception of danger and unfairness. Positive thinking improves perceptions and aids in the battle against addiction.
Chemical addiction is one of the most damaging forces to well-being. Addictions intrude on stability, thinking and relationships, often leaving lives in shambles. Beyond the chemical force of craving is the psychological reliance on artificial boosts to lighten the weight of sadness, anxiety and pain. Hungry for mental stability we adapt, often relying on unhealthy patterns and illicit chemicals.
Over the past several decades positive thinking has gained popularity, moving from psychology to mainline medicine as a practical and effective prescriptions for health and happiness. Positive thinking has been shown to lessen the impact of forceful emotions on the well-being of mindful practitioners. Positive thinking, however, is not a magic pill that will solve the addiction crisis, but positive thinking can help. Many studies provide hopeful evidence that positive thinking can assist to break damaging habits and prevent painful relapse.
Addiction Recovery is More than Detoxing
Recovery from addiction requires more than discontinuing use. An addiction is often the prominent feature defining the afflicted lives. They are judged as villains by the public and themselves. The compulsive use of an illicit drug hammers confidence in self-efficacy and weakens the flow of supporting evidence to boost self-confidence. Ego protections and deceptions become necessary to support the crumbling life. Often blame serves to blunt the realities and shift painful judgments. Childhood neglect and abuse, pitiful government and medical procedures, and abandoning friends and family typically are guilty for their contributions. So, we point and accuse and hate.
The compulsive use of an illicit drug hammers confidence in self-efficacy and weakens the flow of supporting evidence to boost self-confidence.
When with other suffers, methods and paths to recovery become a frequent topic of discussion, each seeking an escape from the nasty demons of relentless craving. Most these dreamy efforts fall flat when confronted with the broken delivery system, governmental red-tape and expensive treatment. Attendance to an occasional Narcotics Anonymous (NA) meeting will not do. Sporadic meetings provide insufficient motivational energy for the rigorous hand to hand combat required on the road to recovery.
Recovery is more than elimination. We must combat the disease through addition. Sustainable recovery requires addition of positive experiences to enrich our lives, giving new strength and hope, instead of vague ideas of a better life. “If only I was able to quit using,” we may muse, dreaming of the magical life on the other side of the addiction nightmare. Positive experiences make life more palatable and rewarding, giving meaning where only survival once lived. A deeper contact with some of the beauties discovered in the moment can reintroduce victims of addiction to a brighter reality often missed when viewed through bloodshot and watery eyes.
In the helpful book Making Habits, Breaking Habits, the author states that rumination is strongly associated with psychopathologies, including eating disorders, addiction, anxiety and depression. This correlation supports a path to recovery that targets hurtful ruminations. However, the goal of cognitive behavioral therapy is not to simply eliminate hurtful thinking patterns but to replace the suspect thoughts with something more helpful. (2013, location 1138).
A productive replacement is positive thinking. Integration of daily happiness exercises has shown hopeful evidence that these boosts to thinking support recovery (Hoeppner et al 2019). Happiness exercise force attention to positive aspects of living. These attentional exercises help color the gray world often experienced by the addicted mind.
Positive Thinking Exercises
A few easy to implement happiness exercises are: What Went Well (WWW), Three Good Things, Savoring, and Experiencing Kindness. These exercises work best with some form of journaling, requiring a daily practice of recording the positive ruminations; but benefits can be enjoyed if the practices are limited only to purposeful thought without the more formal recording.
What Went Well or WWW
A daily accounting of experience, purposely seeking the events that went well. This can include simple achievements as well as the major accomplishments. Items that can be includes are attending an AA meeting, arriving to work on time, or eating a healthy meal. By acknowledging these small accomplishments, the successes don’t get lost in the haze of failures. This practice slowly molds behaviors by motivating healthy actions to include in the daily journal of what went well.
Three Good Things
A practice similar to WWW, requiring a purposeful recognition of the good things that are part of our lives. The practice structures daily time to focus on the positive—friends, family, employment or even a warm meal.
With this practice, we ruminate about the happy moments in our lives. We grasp onto these shining moments of existence before they fade out of memory. When something happy occurs during the day, take time to savor the accompanying feelings, burning the blissful moment into a more retrievable area of the brain.
Addiction often creates a hostile world. Existence becomes frightening and protective. Experiencing kindness is a tool to combat this dark view of the world. We can do this by intentionally performing one act of kindness each day and watching others to witness acts kindness out in the world. Each night we can take a few moments to record the acts of kindness given and witnessed.
By adding a few practices of positive thinking to the other available treatments, we add substance to our lives, creating richness and purpose. With a shift in thinking, we see the world through slightly clearer lenses. These practices are at our disposable, within our budgets (because they are free), and give a helpful avenue for positive action instead of the damaging practice of blaming the addiction for the failures in our financial and personal lives.
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Dean, J. (2013) Making Habits, Breaking Habits. Da Capo Lifelong Books; First Trade Paper Edition
Hoeppner, B., Schick, M., Carlon, H., & Hoeppner, S. (2019). Do self-administered positive psychology exercises work in persons in recovery from problematic substance use? An online randomized survey. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, 99, 16-23.