Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Two

Note: This is the second in a series of essays on the 13 Statements of the Women for Sobriety program. These statements are copyright to WFS and I encourage you to see their website for more information.

Statement Two: Getting to Positive

“Negative thoughts destroy only myself.”

What do these words mean? How can we go through life without any negativity? In early sobriety, this may seem like a foreign concept. We are so accustomed to viewing things through a negative lens that we feel unable to see the positive in situations that are less than ideal. But see the positive we must, otherwise we risk drowning.

Avoid destructive thinking. Improper negative thoughts sink people. A ship can sail around the world many, many times, but just let enough water get into the ship and it will sink. Just so with the human mind. Let enough negative thoughts or improper thoughts get into the human mind and the person sinks just like a ship. – Alfred A. Montapert

There are two ways to view sobriety, as a positive force in our lives, or as a condition that we must struggle with in order to remain sane. It may be hard to grasp that the will to remain sober can be a negative thought, but it can be so. Think about how you came to realize that sobriety was necessary to your continued survival. Was it the desire for a better life, or fear of dying that led you to put the bottle down and seek something better? This is an important distinction to make in early sobriety, because it gives us a baseline from which to judge the degree that negative thoughts rule our lives.

Negativity is a hallmark of the active drinker. It is part of the vicious cycle that drags us down. Our mind instinctively views negative thoughts as harmful, and seeks to eliminate them on its own. When we are drinking, alcohol is our means of coping with unpleasant emotions; yet it is alcohol which perpetuates negative situations. This in turn disturbs the balance that our minds seek to create, causing psychic distress which leads to more drinking.

When we first decide to take action against alcohol, it is often out of fear. Fear in itself is a negative emotion, albeit one that can have positive results. The important thing is that once the positive result is attained we must replace the fear with positive reinforcement and eliminate the negative underpinning of our achievement. We must remind ourselves that we are sober therefore we can remain sober, that we’re taking a positive step that shows our inherent goodness toward ourselves. If we approach our first tentative steps with only the fear that we will fail, we perpetuate the cycle of negativity that can lead us back to drinking.

A healthy dose of fear in early sobriety is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear can be a strong positive motivator, but only when coupled with an acceptance of those positive results. Which do you think is more likely a thought that will encourage continued sobriety: “I am doing this. I am moving forward.” Or, “this is too good to last, what if I fail?” The second not only undermines our forward progress, it sets the stage for failure. Because in failing we have reinforced a negative self image—that we are not capable—we risk returning to drinking at a greater level than before.

Early sobriety is difficult because of the physical addiction. Research suggests that the third to fourth day of sobriety is when the symptoms of confusion and a disordered sense of perception peak. In practical terms, it is when we are the least able to consciously reinforce our sobriety. Many women find that the third or fourth day is when their sobriety fails. It is important to know that this is the time when we are least “ourselves” and can be viewed as the period when alcohol talks the loudest. This knowledge allows us to take positive action to overcome the mental confusion and to get through this difficult time. These mental symptoms abate rapidly after the fourth day and by the seventh day the majority of withdrawal symptoms have faded. It is important to remember this.

“My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.”

This early period is our first chance to really apply statement two. External reminders can keep us on the right track; written affirmations, reinforcement from others who support us, journaling and reading about recovery can all help us through the period when our mind is functioning the least coherently.

One suggestion is to take a piece of paper and list all the negative thoughts that occur to you. Turn the paper over and don’t look at it again. On another sheet of paper, or in your journal, list positive affirmations to replace the negative thoughts. An example might be, “I am rising above my addiction every moment.”

You may wish to destroy the negative list in a symbolic way, such as by burning or tearing into little pieces. Whatever you do, don’t look at it again. Doing so only reinforces those thoughts. On the other hand, look at your positive list every chance you get. These affirmations will help you accept the statements more readily as they put you in a positive frame and allow you to see the wisdom in Jean’s words.

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. (Dr. Hans Selve) Early sobriety is the time to begin training ourselves in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Something I often do when someone makes a disparaging comment about themselves is to say, “now say something nice about yourself.” When you find yourself thinking negative things, simply let your next thought be positive. In this way you are countering your old, or negative, way of thinking with a new, positive, thought process. As you practice this, you will find it easier to interrupt a negative thought and finally to replace it with a positive.

It is not possible to be positive all the time, and using this method can prevent a minor annoyance from turning into a major crisis that can lead to drinking. Even if our positive thought does not directly counter the negative one, it interrupts the flow of negativity and gives us a moment to breathe. This moment can make the difference between stepping away from a stress and internalizing it. It takes practice and gentleness with ourselves, but it is an important tool in preventing relapse in early sobriety.

Dwelling on negativity merely gives it power. We are capable of being positive in the face of what seems on the surface to be a negative situation. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”
In this moment we are sober. As this moment moves into the past, we create a new positive history that will not change. Nothing can take it away from us and as we’ve done in the past, so can we do in the future. We are sober in this moment, we were sober in the past, and there is no reason we cannot be sober in the future. When you feel a negative thought, touch this truth and make it bloom. You are the beautiful flower that deserves the right to grow in the full sun. Positive thought will make it so.

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