How Negative Thoughts Can Affect Your Sobriety
To some extent, everyone deals with negative thoughts during treatment.
However, if you allow yourself to believe your negative thoughts are automatically true, they can become a serious threat to your recovery.
Common Negative Thoughts About Recovery
Negative thoughts encourage a victim mentality, promote a sense of hopelessness, and keep you from fulfilling your potential. They discourage the growth mindset that is a crucial part of overcoming the challenges faced in the first year of sobriety.
Here are some examples of negative thoughts that are common during the early stages of recovery.
- Thinking there is something “wrong” with you as a person — “I can’t get sober because I have no willpower.”
- Reducing complicated problems to black and white scenarios — “Therapy didn’t work for my uncle when he wanted to stop drinking, so it’s not going to work for me.”
- Pessimism about the future — “Recovery is too hard. I relapsed once, so I am doomed to fail.”
- Bitterness about the past — “It’s my ex-wife’s fault I drink. I wouldn’t be an addict if she hadn’t filed for divorce.”
- Minimizing your own accomplishments — “I’ve been clean for one week, but that’s nothing. I won’t be able to keep it up forever.”
- Harshly judging small mistakes — “I’m such an idiot. How am I going to stay sober if I can’t even remember one simple therapy appointment?”
- Feeling as though you don’t deserve forgiveness — “I deserve to be alone forever because of what I did to my friends and family when I was high.”
- Resenting other people — “Staying sober is easier for others because their lives are less stressful than mine.”
- Making unfounded assumptions about others — “It’s pointless to try to find a new job. Nobody is going to want to hire someone who was fired because of an addiction.”
How Persistent Negativity Puts Your Recovery at Risk
The occasional negative thought is completely normal, but consist negative self-talk can make it harder to manage your mental health. You may experience symptoms of depression or anxiety, which can cause you to experience greater cravings for drugs or alcohol if you’re accustomed to self-medicating this type of distress.
If you’re openly expressing a negative attitude around your friend and family, your loved ones may start to withdraw from the relationship. Being around someone who is constantly approaching life from a negative viewpoint is exhausting, even when that person doesn’t have an addiction. However, when you start to lose relationships with loved ones, you’re decreasing the strength of the support system that promotes lasting sobriety.
Negative thoughts have also been linked to reduced self-efficacy. This means that negativity can cause you to doubt your own ability to stick with challenging tasks and complete the goals you’ve set for yourself. You may start skipping self-help meetings, avoiding your sponsor, and finding excuses to reschedule therapy appointments. All of these actions increase the risk of relapse.
Using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to Stop Negativity in Its Tracks
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) uses cognitive restructuring to help people identify and change their negative thoughts into ones that are more helpful and adaptive to the situation at hand. The therapist helps the patient to identify, evaluate, and replace negative thoughts as they occur. The process is often difficult at first, but continual practice helps to make this approach more instinctive in real-life scenarios.
CBT may also involve what is called the assertive defense of the self. This means that a patient practices coping with rejection and criticism from others in a way that doesn’t contribute to additional negative thoughts. Typically, the patient and the therapist use role playing conversations to practice assertiveness and responses to criticism. In terms of recovery from substance abuse, this can help make it easier to deal with challenges that have a high likelihood of contributing to negative self-talk—such as finding work, making new sober friends, and dating.
Self-Care Strategies for Combating Negative Thinking
At home, the key to stopping negative thoughts is to remind yourself that how you’re feeling isn’t necessarily a reflection of what is really happening. Writing about the situation in a journal can help you think more objectively about your emotions. Psychology Today also suggests asking yourself the following three questions:
- Is this thought true?
- Is this thought important?
- Is this thought helpful?
Another great strategy is to commit to treating yourself the same way you’d treat a close friend. Would you tell a friend who was struggling that changing her situation was hopeless or that she deserved to have bad things happen to her? Of course not! Keep in mind that no matter what has happened in the past, you are worthy of the same love and respect you’d give to a friend in need.
How a Healthy Lifestyle Can Help
Although it might not seem like a healthy lifestyle would make a difference in your attitude, making time for exercise, nutritious meals, and sufficient sleep can help stabilize your mood. This is especially true if you plan to start your day in a positive way, such as making time for a relaxing yoga routine or a walk in the park.
Remember that recovery is more than just abstaining from the use of addictive substances. You’re building a new, wellness-focused life for yourself. This involves healing the mind, body, and spirit.