By Donald Huffman
“You can’t imagine just how much believing in negative thoughts is affecting your life…until you stop.” ― Charles F. Glassman
What Triggers those Negative Thoughts?
I once had a counselor in treatment ask me what emotions, stresses, or thoughts triggered me to use. It seemed like a strange question. Not being high was probably my biggest trigger to use. I always chased the high because it was what I did.
What I also did was bounce around in the usual places a problem drinker and drug user finds themselves in – chemical dependency treatment centers, halfway houses, psychiatric units, a few jails – and I had found myself in enough tricky situations to be able to read the writing on the wall.
My life was only getting worse.
What drove me to use? I don’t know. It was like the pressure went higher with each sober hour that passed. I began to suspect that something was wrong with the way my brain processed reality.
It wasn’t that I had the delusions and hallucinations of the schizophrenic, or the manic episodes of the bipolar sufferer. I had a condition that would have me seek to put a pill bottle or a pipe in my hand like magnetism. I had a mentality that weighed incarceration and a lack of real employability as acceptable risks. The benefit of temporary sanity and calm that came from booze and dope had made all the pitfalls worth it. Sanity from what? What inside of me needed such severe calming, so as to warrant such disastrous consequences?
Without noticing it, I had always believed my mind’s interpretation of reality. Life simply played out in a certain way, and that way has been most often bad, I told myself. I never had the breathing room to question that belief. Worrying about the future and all of the nasty events it had in store for me had become automatic. I was certain I could see my future. Like a forecaster analyzing inclement weather that he had no control over, I saw myself as some kind of dark entity. I could see that I would make one horrible decision after the next, then I would die and probably go to hell. It was no small wonder that I tried to soften every moment with a chemical sense of security.
Getting cleaned up and sober had been a painful process. It still is on some days. No longer erasing the hardship of each and every day with a drink or a pill, I was given the opportunity to face that demon of my own mind. With the help of twelve-step work and fellowship, care of a sensitive therapist, honest psychiatry, and new practices of prayer and meditation, I was able to stay in one piece long enough to form a healthy relationship with my mind. I learned some vital things about that negative forecaster.
Thoughts Are Not Necessarily Accurate
Thoughts feed emotions and emotions feed thoughts. When my chest became tight and my breathing shallower, what followed was a thought of “This is bad. I might start having a panic attack.” Tension in my muscles would pull my shoulders down and in when I thought, “I’ll never get a good job. I’ll never have a nice place of my own. I’ll never be happy. I’ll die alone.” A headache would soon follow. My true suffering had not been from experiencing these thoughts-emotions loops, but from my ignorance of their nature.
In my using days I was a captive in a cycle of being identified with my thoughts and could not see that my feelings were the barometer that gauges the thought.
Today, I try to use my feelings to get a sense of how my thoughts are influencing and impacting me. I can take these thoughts and examine them, question them, or change them. I can make them work for me. On the worst days, I can at least stay aware that I have the potential to change my thoughts.
Emotions Will Not Kill You
Managing my outlook is not an easy task on some days, and I can get swept away with negativity. On top of that, there seem to be the days where life just plain sucks. On those days, I try to remember:
- An unpleasant emotion will not kill me.
- An unfavorable feeling is just what it is.
- What is the lesson in this feeling?
- How can I process this without using over it?
Regardless of what you do with any emotion, it will change. The pain is only visiting you. Try, if you can, to find a way to use that negativity for your own good. Yoga and meditation can help with this. Helping someone else may ease some of the pressure as well.
No one likes a bad day, but I have a sense of curiosity that I never had before. I sit out by the lake when I’m unsettled and try to get a sense of what’s going on inside of me.
I’m often surprised by what comes up. Taking some time to be by myself, while not resisting what I feel, I know that the planet is a friendly place to live in.
Going from medicating away every emotion to diving into the uncharted ocean of all the feelings that being sober has to offer is not easy. I needed all the help I could get in the beginning, and it’s taken a lot of discipline and compassionate people to get me to the place of health and sanity that I find myself in today.
So, feel your pain. Dislike it, but get more curious than panicked over it. You might find that the world around you is cheering for you.
About Donald Huffman
Donald Huffman is an aspiring writer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Struggling with trauma, mental illness, and alcohol/drug addiction, substantial segments of his adolescence and early adulthood had been spent in and out of hospitals, treatment centers, halfway houses, and jail.
After a suicide attempt, he got sober at the age of 29 through 12-step recovery and therapy.
Clean, refocused, and rekindling a passion for writing, he began his autobiography shortly into his recovery.
Donald now has a full-time job in the healthcare field and has a daily practice of meditation and writing.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.