“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Addicts are plagued with stinking thinking. They are not the only ones. Addicts learn to stop acting out with their drug of choice. However, many who have put a cork in the bottle are still badgered with negative beliefs that sabotage serenity.
Addicts wallow in past memories, wishing that things were different. In recovery, many “future trip”, focus on how things will be when sobriety and stability is achieved. Everybody grapples with staying in the present moment, but this is difficult when you don’t like where you are. Mistaken beliefs about self and the world flourish when addicts get stuck focusing on the past or future.
Most addicts say they just want to be happy. However, happiness depends upon positive conditions. Yet, this cannot always be controlled. In the life of an addict, the results of addictive behavior have a life of their own. Trust is broken and lives have been destroyed. Often, once the havoc is wreaked, there is no going back to fix things. Relationships are devastated regardless of achieved sobriety. Loved ones have had enough!
People who are not addicted cannot control the conditions for happiness either. For example, loved ones die unexpectedly. Tragedy and heartache happen outside of your control, too! The chase for happiness becomes an illusion because you cannot govern all of the outside factors that contribute to happiness. Your efforts to create happiness are fragile at best. Negative thinking is overcome by seeking inner peace rather than happiness. Inner peace is controlled from within.
Struggle and adversity leave an addict feeling empty and without happiness. It is possible to create inner peace in the presence of unhappiness. Addicts can transform limitation, failed recovery, broken families, and relapse into their greatest teacher. This stabilizes long-term sobriety. They transform emptiness into serenity with perspective and stability.
Last year, I spent time with friends in their mountain home. We visited someone who modeled peace. He was a campground host and recovering alcoholic. He spoke about past losses and hurt, yet now exuded with enthusiasm, joy, and peace. During a tour of the campground, he underscored how appreciative he was to have such stunning views of the mountains that were nearby. He was excited to show us his small camping trailer. At the end of the tour, he declared that he was the luckiest man alive and that he was living the life he had always hoped.
Upon reflection, he seemed to radiate an inner peace that was opposite of the negative thinking that dominated his addictive behavior earlier in his life. He talked about being present in the moment with his thoughts which brought him peace. He learned to block out the negative thoughts from the past and anchored his thoughts to the present moment. As I listened to him share, I thought of the many people who had so much more in personal possessions but who were stuck in negative thinking about needing more to keep from being less. When you discipline yourself to be in the present moment, negative thinking is countered with inner peace.
When you lose a loved one or must face your own demise, it is impossible to be happy about the misfortune. But, you can be at peace as long as you have released grasping for things and conditions you cannot control. In recovery, maybe you won’t be able to be with the family you thought would be there for you, but you can have peace. You may face a dramatic change and limitation in your life because of illness or financial restraints. Economic reversals and poor health will never trigger happiness. Yet, peace can be attained within when you let go of negative beliefs by simply embracing the here and now.
Peace comes in the present moment, not the past or future. Anxiety and worry accelerate when you fret about what might happen in the future or lament about a past action. Addicts tell themselves that bad things happen because they deserve it. They create movies in their head that reinforce destructive experiences from the past. They tell themselves they don’t have what it takes to live a sober, serene, and successful life. Their negative thinking sabotages good results in their life and prevents them from being present in the here and now. They become their negative thoughts. This contributes to relapse behavior and impairs the possibility of peace in the present moment. Addicts get stuck and are unable to separate themselves from the negative voice in their heads.
You stop negative thoughts by learning to sit in life experience as it is whether pleasant or unpleasant. In recovery, you learn to connect with yourself without judgment and without clinging to the past or grasping for the future. You must learn to accept what is, right now. Your sense of self is different from your life situation. When you learn to be friendly with the present moment, you begin to make peace rather than embrace negative thoughts that treat the present moment as an enemy. In 12-step groups, addicts learn to separate their sense of self from their negative thoughts. When this happens an addict can embrace the present moment. They create inner peace and discover the brilliance of who they really are. The trap of negative thinking is resolved by practicing being present in the here and now.