The alcoholic or addict mind is a strange thing. If you go to any recovery program you will notice very quickly that the people who are there–the addicts and alcoholics–are by no means stupid people. Some of them are downright brilliant and there seems to be no real correlation between intelligence and the tendency to become addicted to substances.
That said, the addict and alcoholic mind has a few tendencies that we do seem to notice through the addiction recovery process. Let’s break these down in order to get a better look at these tendencies.
First of all is the tendency for denial, which is later balanced out with that of surrender. Both of these are things are mental constructs that have to do with our thought processes.
When the addict or alcoholic is in denial, they are blaming everything but themselves for the fact that they are drinking excessively. Nothing is their fault and they point the finger of blame at anything or anyone else in order to help justify their drinking.
What the alcoholic mind does is in this form of denial is starts with a premise. The premise is this: “I love drinking alcohol, it is the one thing that helps me and makes me happy in this world, and therefore I will say or do anything to protect this one fact. Alcohol is not the problem, period. Any arguments that I make will be aligned with this one truth, that I must protect my ability to drink alcohol, because it is the only thing that makes me happy. If they take that away from me I will be completely miserable.”
That is the basic premise that creates denial in the alcoholic. They are putting their ability to drink and take drugs as their first priority, and then reasoning backwards from that in order to protect that ability to self medicate. When they finally surrender and break through their denial, they are admitting and accepting that the drinking itself is the problem, that it is the cause of their misery, and that they were wrong about how it can lead them to happiness. The moment of surrender is when the alcoholic finally sees that they could actually be happier sober than they were in their drinking days.
Now another simple truth about the alcoholic or addict mind is that they tend to get caught up in resentments. A resentment is when you are hanging on to anger from the past and you keep reliving that anger inside of your head. Why would an alcoholic do this to themselves?
Because it helps to justify their drinking, that’s why. If you can maintain anger towards someone or something that did you wrong, then you have a great excuse to drink excessively. That is how the alcoholic mind works. You need a reason to get trashed every day, and your brain is going to dig until it can find a suitable excuse for this. So if no one is victimizing you in your present day life in any way, then your brain is going to have to reach back into the past and find a time when it was a victim. Then it can relive that anger for you and give you all the excuse that you need in order to drink.
So how does the alcoholic mind move past this in recovery? One thing that you will notice is that just because you got clean and sober does not make all of your resentments magically go away. Nor does it stop your brain from seeking out more resentments to focus on.
The solution for this is to work through your past resentments by practicing forgiveness. This is a process and you may first have to learn how to forgive yourself before you can effectively forgive people from your past. Working with a sponsor in AA or a therapist can help you to work through these resentments. However, note that this has to be an active process, and you have to initiate this and seek out this help for yourself. You don’t just automatically move past your resentments because you sit in AA meetings every day. Instead you have to actually do the work. This is an active process.
Second of all, as you are living your life in recovery, new resentments could pop up if you are not careful. So you have to use a healthy approach to living in recovery if you want to avoid new resentments from being formed. In order to prevent this you are going to have to change your thinking, and in order to change your thinking you are going to have to first change the way you are living. New behavior will lead you to new thought patterns. My suggestion is that you seek out treatment, seek out therapy, and seek out support groups such as AA and NA. If you totally immerse yourself in recovery and you dedicate your life to personal growth through this recovery process then this will eventually change your thinking for the better. You can leave “victim thinking” behind as you become more and more empowered in your recovery journey. But again, this has to be a very active process in which you are highly motivated. Fixing your thinking is not something that can happen passively, or by just sitting around and attempting to change your thoughts without putting in any real work.
One of the simple truths about early recovery is that alcoholics have a strong tendency to sabotage their own sobriety. Why is this?
Most people simply say that this is due to “the addict inside of them” or the “alcoholic mind” exerting control. This is similar to the idea of the devil sitting on one of your shoulders, whispering temptations into your ear, trying to get you to relapse and screw up.
Self sabotage happens because the alcoholic has been using drugs and alcohol as their solution for nearly every problem in their life for a long, long time. So when they sober up, their brain still believes that getting drunk or high is still a viable solution. So in order to overcome this kind of “sabotage thinking” the recovering alcoholic has to face all sorts of life problems and then turn to new solutions that they discover in recovery, and they have to keep doing this and keep practicing using new solutions over and over again. Eventually, through this new behavior of adopting new solutions in recovery, you will slowly train your brain to stop reaching back for the old solution, which was to get drunk or high.
This takes time. Just because you used a new solution once does not mean that the new behavior has magically changed your thinking process. You have to keep practicing and using new solutions over and over again before the brain will adapt to the new reality. This is how you change your thoughts in recovery–by changing your behavior first, and then allowing your mind to adapt. This is really the secret to success in addiction recovery–that you must live your way into better thinking. Unfortunately, the attempted shortcut of changing your thoughts without “doing the work” simply doesn’t work. Good luck!