Updated: Jan 1, 2021
I participated in therapy for about a year before I made the final decision to wake up and take control of my life. Throughout my time in therapy and before quitting, my therapist made great efforts to try and help me see how my perceptions of things and events were mine and they were malleable. It did not click for the longest time. l understood her sentiments, but I did not understand how to incorporate them into my daily life. More accurately, I did not know how to incorporate them into my sobriety and recovery. As is with most things in my life, I tend to find more difficult ways of doing things. In this circumstance, I waited until I had already quit to learn one of the most fundamental aspects of my successful sobriety. I realized the way I viewed things, people, and events were all my own doing. I chose to see things the way I did, and I was choosing to act or react to things the way I did, too. Once I quit drinking, the idea of perception took hold of most of my thoughts and opened doors for me I am still attempting to find and walk through. You see, our perceptions pretty much define our reality, and our reality pretty much defines us.
If you are struggling to believe perceptions are both this prevalent and easy to change, give this a try. Be honest, and think back on a type of music (or another form of entertainment) you cannot stand right now, but something you loved growing up. Once you have it in your mind, try and discern how you could have loved something so much at one point in your life and then loathed it at another point in your life. There is only one answer. Perception. When we were loving the thing from our past, we had made it up in our minds we loved that thing. Nobody could have told us differently, and they probably tried. We just knew we loved it the way we know we love our parents. What changed as we got older? Perception. We found something new or different and we convinced ourselves the old thing was no longer our thing and that was that - perception shifted.
This may sound overly simplified, but I promise you it is not. We can shift our perceptions as quickly and as effectively as we can change our minds. The only thing we need in order to do this is a belief in the shift we are attempting to make. For example, I remember the struggle I had with quitting nicotine. It was unbearable. After quitting alcohol and gaining the confidence I was lacking, I was able to change my perception of quitting nicotine too. I believe we can convince ourselves of anything we want if we have a strong enough desire to do so. The point being, if we want it bad enough, we can change our perception to accommodate it.
Perceptions and sobriety
What does this have to do with sobriety? Everything. It has to do with every aspect of sobriety but not only sobriety, it also has everything to do with everything. The power of perception is something I have only begun to scratch the surface of, and it has already completely changed my life. While I could talk endlessly about perception in our lives, for the sake of brevity, I'll concentrate on perception as it relates to sobriety. There is nothing I hear more of in sober groups, blogs, and podcasts than the perception of struggle. It has become synonymous with sobriety and recovery. If you listened to the majority of rhetoric out there, you would have no choice but to believe you cannot have one without the other. I disagree. Not only do I disagree, but I will prove it to you.
My partner, many of my sober friends, and I are living and walking proof struggle does not have to be present in sobriety and recovery. It just doesn't. I can honestly say I have not felt a day of struggle with alcohol in sobriety. Have I had bad days? Yes, but they had nothing to do with alcohol. One of the most valuable things we can learn in sobriety is bad days are going to happen. How we handle those bad days is up to us, and us alone. If you look at a bad day and convince yourself you are experiencing a bad day because of the lack of alcohol, guess what? You are. You will feel anxious, irritable, and angry. If you look at a bad day and convince yourself shit happens, guess what? Shit happens. The day will end and tomorrow will begin a new day. What is the difference? Perception.
But, it's not that easy
You're absolutely right. If we tell ourselves something is going to be hard, what do you reckon will happen. It will be hard. I don't care what program, belief, or plan you found your sobriety in, or are trying to find your sobriety in, you cannot argue the power of negative self-talk. The more we tell ourselves we cannot achieve, the less we will achieve. The more we tell ourselves, we are going to be nervous speaking in public, the less comfortable we will feel. The more we tell ourselves we are going to make a mistake, the less chance we have of not making a mistake. Negative self-talk for addicts is as normal as confidence for winners. As long as an addict believes they need their addiction, they will need their addiction. As long as a winner truly believes they are going to win, they are going to win, for the most part. So, why do we keep telling ourselves we cannot do it, it is too hard, or we are not strong enough? The answer to this question is actually quite simple. We have to.
As addicts, we have conditioned ourselves to believe we cannot do the right thing. We believe we are not good enough. We tell ourselves we are not strong enough. We convince ourselves we do not deserve happiness or success. We find every reason possible to discount any potential of success so when we fail, it is expected. It doesn't hurt to fail when we know it is coming. We don't have to deal with letting ourselves or others down when nobody, including us, expects anything from us. Negative self-talk is a comfort blanket for the addict. We hold on to it as tightly as we held on to our mother while feeding. It is the epitome of self-preservation. If we truly want to grow away from our addictions, we have to change our perceptions of ourselves. We have to stop saying things like I can't, it's hard, I'm weak, I hate myself, I'm an addict, I don't deserve to be happy, I am a failure, or any other negative statements with which we choose to degrade ourselves. As long as we say those things about ourselves, we will believe them and so too will those around us.
One of the best ways to change our perceptions about things, people, events, or ourselves is to change the way in which we talk about them. We can start by listening to ourselves throughout the day. How many times do we make negative comments about ourselves or our realities? How often do we put ourselves down, even if only jovially? What words do we choose to describe our job, our partner, our house, our car, our ability, our life? If someone was asked to describe our character, how many truly positive things would they say? These are all examples of self-talk. The more we talk about ourselves in a certain way the more we believe what we say. If, after we have taken stock of our own personal self-talk, we find a disproportionate lean toward negativity, it's time to change the way we talk about ourselves. It's time to change the way we feel about ourselves. It's time to shift the negative perception we hold to one of positivity, strength, and growth. It's time to believe in ourselves again.
How do we do this? We do this by speaking highly of ourselves, by believing in ourselves, by holding high expectations of ourselves, by surrounding ourselves with people who encourage us to grow. We do this by changing not only the way we talk about ourselves but by our actions too. I am going to share with you one of the most mind-blowing pieces of information I have ever learned about perception.
We can change what we believe by how we act, and we can change how we act by what we believe. I'm going to let you ponder this for a while. I will return to this idea in my next blog. Until then, let's practice telling each other how amazing we all are. We are amazing. We are strong, We are powerful. We are deserving. We are happy. We are living well.