Tools for Addiction Recovery

When attempting to abstain from addictive behaviors, it seems that we are almost compelled to act out in the behavior. Our imagination may get the best of us and no matter how horrible the effects of the addiction were, it may even assist us in believing that is wasn’t all that bad. This adds fuel to the fire and makes the compulsion stronger. It can become an endless cycle of self-destruction.

If you have ever tried to stop an addiction by willpower alone, then you are probably familiar with the frustration that comes with not being able to quit or being able to quit, but not for long. The will to stop is there, so why is it so hard? Isn’t willpower enough? Why is it that we can want to stop so badly, yet we keep going back, no matter what the consequences?

The problem with willpower is that when the will opposes the imagination, the imagination wins. Every time. Why? When using willpower alone, as soon as you stop the addictive behavior, your imagination starts reminding you of things like how you were never successful at quitting before, how uncomfortable you are (or will be), and can give you millions of really good reasons why you need to do whatever it is you are trying to stop … the list goes on and on. Just think about stopping an addictive behavior and pay attention to what happens. All of a sudden, there may be feelings of fear, or even panic. You may have the urge to do exactly what you are thinking about stopping. The imagination is bigger, more dramatic, and more powerful than the will.

Ok, so how do you change? We already know that when the will opposes the imagination, the imagination wins. Conflict between the two can keep an addiction going strong. Getting your imagination and your willpower working together is a big step in letting go of addictive behavior. Affirmation, visualization and positive self-talk are very effective tools that can be used as part of a comprehensive program of recovery.

An affirmation is a statement, stated in the present as the truth. Visualizations are the “pictures” we see that represent ideas that we think about. Self-talk is what we say to ourselves. We are, whether consciously or unconsciously, always affirming, saying and/or visualizing something. Unfortunately, the words, images and affirmations aren’t always so positive.

Thoughts like “I am stupid,” and “I am sick,” are examples of negative self-talk. “I am a healthy, happy, non-smoker,” and, “every day in every way, I get better and better,” are examples of positive self-talk. These are affirming thoughts. The thoughts are often associated with pictures (visualizations). Consciously using these tools is what I like to call “constructive daydreaming.” This can be used to help you focus on what you do want, instead of what you don’t want.

When creating affirmations, it is essential that they be phrased in the most positive way possible. The words “I am” are very powerful. What follows those words will be what will create the picture that you will be focusing on, either consciously or unconsciously. Statements such as, “I can’t stop…” (whatever the behavior is), “I just look at food and gain weight,” “I am a sick person,” “I am a dope fiend” (as opposed to “recovering addict”), or “I am so messed up,” are negative affirmations. Think about it. What pictures do these statements bring to mind? Is this something you would like to see in your future? These pictures are images that if replayed often enough, could interfere with the recovery process, possibly leading to relapse of the addictive behavior. Even if it doesn’t lead you back to the behavior, it will keep you thinking about what you don’t want instead of focusing on what you want to create in your life.

Affirmations and positive self-talk can be used anytime or anywhere. You don’t have to set aside any extra time to do the exercises. You can say affirmations while you eat, drive, walk, work or do whatever you do. You can write affirmations on cards and place them around the house and in your car. You can make tapes with your own voice repeating affirmations and even listen while you sleep. Say positive things to yourself every time you catch yourself thinking negatively. Remember, the negative self-talk has been going on for years. It may take some time before positive self-talk becomes “second nature.” Don’t worry; you can’t say too many positive things to yourself.

The following are some examples of affirmations and visualizations. Remember to always state them in the present tense. “I am” will be more effective than “I will…” or “I want.”

Smoking:
See yourself doing all the things you would be doing as a non-smoker and allow yourself to feel how good it feels to breathe, saying to yourself:

I choose to be a healthy, happy, satisfied non-smoker.
It feels so good to breathe.
It feels wonderful to be a non-smoker.
I choose health.

Body Image:
Visualize your body looking exactly the way you want it to be and say:

I appreciate my body, so I always do what is best for it.
I am creating the perfect body for me.
I feel good about my body.
My body is perfect.

Food addiction:
See yourself enjoying eating healthy, wholesome foods and say:

It is ok to be me.
I am safe.
I love my body.
I choose healthy foods.
I am willing to change.
I now choose to let go of old behaviors.

Drug/Alcohol addiction:
Visualize yourself alcohol/drug-free and enjoying life to the fullest and say:

I am healthy, happy and drug-free.
It feels good to be sober.
I choose life.
I choose recovery.
I am willing to change.
It is ok to be who I am.

General affirmations:
See yourself as healthy, happy and energetic and say:

Every day, in every way, I get better and better.
Everything I do is creating better health for me.
I am deserving of health and happiness.
I feel good about me.
Life is good.

Affirmations are most effective when they are in your own words. Decide what you would like to see in your life and create affirmations accordingly. It is so easy to think of what you don’t want. You don’t have to look too hard to find negativity in the world. It will take some effort to retrain yourself and begin to think positively. Spend time using “constructive daydreaming” and visualize what you want down to the smallest detail. Cut out pictures that represent what you want and make a collage, or put your pictures up around the house as a constant reminder of what you want. Say your affirmations every day. A hundred times a day is barely enough.

Affirmation, visualization, and positive self-talk can be effective tools, but addictions can be very serious and may require a comprehensive treatment program. There are many options available in the treatment of addictions. There are self-help groups, books, tapes, doctors, psychologists, counselors, ministers, 12-step groups, hospital programs, residential programs and more.

Recovery from addiction is a very complex process. It probably took many years to create the addiction and it takes a lifetime to recover. There is no magic wand. Remember, recovery is a process, not an event.

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