12 July 2016
Hello and welcome to the fourth Butterfly Blog.
In last week's blog I wrote about how my mental health in particular my experience of negative beliefs, thoughts and feelings were repeatedly leading me to periodically slip up and use. I'm still in the early days of my recovery, reaching the heady heights of six weeks, and in those six weeks I have had five slip ups, the last of which particularly frightened me because I used for four days, and that's relapse territory, which I desperately want to avoid. I have been able to remain abstinent from drugs and alcohol, and especially my drug of choice skunk cannabis since my last slip up eight days ago. I am putting in a lot of effort in learning how to deal with and change my experience of unmanageable thoughts and feelings. In this week's blog I'd like to share more about some of the methods I am doing my best to utilise to achieve this. It is a work in progress and it's early days for me and of course there are no quick fixes. It requires ongoing effort, persistence, patience, and lots of practice. But my ongoing motivation is that I want to fully embrace my recovery and continue to move towards wellness.
The first step has been getting aware of my thoughts and this then allows me to recognise, challenge and dispute negative thoughts as they arise, with the ultimate goal being to change these unhelpful thoughts and beliefs into positive and realistic alternatives. I have found that this process has to be practised over and over again. Although it's still a work in progress for me the practice is beginning to pay off. I can still find myself being drawn into rumination on negative trains of thought but I'm getting better at recognising and challenging the thoughts now. I view the thoughts like trains passing through a station. I can simply watch them pass by one after another or I can get on the train and be taken on a ride. I'm choosing to just watch the trains. I am also being more scientific in my approach to my thoughts, in that rather than believing all I think I'm now looking for evidence to prove or dispute their validity.
In working with my thinking in this way I hope that eventually my core beliefs will change to more flexible, helpful and realistic beliefs. In the western world it was a psychiatrist called Beck who in the 1960's first wrote about how our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviour. He stated that it's not our experience of life in and of itself that causes our emotional responses but that it is our beliefs and thoughts about those experiences that mediate the emotional response. So in changing our thoughts our emotional reactions will change too. Beck said that there are a triad of beliefs that affect whether we are likely to experience mental health problems and in particular depression. They are negative beliefs about ourselves, others and the world. He also identified that beneath the thoughts that pass through our conscious minds are core beliefs. These core beliefs are formed via our experience of life, especially as we are growing up and they help us to make sense of our world. When triggered off the negative automatic thoughts bubble up from our core beliefs. If our beliefs are flexible, realistically and healthy then they can help us adapt and deal with our lives. If however they are rigid, unrealistic, negative and unhelpful then they can lead to mental health problems. My core beliefs unfortunately fall into the second category.
Changing the negative beliefs I hold about the world - it's not all about the suffering.
Because I hold some very strong, rigid and negative core beliefs about the world I tend to ignore or minimise the positive experiences I have and maximise the negative experiences to fit in with my erroneous core belief that life is all suffering. In order to change this thinking bias at the end of the day I am writing down all the good and positive things about my day. I am forcing my mind to pay attention to positive experiences. I am also going through a list of all the things I am grateful for in my life, all of my blessings. And I am challenging unrealistic and negative thoughts about life as they arise. e.g. life is just one big struggle with life has moments of ease and happiness.
Changing negative core beliefs about myself and building my self esteem.
In the morning and the evening I am reading out loud my list of positive affirmations and also at the end of the day I am writing down the positive character traits I have shown during the day. I am also challenging and replacing negative thoughts about myself that bubble up during the day. For example 'I cannot cope with this' is replaced with 'I have survived a lot in my life I can cope with this', 'I am crap' with 'I am a good person with lots of strengths' and 'I am not lovable' with 'my friends and family love me and I love myself'. At the moment it is proving to be quite awkward to say these things to myself but at first I guess I've got to impose this positivity and new way of thinking on myself until it begins to feel more natural.
Changing negative core beliefs about others.
I'm having to repeatedly dispute the negative thoughts I have about trusting others with real evidence based alternatives. I'm having to be a real scientist with this one and I'm having to take some risks and do my best to trust people. Not all people are bad and not everyone is going to hurt me, and even if I do get hurt occasionally I've got to believe that I'll cope and learn from this. As humans we are social animals and we need others in our lives so it's worth taking a risk.
Next week I'll be blogging on techniques I'm using to manage my emotional life, another area I have been struggling with in these early days of recovery. In learning to do this I am also learning to avoid slips and relapses into using. It's all about staying clean and sober and learning to be a well person.
Quotes of the week.
The past is just a memory. The future a fantasy. This moment is a gift that's why it's called the present.
Don't believe everything you think.