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Do Addicts Really Think Differently Than Everyone Else?

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Road warrior:How to fight the garbled thinking drives us Photo via

By Ruth Fowler

07/01/11

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AT tends to start murmuring most strongly when we’re wronged. It’s so easy to be a good sober person when life’s going great but as soon as some asshole badmouths us, or doesn’t do what we want, the voices start again. Recently, a person I had offended reached out and gave me another opportunity to apologize to them. I did—and immediately got kicked in the teeth with a vicious and ungracious response. So I did what any good alcoholic did. I sat on it, letting it fester in my mind until it grew to enormous, gargantuan proportions. Never mind this girl was probably PMS-ing. Never mind that she had every right to be annoyed at me. Never mind, even, that she was in the wrong. If I’d kept my side of the street clean, it would have been okay. But I reacted. And sometimes that’s the hardest thing about AT—practicing what many in recovery call “non-reaction.” We have to learn how to pull our train of thought away from those familiar tracks that can lead to a relapse, and often that can be as simple as recognizing AT, acknowledging it, and simply not feeding it: going for a walk, calling a friend, hitting a meeting, watching a movie—distract, distract, distract—until the feeling diminishes, which it inevitably does. Alcoholics with AT are like pit bulls with small mammals: we will not let go and will worry that thought to death rather than put it down and walk away. “Let it go” must be our mantra for mental sanity—but there’s arguably nothing more difficult. The best distraction of all, and often the quickest route to changing feelings of resentment, is the contrary action route: pissed because you don’t feel you’ve gotten enough validation from the world for your greatness? Why not return the email from the person who asked you for help? Somehow a conviction that you’ve been wronged morphs into a belief that the world is a beneficent, loving place—and, even better, that you’re a part of all that positivity. (Similarly, if you want to exacerbate those feelings of resentment, send a bunch of angry emails to those who you’re convinced are responsible for holding you back; it’s guaranteed both to keep you simmering and to motivate them to not help you.)

So next time you feel storm clouds gathering and want to sit inside with the curtains closed, step outside in the sunshine. Do exactly what you don’t want to do. And watch the bad weather blow away.

Ruth Fowler has written for The Village VoiceThe GuardianThe Huffington PostThe New York Post and The Observer. Her memoir, No Man's Land, which documented her pre-sobriety experiences as a stripper in Manhattan, was published by Viking in 2008. She also wrote about why doctors can't deal with addicted patients and nursing your way back to health, among many other topics.

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