Managing Thoughts in Addiction Recovery
by Hank Robb, PhD,ABPP
Thoughts and beliefs
Make yourself have this thought: “I am a banana.”
My guess is that even though you may have had the thought, you weren’t believing that thought. We can have lots of thoughts such as, “I must have my favorite food and if I don’t it’s awful and I can’t stand it!!”, and yet still not actually believe those thoughts; just as you can have the thought, “I am a banana” and not believe that either.
Thoughts “bring up” images and sensations
There is something else going on here that you might not have noticed. My guess is that the way you went about “not believing” that you were a banana was to compare yourself to a yellow, elliptical fruit, and then take notice of the fact that you are not the same as a yellow, elliptical fruit. Yet, no yellow, elliptical fruit was physically present with which you could make your comparison. What was present was merely a bunch of letters: b a n a n a. The point I want to make clear is that what was there ( b a n a n a ) served to “bring up” an image of a yellow, elliptical fruit with which you likely compared yourself. And, this image arose with such swiftness that you never even noticed that the word “banana” was just a bunch of letters.
Words often have this “bringing up” function. So, the words “tall glass of cold beer” may suddenly make images and sensations show up inside of us. We hardly notice that no tall glass of cold beer is any place to be found. All that is really present is a bunch of words to which we respond with a bunch of mental images and bodily sensations.
“Just a bunch of words”
It’s important to recognize that images and sensations are only that, a bunch of images and sensations. They don’t control our hands, arms, feet, and mouth. It is also true that the words “tall glass of cold beer” are only that, just a bunch of words. And, “just a bunch of words” can’t control our hands, arms, feet, and mouth, either. To illustrate this point, imagine what would happen if we said those words to someone who spoke only Japanese: they would be nothing more than just a bunch of sounds that didn’t mean anything. In other words, no images or sensations would show up when the Japanese speaking person heard those sounds. But because those words mean something to us, we easily get lost in the sensations and images which show up when we see or hear such words and we forget what is right in front of us—namely: a powerless bunch of words.
“Don’t Believe Everything You Think!”
You can make use of this information and practice noticing words for what they are rather than what they seem to be. E.g., “I really need a drink.” Well, of course you don’t really NEED a drink,” though you might actually want one. However, on top of that, “I really need a drink” is just a powerless bunch of words. Repeat the words several times, concentrating carefully on the sounds coming out of your mouth and you may really begin to notice that “I really need a drink” is, in fact, nothing more than just a powerless bunch of words.
The more we practice hearing words as only what they are—just words —the more we can choose to act on them — or not. Then we may be better able to use words for our own purposes instead of being used by them.
Source: Adapted from “I Am Not A Banana”, originally published in News & Views, SMART Recovery Quarterly Newsletter.
Dr. Robb is a founding member of SMART Recovery and continues to write regularly for the SMART New & Views newsletter on topics related to cognitive behavioral (CBT) and Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) — thoughts of great interest to those in the forefront of psychological thought as well as to the individual who wants to create the life he/she wants to live. He is also an active SMART facilitator and advisor.