In life, we often hear about how we can choose to positive or negative in our thinking. While this is true to a certain extent, it is also true that someone people are just genetically more disposed toward negative thoughts. It all has to do with how we remember things. When something emotional or traumatic happens, it is stored in our brains differently. This is why you might remember something very clearly from childhood but cannot recall what you had for lunch yesterday. If something happens with an emotional component, like breaking a bone or getting married, the brain releases certain chemicals that etch the memory deeper. The chemicals have no impact on the emotions themselves, only how they are recorded in our brains.
How Pessimism Influences Recovery
As people living with addiction, it might seem that we have more negative memories than positive ones. While it might be true that we have had a harder than usual life with more negative experiences it is also true that, even in the middle of active addiction, we experience positive and maybe even glorious moments. Negative memories, however, stand out more clearly in certain people because of a specific gene.
According to a study published in the magazine Psychological Science, there is a gene called ADA2B that works with the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0956797613492423). People with a variance in this gene have brains that process negative memories more thoroughly than positive ones.
In recovery, this can be a problem. Living with continuous negative input, whether is external or internal, can trigger addictive thinking. As people living with addiction, we often struggle with coping with negativity without using. We often think that this moment, especially if it’s negative, will last forever. We might think to ourselves that we lack the ability to deal, that no matter what we do, we are going to fail. This thinking can lead to a slip or even full relapse.
Living with blind optimism is not realistic for anyone, especially for people in recovery. Negative thoughts happen. We cannot completely control what and how we think. In active addiction, we learn that if something can go wrong, it will. We have not only conditioned ourselves to expect the worst but our brains might actually work in a way that emphasizes bad memories.
Using Pessimism to Bolster Recovery
While it is not always possible to simply think positive thoughts, it is possible to use pessimism to strengthen our recovery. In recovery, things can easily seem so big as to be nearly unapproachable. So, instead of tackling the monster in the closet, use the pessimism to prepare for the worst. For example, if you do not have this month’s rent, think of the worst thing that can happen. Then, think of the second worst thing. And then, the third. So on and so on.
Then come up with a plan on how you are going to deal with these things. For example: if you get evicted, what resources do you have? Do you have a friend or family member who might be able to put you up for a while? Do you know who to contact for housing help? Do you know anyone who might help financially? By preparing for the worst, you cannot be surprised. You have prepared yourself. Often, dealing with problems involves controlling the emotion around it. So if you can have the freak out before something actually happens, you are more likely to think clearly when and if the worst-case scenario does happen.
It is also important to remember that as people living with addictions, we tend to catastrophize. Because we have taught ourselves that we deserve nothing but the worst, we often look for the downside. Fighting this is difficult, so while preparing for the worst, but be open to the possibility that it might not happen. Again, if you miss rent, maybe going to the landlord and explaining the situation will lead to a chance to work out a deal. Most people are reasonable. If you approach them, take responsibility for your actions and offer a workable solution, they might listen.
Preparing for disaster but then being pleasantly surprised can make the next crisis easier to manage. When it works out like this, do not just write it off to luck or someone’s generosity. While these are parts of it, the biggest part is that we have developed the skills to cope.
One of the biggest parts of recovery is learning to live life on life’s terms. Life is nothing if not inconsistent. Things happen. Good and bad. Things get stressful. Learning to be realistic and cope with these moments is vital. It is what keeps us on the road to a healthier, happier life. By preparing ourselves, we become stronger. We learn skills that can be applied across our lives. If you are overwhelmed with your addiction, get help. Reach out. Chances are, you have survived worse. Recovery and happiness are possible.
At Fort Worth Recovery, we can help you learn the skills to prepare for the best and the worst. Through our use of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Motivational Interviewing, we can help you find the strength to become the person you deserve to be. Call us today at 817 382 2894 or visit us online.