When I was younger and having an anxiety spiral, one of my friends would say, “you’re telling yourself stories again.” The idea was that worries are often based on the way you frame a situation. But most people tell themselves stories about their lives, and these stories have a lot of power.
Recovery is a huge growth process. After some time spent sober, people tend to have a completely different way of navigating the world. Still, we may hold onto old stories about ourselves. I’ve noticed this in myself and had to challenge it.
It’s understandable; many of us were in active addiction a long time, and a lot of people started drinking and using as teenagers. We got to know ourselves as people with addictions. The task is to get to know yourself as a person in recovery.
For a long time, I thought there was something irrevocably wrong with me—that I wasn’t capable of being a competent adult. Recovery has been empowering for me, because it makes me feel strong and capable. But that took time, and continued work—with my therapist and on my own—questioning old beliefs about myself.
How we feel about ourselves is so important. If we believe we’re incompetent, we might not be motivated to try; the result of that lack of effort could make us double down on that belief, rather than see it as a self-fulfilling prophecy.
How to Stop Telling Yourself Old Stories
In his book The Insight: Change Your Story, Transform Your Life, John Sharp writes, about the way we tend to tell our stories, “Some emotionally difficult scenes are way over-included—just think of all the things you can’t let go of—and other scenes are deleted, such as times when things did go well. The worst part about the false truth is that it becomes…the basis of what we expect from ourselves in the future.”
Sharp suggests filling in the blanks for scenarios like “when I get into a fight with my partner or best friend, I feel _____”; “when someone ignores me, I feel _____”; when I break a promise to myself, I feel _____.” He recommends these types of questions because we often default to negative, inaccurate stories when facing a challenge.
He then suggests looking back at your childhood or past and noticing why these stories might have taken hold. Seeing it from that perspective can help you realize that the stories aren’t essential truths, but things you learned to feel.
I always question myself when I use “I always” or “I never statements” (well, I just did use one, but in this case it’s helpful). Noticing what you think you “always” do—or can “never” seem to manage—is a helpful place to start. Then you can reframe it so that you’re not thinking in such absolute terms.
It’s also helpful to regularly remind yourself of your strengths. This will prime your brain to tell a different story when you face a challenge. You might take time every so often to make a list, or keep an ongoing document in a place where you can easily access it.
Sharp calls the negative stories we repeat to ourselves “mean little myths.” In a TED talk, he said, “If I hadn’t cut away from my ‘mean little myth,’ then I’m confident that I wouldn’t be here with you today. In my 20 years of clinical practice, I’ve seen this kind of transformation over and over again.”
If you are struggling with an addiction or mental health disorder, there is hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for substance use and mental health disorders in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—will help you change your story for the better. To learn more, call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.