This week’s guest blog is written by Sean Leadem, MSW, CSAT, CMAT, Leadem Counseling Services, Toms River, NJ
Shawn is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in New Jersey and Virginia with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from Radford University. Through his specialized training by Dr. Patrick Carnes, Shawn has received his certification as a Sexual Addiction Therapist and a Multiple Addictions Therapist by the International Institute for Trauma & Addiction Professionals. Shawn is a contributing author to the publication An Ounce of Prevention: A Course in Relapse Prevention and Co-Director of the Relapse Prevention Intensive. His lifelong exposure to the “recovery culture” and his personal recovery experience has left him with a deep personal empathy for the social and emotional suffering endured by others and a strong faith in a person’s ability to change.
This article is the first in a series focusing on relapse prevention tools. More relapse prevention tools will be featured in an upcoming publication entitled: Ounce of Prevention: A Relapse Prevention Guide. The publication’s approach to identifying and intervening on personal relapse triggers or self-defeating behaviors will help you develop a plan for preventing relapse and enhancing the quality of your recovery. The publication challenges the traditional notion that relapse is an event, and advocates relapse is a process and clearly highlights the roadside warnings that can caution you about the slippery slope you may be on.
Relapse is identified by the phases we experience prior to sliding down the slippery slope into the murky pond with a deep dark bottom. One of the many strategies for intervening on the phases of relapse is learning to identify the first phase in the relapse process : Emotional Discomfort.
To introduce this phase called Emotional Discomfort, I begin by referring to an old 12 Step saying. It goes something like this,
“If you want to know what ‘the drug’ will do to you, keep ‘using it’ and you will find out. If you want to know what it is doing for you, you need to stop ‘using it’.”
The first part of the saying is self-explanatory; it isreferring to the consequences one will pay because of their unbridled addiction. The second part of the saying makes reference to the fact that one’s “drug of choice” will be used to numb some emotional pain that will resurface when abstinence is secured. It is the wisdom of this saying that helps to show the reason for using mood-altering drugs is to, alter one’s mood.
Some form of emotional discomfort is in every recovering addict; however, emotional discomfort appears differently in different people. One of the ways in which emotional discomfort can be identified is in “negative self-talk”. Negative self-talk is negative internal dialogue we use to view the world, explain situations and communicate to ourselves that focuses our attention on what we believe to be wrong with us or wrong with our life. Negative self-talk is a challenge for many of us.
Whether you are new to recovery or have struggled with relapse, it is likely that you have experienced “negative self talk” and consider it a challenge or defect of character. If you have indulged in negative self-talk, you undoubtedly understand the power it has to diminish hope, evaporate self-esteem, and threaten your resolve to remain sober. Negative self-talk can be quite seductive. When we begin embracing statements such as “I have nothing to offer in this relationship” or “people will always disappoint you”, the seductive power of this negative dialogue takes over. Where does it come from? Negative self-talk comes from the comfort or the “familiarity” it brings to you and from the illusion of “protection” this talk may offer you (e.g. to protect you from hurt or abandonment). While most will agree negative self-talk lacks logic or reason, we find ourselves self-degrading before others get a chance to do so, as if it is going to be a protective shield! Does negative self-talk insulate us from criticism or rejection? So why, if it makes no sense, if it does not protect us from rejection, or does not feel good, why do we use it?
Clinical experience suggests that much of the data for negative self-talk is acquired during our youth when we are the most impressionable and egocentric. Egocentrism, defined as regarding one’s self as being at the center of all things, is a normal part of childhood development. It is normal for a child to view the world and the adults as somehow being related to them. A child is likely to internalize the pain or chaos that is happening around them and would think – “what is wrong with me?” or “what did I do wrong?”
If being impressionable and egocentric are parts of a child’s development why do the messages still hold such power in a recovering adult’s life today? When one becomes dependent on mood altering drugs or experiences, they stunt their development and rob themselves of the opportunity to address the original messages they received and resolve these messages as an adult. Additionally, the older the messages are, the more power they tend to have and as a result, they are more difficult to change. Therefore, it is important to act quickly when the negative self-talk begins or risk succumbing to the seduction it has to offer.
This tool, What’s Your Proof?, is designed to address the seductive elements of negative self-talk. This tool will help you recognize that the people who might have contributed to your library of negative self-talk, were hurt people and that you were a victim of their pain, you suffered from collateral damage from their dysfunction – you were not the cause of it.This tool is broken down into five sections.
1. In the first section, you are asked to identify one negative self-talk phrase or perception that is currently causing you injury.
2. Second, identify the “author” (e.g. caretaker, sibling, neighbor) you learned this perception from and/or who in your life would likely have agreed with the perception (e.g. caretaker, siblings, co-workers).
3. In the third section, you are asked to come up with the proof to support the “author’s” perception.
4. In the fourth and final section, you are asked to examine the author’s story and look into their lives and discover what would have hurt them so badly as to cause them to project onto you, this negative attribute.
5. Lastly, ask, “What’s your proof that ___________?
If you are having difficulty completing this exercise or find that is bringing up great emotional pain, please seek out professional help and allow them to guide you through it. Once you have completed this exercise we encourage you to bring it to your support group, including your sponsor for feedback and encouragement.
Sean Leadem, MSW, CSAT, CMAT
Leadem Counseling & Consulting Services, PC
668 Commons Way, Bldg. I –
Toms River, NJ 08755
732-797-1444 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Leadem Counseling & Consulting Services
NCADD of Middlesex County, Inc.
152 Tices Lane
East Brunswick, NJ 08816
Phone Number: 732-307-7387