It is easy to cite a list of problems that come along with active addiction—relationship problems, spiritual emptiness and depression to name a few, but putting the compulsion aside does not constitute a cure. What is inside the addict or alcoholic once abstinent is the infrastructure of the addiction. Sober, there’s a chance to dig deep and rip out that scaffolding. The bulk of what needs to come out is the thinking distortions that support addiction. Hopefully, then there will be no return to active addiction. Weeding out thinking distortions is a significant part of preventing relapse.

There’s a sliver of rebirth just after detox and right before dismantling the internal workings of how you got here in the first place. Right there, after the joy of feeling hopeful again and before real life settles in—that’s where the pink cloud, the rose-colored glasses and the flight into health can rear their heads. Right past the threshold of feeling glorious–when you never ever expected to again–is where counselors say ominous things like ‘this, too, shall pass’ and you feel heaven slipping away, giving way to hard work if relapse is to be prevented.

Every addict in early recovery should know that until the internal underpinnings of addiction are corrected, the miracle can slip through one’s fingers in a wink of the eye. It could easily be lost in renegade vines of over-optimistic thinking–and other thinking distortions–when the pink cloud of recovery has set in. In other words, relapse could pop that pink cloud.

The dynamics of this are usually this: thinking distortions set the target and provide the needle to burst your pink cloud. It’s their nature. Thinking distortions seem to serve the thinker or at least the thinker thinks so! Ultimately, of course, they do not. They serve the addiction and allow it to rise again until the distortions themselves are corralled or eliminated.

thinking distortions

Thinking distortions are the infrastructure of denial.

With the ultimate goal of ducking and dodging responsibility, confrontation, the idea of having a problem… thinking distortions are the infrastructure of denial. They allow you to explain yourself, others and the world in “better” terms so you can continue to avoid the realities of all 3. Basically, they allow you to create and maintain delusions that say you are ok, your behavior is ok, others can’t be trusted and the world made you this way. Here are a few of the ways your thinking distortions support your addiction in beliefs about yourself, others and the world… When these and other similar thoughts arise, the relapse process is dangerously close.

Yourself: thinking distortions tell you that what you are doing is rational, justified and not harmful. They convince you that you are in control and that your life is manageable even when you use ‘just a little bit’. Perhaps you do feel some pain, but you don’t attribute it to your own behavior. Rather you feel misunderstood and victimized. You think you can’t catch a break.

Others: thinking distortions have a lot to say about others. Others don’t like you. They’re jealous. They want to manipulate and control you. They think they are better than you and they wish you bad things. In fact, thinking distortions convince you even more that others have a problem, not you. Meanwhile, your addiction settles in and puts up its feet.

The world: thinking distortions tell you that the world is your oyster. You can do what you want. Your disloyalty, distrust, entitled behavior, shady motives and dishonest behavior seem warranted in such a dog-eat-dog world.

Everyone in recovery has to work out the kinks in their thinking and having thinking distortions rise up does not mean it is mandatory to relapse. Learning to identify them and monitoring how you deal with them is the best prevention. It is an ongoing process of self-awareness that, in the bigger picture, will fortify your sobriety.

Photo: Marie Monroe