Negativity in recovery is often a sign someone is heading toward relapse. It’s normal to have a bad day now and then, but when someone becomes persistently negative it is often a sign she has fallen back into old ways of thinking, that she has become cynical about recovery, and possibly that she is looking for an excuse to relapse. Positivity, on the other hand, is strongly associated with success, if for no other reason than optimistic people are willing to keep trying, which is what recovery is, essentially. If you find your thoughts becoming more and more negative, here are some ways to turn your thinking around.
Notice what you’re thinking about.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. Negative thinking is insidious. It often starts with a legitimate setback, possibly two or three in succession. It’s perfectly normal to feel discouraged or angry about these, but if you aren’t careful, negative thoughts creep outward and colour how you see the rest of life. It’s not longer that one thing you’re angry about but everything. This can happen so gradually that you don’t even notice. So the first step is to watch your thinking. The easiest way to do this is to watch your speech and see how many times a day you criticize or complain. Don’t beat yourself up for being negative, just notice when you do it.
Challenge negative thoughts.
A lot of negative thinking is vastly overgeneralized. You may think something like ‘People are all nasty and stupid’. Really? All people? No one is intelligent and kind? Even if you can only find one exception, it’s a start. It’s especially important to challenge negative thoughts about yourself like ‘I never do anything right’, or ‘I’m going to relapse anyway, so why try?’ You can surely think of something you’ve done right. And if you’ve stayed sober until now, you can stay sober for at least the rest of the day, which is all you need.
Look for the positive.
Your habits of negativity won’t change immediately. It may take a while to turn the ship around. When you get to a place where you can regularly notice and challenge negative thoughts, try looking for the positive instead. You might try going a day without complaining. You’ll find you may have very little to say if you don’t think of something positive. One way to approach this might be to say to yourself, ‘This situation is obviously terrible in every way, but if I were to find something good about it, it would be this’.
Every day for a week, write down three things you are grateful for. They can be small things. Try to find something new each time. After the first week, it’s better to do this exercise once a week, maybe on Sunday evening. Another good practice is to tell someone, by note, phone, text, email, or in person that you appreciate him or her. That’s also a good way to strengthen your social network, which will help you in recovery.