French philosopher and all-around top notch thinker Réné Descartes once said, “Je pense, donc je suis,” [I think, therefore I am]. This is a wonderful notion when our thoughts aren’t obsessive. But what happens when we no longer have the luxury of making our interminable thoughts who we are? How do we separate what we think to be true about ourselves from who we actually are?
I spoke with a good friend of mine from the program today. She shared with me her struggles against negative thinking. Our conversation veered into how our thought patterns as women too-easily become opportunities for negative self-talk. We talked about how hard it is to separate our images from our hearts and souls within. She told me how she practices saying “my body feels sick,” as opposed to saying “I am sick.” I found this simple action to be quite profound. It reminded me of what my sponsor used to say, that a part of her feels sad or disappointed, but that an emotion does not consume her entire being. The French say “J’ai faim,” meaning “I have hunger,” rather than “I am hungry.” Language–whether spoken out loud or within–is everything.
Lately, I’ve experienced obsessive thoughts of my own. Though I was diagnosed with OCD in early sobriety, I know that part of what is going on is spiritual malaise. I have become distrustful of the processes I am currently participating in: finding my feet in the 12-step community in Virginia, filing for bankruptcy by the end of 2015, being in love in a long-distance relationship. All of these things are big opportunities for growth and change–arguably the two biggest buzz words in recovery–both of which bring on a torrent of unrest and unease within my psychic chambers.
Two friends recently sent me an article that outlines the science behind happiness. I jumped at the chance to see science backing what I have found to be true so far: positive thinking affects positive change. Neuroscientists found four rituals that help us change the shape our thoughts before they turn sour: practice gratitude, label negative feelings, make decisions and touch people (not in a lude or lascivious manner). These thought behaviors stimulate serotonin and dopamine production, not to mention eradicate self-pity and discouragement. Who’d have thunk it?
Sensory overload helps with a brain like mine. It’s almost like exposure therapy when I drown my thoughts with very loud music or extremely bright colors. I have never felt more at peace than when I visited LACMA a few months into sobriety. I joined a friend who wanted to check out the new James Terrell exhibit. It is nearly impossible for me to explain the peace I felt, being overtaken by silence and color. My entire body breathed a sigh of relief with every gradual change in the neon landscape.
I am grateful to the art of science. I have more of an appreciation for it now that I believe in a Higher Power and/or God. I know that more often than not, my thinking tends to stymie my progress. I am sober to feel better about myself and to have the chance to share my joy with others–not to stew over the “what ifs” or the “coulda, woulda, shouldas” that make me miserable. I am grateful to friends who appreciate the science behind what we all want in our lives: to be happy.
When I think (happy), I am (happy), at least, over time. Just a small amendment to a great thought. Way to be, Descartes.
Photo courtesy of LACMA