Many of us with histories of addiction deal with obsessive thoughts. During active addiction, we might have channeled them into—or numbed them with—alcohol or drugs. Not everyone with addiction is obsessive, but I certainly have this trait even nearly six years into recovery. It’s one I share with many of my sober friends.
Telling Unfounded Stories
Often, intrusive thoughts are stories we tell ourselves. We can interrupt these only if we notice we’re telling them. It helps to have a therapist who can point out when you’re moving into a story. When my therapist helps me recognize I’m getting lost in the story, I’m better able to notice it on my own. Realizing that you’re in a story doesn’t have to be a setback—it’s an opportunity to learn.
It’s tempting to see the story through; it often feels like if you could just get through it, you could “solve” anxiety, sadness, or whatever you’re feeling in the moment. However, this almost always leads to more pain. I often have the urge to “solve” my feelings, but over the years I’ve been learning to let myself feel them. Regular meditation has helped me, as it’s practice staying with whatever feelings and sensations arise.
Making Plans to Worry
My therapist has also suggested scheduling a time to worry. At first, I thought this was strange—wouldn’t putting “worry” on the calendar make me more likely to do it? But I soon realized that if your mind is prone to intrusive thoughts, scheduling a time to indulge them isn’t the same as creating them.
They might be there no matter what, but choosing not to reinforce them except for a set time actually gives them less space. Rather than letting them eat up your day, you can put yourself at ease by knowing you’ve set aside time to think about them. Especially if you’re a planner like me, this can be really helpful. By the time you get to your scheduled “worry time,” that obsessive thought very likely might have lost its power.
Channeling Obsessive Thoughts
Another thing I’ve found helpful is to channel my somewhat obsessive nature into healthy outlets. I probably go a little overboard sometimes in setting and working towards goals and learning new things, but this allows me to integrate my obsessiveness into my life. Rather than working against it or dealing with it in destructive ways, doing so makes me appreciate that part of myself and use it to grow.
Signs of a Mental Health Disorder
Obsessive thoughts can be a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). They may also be part of an experience of depression or anxiety. If you think you might be experiencing any of these conditions, a mental health professional can help diagnose you and find the right treatment.
If you are struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder, there is help and hope. Amatus Recovery Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff—many of whom are in recovery themselves—understand the importance of treating co-occurring disorders together, and will help you build the tools to thrive in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.