You are no good. You are a loser. You will never get this right. You messed up again. Why don’t you just give up? You don’t deserve your wife. She despises you and thinks you are a loser too.
If those words were directed to me from the outside, I would be pretty upset. I would even consider those “fighting words.” But there was a time not long ago when I let statements like that enter in and dominate my thoughts. Worse than that, they were phrased in the first person: “I am no good...I am a loser...I will never get this right…” etc.
I let them slide through because I assumed that they were true. This is the ultimate form of self-deception—I was telling myself lies about myself.
This kind of thinking and self talk has to stop if solid sobriety and recovery is to occur in your life. Recovery is not possible when toxic thoughts are allowed to run wild in your mind. Why? Because your behavior is usually consistent with who you think you are. It is vital to address this issue immediately and directly.
There are several important concepts that will help you overcome destructive and debilitating self-talk.
I was amazed at how much negative self-talk was still in my thoughts, even well into recovery. It may have been the increasing clarity of sobriety that helped me see it, but I became more and more aware of it. The negativity was even spreading to areas where I was normally successful like work and exercise.
Several of our 12 steps encourage us to take inventories and I began to apply this to my thoughts. What am I thinking? And, Why am I thinking this way? Where are these thoughts coming from? The last two questions may require some difficult work—and help from others, including professionals—to answer, but just being aware of what you are thinking will help tremendously.
As I became more aware of these negative thoughts, I realized that they were unacceptable to me. It began to see it the same way I woud if an intruder entered my home; that would be totally unacceptable and I would take immediate action to expel them from my premises. I recalled biblical concepts that emphasize the importance of taking control of my thoughts.
“Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5, emphasis added).
The imagery here is not a passive acceptance of every thought but an active resistance of negative and destructive thoughts. Other verses in the direct context use “fighting words” like war, weapons, strong holds, and revenge. I am convinced that a big part of spiritual warfare takes place in our own minds against our own thoughts.
What if those things that I am thinking are true? That is a fair question, but let’s take an item or two from the first paragraph. I can’t be “no good” because I have done some good things in my life. Yes, I have done a lot of bad things, but that doesn’t make me all bad. At the very least, I am made in the image of God and that alone gives me value.
Yes, I have lost a lot of fights, especially with this addiction, but that doesn’t make me a loser. I have won at a lot of life’s challenges too. “You will never….” If that’s the case, why bother trying? But you know that there are others that are sober and have recovered and they are no better (or worse) than you. They may be farther down the path than you, but many of them started in a worse place than you are now.
The main point is this: the majority of the negative statements we tell ourselves are not rational. They are not absolutely true. There may be an element of truth to some of them but they have become exaggerations and distortions. On the whole, they are unacceptable lies.
Someone has said that nature abhors a vacuum. In this case, it is not enough to cast down and push out negative thoughts and talk, but they need to be replaced with positive, truthful words. Replace the negative with the positive. Allow positive thoughts, words, and people to “crowd out” the negative thoughts and influences that have dominated so long. I love this passage:
“Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any praise, think on these things” (Philippians 4:8, emphasis added).
I have been born again for over 36 years and know the Bible pretty well. But I was still addicted and my mind was dominated by negative self-talk. As I became more aware of the damage these thoughts were still doing to me, I began to write the Bible truths in my journal that I know are true. I began to meditate on them and internalize them. Here are some examples, mostly paraphrases of Bible verses:
I am crucified (present tense) with Christ. Nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me and I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not frustrate the grace of God, but accept it.
I am chosen by God to be holy and without blame before Him in love.
To the praise of the glory of His grace...in God’s grace, I am accepted in the beloved. God’s beloved is the Lord Jesus Christ.
I didn’t accept Christ—I received Him by faith and He accepted me. The Father accepts me because I am in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
I am dead (present tense) and my life is hid with Christ in God.
Jesus and I together in God. Because my sins are forgiven, I will be with Him forever.
That is what true biblical meditation is: not eliminating all thoughts, but casting out untrue thoughts and replacing them with the truth of God’s word. This has been an important key to my continued recovery, growth, and healing.
Getting sober has to be your first priority to stop the guilt that comes from addictive behavior. Aggressively participate in your 12-step program and get involved by getting a sponsor and attending meetings. Get professional help if necessary. The process will take time, but you will have opportunities to clear up the guilt by confession and making amends.
Of course, any violation of God's law is sin, no matter how trivial it seems to man, and it makes us guilty before God. The sins of our addiction may seem “worse” but any sin can be forgiven through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus died to save those that call upon Him in faith and receive the gift of eternal life. This removes our guilt before God.
If you are already a believer, confess your sins to God, get back into church and seek His guidance and wisdom.
Most recovery literature says that guilt is because of what we do and shame is because of what we are. If you have a negative view of yourself as a person—as evidenced by negative self-talk—it usually causes shame. Getting rid of shame will take time and help, but it will be greatly aided by developing a healthy thought life. This is the basis for true transformation and is critical for recovery, growth and healing.
“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:1, 2, emphasis added).
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