I have abstained from drinking alcohol for 6 months. Day to day, I rarely think about it. I go to weekly meetings and have tools. But, occasionally I get tempted. I went to a restaurant where the drinks were flowing and they looked good. But, I just looked.
Then, I got an annual review at work. It was mostly good, but I focused on the negative comments. It upset me and I felt sad. I came home and I had a strong desire to have a drink to numb my emotions. But, I did something else. I distracted myself. My son had a concert and then I kept myself busy until I fell asleep. I made it to another day.
I went to my group and we did a cognitive therapy sheet. In this sheet, you look for the activating event, the belief(s) (distorted, irrational), consequence of that belief. Then you dispute the belief to come up with more effective ways of thinking, and better emotional consequences.
The activating event was the review and the consequence was the urge. I had all kinds of distorted thoughts. The main one I came up with was that it was “all” bad. The members helped me come up with more. Then we disputed the thoughts and came up with something more balanced. I thought the negative comments are things I can work on. Even if I don’t believe the new thought 100%, it helps.. And, I am not as anxious, sad, moody now.
You don’t have to have a mental illness to have distorted thinking. Anyone can. Based on the work of Aaron Beck, David Burns wrote about 10 types of cognitive distortions in his book “Feeling Good- The New Mood Therapy”1
The types of distortions he lists are:
All-or-nothing or black-or-white thinking. This is one thing I was doing where since part of the review was bad, it was all bad
Overgeneralization- If it happened once it will repeat itself.
Mental filter– This is another thing I was doing, where I was only seeing the negative and not seeing the positive
Disqualifying the positive– dismissing compliments, praise
Jumping to conclusions by Mind Reading or Fortune Telling
Magnification (Catastrophizing) or Minimization
Emotional Reasoning– Feelings are not facts
Labeling- Mislabeling or name calling
Personalization– attributing the blame to yourself when it is not all yours
By working through the Activating event, Belief, Consequence, Dispute Belief, effective ways of thinking and better emotional consequence, you can learn to deal with these distorted thoughts. They can help not only with urges but with anxiety, depression and just looking at things in a more balanced fashion.