CBT, Or Keeping Calm When I Really Wanna Burn It All Down

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: It Basically Saved My Life

One of the most important forms of therapy I learned while exploring the United States via rehabs and psych wards was CBT.  Which means cognitive behavioral therapy, in case you haven't had the means, chance, or courage to explore therapy. I realize not everyone has had the same privileges as myself, and I would like to share with you what I've learned regarding this technique. Please understand, though, that I am in no way, nor claim to be: a therapist, addiction counselor, certified peer specialist, addiction coach, rehab tech--I shan't be anything of the sort, you see! I'm simply a soon-to-be mid-3o's recovering alcoholic who's had the chance to sit across from some very enlightened, very brilliant doctors, psychiatrists, therapists, and counselors.

I'd like to offer my conception of CBT and how I've implemented it into not only my daily reprieve from alcohol but, well, life in general. It just makes me a better person, you know? It helps me stay grounded and in the moment. In its simplest form, and I talk about this lightly in my memoir, cognitive behavioral therapy allows you to recognize when you're having a harmful, destructive thought, weigh the outcome, and select the most beneficial course of action. Rather than running on sheer emotion, CBT supports clear-headed, level thinking when making decisions. There's quite a bit more to CBT, especially when combined with other forms of therapy, however this basic foundation is what I have latched onto in my sobriety.

I remember my 'ah-ha' moment with CBT. I had sought refuge at a rehab in Pennsylvania, out in the country somewhere. This was fairly early on in my journey, but the lesson has stuck with me through it all. It dawned on me that I needed to slow down my thinking and response time. I needed to refrain from knee-jerk decision-making.

For example, in the past, when I felt agitated or frustrated in any way, I would either lash out or suppress. If I was drunk, I was usually lashing out like a maniac, and when I was sober I usually suppressed and stuffed away any unwanted feelings. I had nothing filtering my thoughts, nothing screening my emotions. I was a live wire and it was swiftly killing me. I remember a lot of anger, a lot of rage and guilt ripping through my stomach. It's worse than diarrhea, dude.

A healthier way for me to approach those thoughts would have been the following:

  • Acknowledge something is happening to make me feel less than or fearful. Take a few deep breaths and steady myself.
  • Ask myself what it is about the situation that I find bothersome, giving myself grace and understanding that I'm human and imperfect. It is important for me to remain non-judgmental during this process.
  • Identify my qualm (an uneasy feeling of doubt, worry, or fear, especially about one's own conduct).*
  • At this point, I'm usually able to see why I'm reacting the way I am, and it allows me to understand why I want to engage in certain behaviors.
    • How about another example? If someone makes a derogatory comment about the LGBTQIA+ community, my initial reaction is to mince them with words or bash them over the head, but that's neither productive nor humane. A better response is to recognize that I'm feeling scared because someone doesn't understand my lifestyle. I need to acknowledge that my feelings are hurt because I feel like they're harshly and negatively judging how I was born.
  • Weigh my options. Do I want to move forward in grace or do I want to engage in past, learned behavioral responses which have repeatedly led me down a road of heartache and destruction?
  • React accordingly.
    • In our example, it is imperative that I move beyond myself and realize this is not my issue, it is theirs. I am happy to be gay, but that doesn't mean everyone is going to be on board. And I need to respect that and do my best to turn the situation around. Which does not involve demeaning someone because their views need a few improvements. It is now my job to educate this person, to be a beacon of enlightenment.
I find that if I'm operating under this system, I have much less stress or anger than when I was caught in a vodka bottle. I have learned to understand that very little is actually about me; it's usually always about someone else's unresolved issues or trauma. And I no longer want to stand in judgment of my peers, I'd much rather stand in aid. Also, I'm just chilling on this rock with the rest of ya's, ain't no one grand enough for as much fuss as we give ourselves, you know? Like, calm down, this isn't about you, you just think it is.

That was an extraordinarily hard pill for me to swallow. And I can eat pills with the best of them. But I just couldn't get out of myself, get out of my head. I couldn't see outside my own small existence. Now, this isn't to lessen or discredit my thoughts or emotions, but merely to remind myself that we're all trying, we're all suffering, and we all want happiness. It just looks different in some people and it is our job to seek that out, instead of creating division and contempt. But now I'm getting a bit preachy and lofty, so I'll get back to the point.

Which is that CBT is one of the sharpest tools in my toolbox and I am confident it will help you as well. Do some research, try using some of the exercises CBT has to offer. I believe practicing CBT with a therapist of some sort is most ideal, however, if you aren't able to do that, I also believe in self-education. What is that thing people say, "the more you know?" Well, it's true.

Maybe dance a little today, and most definitely have fun until next time!

*I stole this definition from a Google search. Peace.



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