Moving from Reacting to Responding is so important to changing your life – especially if you are recovering from the impacts of living with a loved one who drinks too much. Why is this so important to do? Because reactions occur in the Limbic System, the reactionary part of our brain, and responses occur in the Cerebral Cortes – the thinking | reasoning portion of our brain. [This post, written in 2011, “Step Away From the Conflict: Change Where You Think,” helps explain this concept.]
Slogans and Sayings to Help With Moving From Reacting to Responding
As you move through your own recovery — whether it’s from the addiction to alcohol or the abuse of alcohol or the fall-out of loving/living with alcohol abuse/alcoholism (a.k.a. codependency), it is easy to feel overwhelmed. The chinks in the wall of denial finally expose “things” you are not proud of or wish you’d done differently or have let fall by the wayside as you’ve adapted and coped. For me, panic often set in as I peeked through those chinks in the wall. Constant refrains of “What if ______;” “But, I can’t stop _______;” “But I’ve got to do _________” would run through my mind. I felt like the little Dutch boy in the fairy tale (was it a fairy tale?) with his finger in the hole in the dike. Pull it out and the town would flood. That panicky feeling would (and still can) get me into all sorts of trouble — mostly jumping to do any kind of fix in order to make the feeling go away. But, I’ve learned in my own recovery, “reacting” is not good when trying to make a decision. It originates in the part of our brain responsible for pleasure, emotions and fight-or-flight. “Responding” is good. Responding comes from the “thinking” part of our brain — the part where we can decide if I do this, then this will happen, or if I don’t do anything about this in the next fifteen minutes, my world is not going to flood.
Al-Anon, Alateen, AA and other recovery-type programs offer a wide array of slogans, phrases and sayings, as have many people throughout the centuries. I use these as thoughts to anchor my “thinking” when I feel myself losing control. I’ve written them on post-it notes and stuck them on my mirror or on a cupboard door or on the dash of my car to remind me there’s an alternative to my “crazy” thinking (the thinking that takes hold without thinking because it’s so ingrained). Here are some of my favorites:
HALT. Hungry, Angry [and I’ve added Anxious], Lonely or Tired.
Stop everything and regroup. HAALT is one of my favorite slogans to help with this. Ask yourself, “Am I hungry, angry, anxious, lonely or tired?” Generally, I’ve found when I HAALT at the first sense of that unsettled feeling, I can get to the real source of my anxiety, which very often is not what I thought it was. Then, I can deal with the source issue appropriately, such as stopping to eat, calling a friend, taking a nap or figuring out exactly what I’m angry or anxious about. If I don’t, then I usually make things worse because I’ve done something like rush my daughter through something we’d planned together because my thoughts are consumed with being mad about something else.
One Day at a Time
And for me, this has boiled down to the next 5 minutes at a time. It’s the idea that no matter how bad it may be, you just have to get through one day (or 5 minutes) and somehow that makes it seem achievable.
“I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” — Mark Twain
This one speaks to the futility of worrying about what may or may not happen.
Anger is one letter away from danger.
I’ve had a heck of a lot of anger [and it got worse as my inability to control my loved ones’ drinking branched out to include my trying to control just about everything else in my and my daughters’ lives] and now use this slogan to help pull me back from the insanity that overwhelms me when I give in to being angry. [Caution: this does not mean I don’t have and experience angry feelings; I just try not to react in anger.]
Fear is the darkroom where negatives are developed.
I use this to keep me from giving into the panic caused by the unknown. I used to have intense fear of the unknown and could not take action because I didn’t have all the answers or know all of the possible outcomes — “what if . . .” was my common refrain. Now I don’t let fear dictate what I do or don’t do.
If you don’t like what you feel, change what you think.
Yes, we really do have absolute power over what we think. We can think whatever we want to think, thus we can feel however we want to feel. One of the things I do when I keep getting the same negative thought(s) over and over [especially when I’m dealing with a problem that takes time to correct, for example] is to literally say, “Stop.” And when the thought pops in again (and again), I jar my thinking with “Stop,” and replace the problem-related thoughts with ones about something good in my life, or I’ll force myself to notice my surroundings and focus on those. This only works, of course, if I’ve taken time to think through the problem and know I’m doing what I can do about it at that particular time. If I’m really wound up, I set aside time to look at my “worry list” (which can be in my head, but better if it’s on paper), decide if I’ve done
what I can do for that day about those worries, and then choose to think of something else, instead. I can miss the entire day, otherwise.
Just as it likely took you a long time to get to this point, it will take time to change your behaviors. Be patient with yourself and count every time you do it differently as a success — even if you slip again tomorrow.
Second Half of the Serenity Prayer
The first half of the prayer is most familiar, but I really like the second half, as well:
Grant me Patience for the things that take time,
Appreciation for all that I have,
Tolerance for others with different struggles, and the
Strength to get up and try again, one day at a time.
Every accomplishment begins with a decision to try. — Edward T. Kelly
Don’t wait until you have all the answers or an assured outcome before you start
Let It Go
I had no idea how to do this in the beginning. I would talk about something that was really upsetting and do what I needed to do to come to terms with it, but then it was like a kite on a string. I’d let it go, but it’d be still be up “there” — floating — not as much on my mind as before, but it was still there. Finally I started to think of “letting go” as using a scissors to cut the string and watch the kite fly away.
Fear is the darkened hallway. Faith is the lighted door.
I clung to this idea that if I just moved towards the lighted door and focused on that, I could make it through the darkened hallway (my metaphor for whatever I was grappling with at the time).
And, lastly “BREATHE” when you find yourself holding your breathe, take a moment and breathe in and out, in and out — deeply. This allows you enough time to move from the emotional center of your brain to the thinking part of your brain.