Managing Your Emotions Rather Than Allowing Them to Manage You.

S.M.A.R.T. Recovery is essentially based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or its more recent incarnation, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). In either guise the basis is the same – your thoughts and behaviors create your emotional responses, not the other way around. Manage your distorted emotions and you’ll have less reason to seek refuge through self-medication.

Most of us are familiar with the pattern that runs, “I’m anxious so I have to drink to settle down!” or “I’m depressed….” Or angry, or suffering from marital discord, or……. All of these are usually self-induced conditions which we then “have” to self-medicate.

That’s what is referred to as a cognitive errors or distortions. Most of the time we are seeing catastrophes where they don’t exist (mountains out of mole hills) or we are confusing preferences with laws. These ways of viewing situations often results in the “negative” emotions which must then be medicated.

Reducing our emotional mood swings, managing the emotions we create, learning that our preferences and no more than that, and becoming aware of our personal collection of “shoulds” and “musts” can go a long way in relieving our need to medicate the moods we are no longer creating.

All of this is too big a topic for a single 350 word article but I can start and proceed with weekly installments for a while.

Let me start with a common example we have seen countless times in our work with couples. One spouse, usually the wife, complains that “he” doesn’t do his share around the kitchen. He admits that this is probably true and agrees that since she prefers to cook he will do the after dinner clean up.

So the next night she cooks and he begins to clean up while she watches and continually reprimands him for “doing it wrong.” After a couple of days of this he gives up and storms out of the kitchen so she can “do it right.”

The problem starts with her being convinced that her preference is the right way and becoming annoyed when his way isn’t her way – even though he is equally entitled to his preference.

The solution is a “rule” that’s easily stated and difficult to incorporate: the person with the responsibility gets to decide how something gets done. If she wants him to clean up, then he gets to decide how. And she doesn’t get to supervise.

Any couple, married or otherwise, can readily identify conflicting preferences which infect the relationship and which can be resolved by abiding by the notion that if I am doing it, I get to choose how.

That not only eliminates unnecessary conflict, it makes passive-aggressive drinking an unnecessary response.

Kicking the 12 Step Habit

Ex-Smokers remain one of the best guides to dealing with any habit change. They do not attend “meeting,” work “Steps,” or count days of non-smoking. They may also get some medically assisted help with cravings which “rehab” frowns on.

Additionally, they don’t bother about powerlessness even though nicotine is far more addictive than alcohol. Nor do they proclaim their “nicoholic” status to all and sundry, or refuse to associate with people who never smoked.

Those of us who are ex-smokers simply go through the discomfort of the first days, weeks and months and develop new patterns, routines and habits which replace our smoking rituals.

Notice the word “replace.”

Changing a habit usually has far more to do with what we are going to do instead than it does with “not doing” whatever the previous, and no longer desirable, habit was. It means finding and cultivating motivation. It also means learning to talk back to ourselves when temptations arise, as they always will.

Replace, manage, ignore, maintain. Add to your “been there, done that” collection of activities that we have outgrown, aged out of, or lost interest in.

This is in stark contrast to the Steppers who are simply maintaining the same alcohol fixation, refusing to replace drinking alcohol with any activity other than talking about drinking alcohol, and using “meetings” as the same passive-aggressive and manipulative weapons they previously used alcohol for. Mostly that comes down to evading responsibility for oneself and to others.

Two “steps” are really all that is required: get a grip, get a life. It works for smokers, it works for drinkers. No fuss. No fanfare.