Controlling the Committee in Your Head to Stay Sober

If you’re going into recovery then you know that your own thoughts can be your own worst enemy. Not only do you experience cravings, you can catch yourself being toxic to yourself and sometimes in ways that directly influence your goals and your sobriety. Often, we inherit our inner voices, the committee in our heads, from parents, from teachers, from our own critical selves. They can be immensely harsh, mocking, and they can be on sides that are not yours. For example, we pick the voices in our heads up from our experiences throughout life, and some of those will very much be voices that you formed and grew used to listening to while you were drinking.

This means that the committee in your head can push you into relapse in more ways than one. They can make you feel bad. They can be a negative influence to how you talk to yourself and how you see yourself. They can push you towards using drinking and the unhealthy coping mechanisms. In early recovery, those voices can be even louder and it can feel like you’re being pushed in a dozen different directions all at once. You might find the voices in your head are bullying you for being unable to stay sober, are pushing you to have just one little drink and it won’t hurt, and are shaming you for having those thoughts all at once.

How do you manage all of that so you can stay sober? The good news is you can take control, you can stay on top, and you can improve your life. The bad news is that it isn’t easy and you’re going to have to work to stay in control of your mental health and your sobriety.

Learn How to Clear Your Head

If you get caught up in thoughts, they can downward spiral very quickly. For many people, learning how to clear your head and just step out of that can be one of the most powerful things you can do. How can you clear your head? Often, doing so means practice, learning how to let go, changing your focus, or doing something that requires enough focus you can’t concentrate on whatever it is you’re thinking about.

Letting Things Go:

  • Journal and write out your thoughts
  • Share your thoughts with a friend or sober buddy
  • Record your thoughts in a voice log or video log

This step is important, it’s about validating yourself and your emotions. You won’t always get the chance to do it, however, giving yourself the opportunity to, especially at first, means you’ll get to feel acknowledged rather than simply like you have to dismiss yourself.

Changing Your Focus:

This step is about doing something that allows you to shift your focus. With enough practice, you can probably do so without a prop. However, especially at first, you’ll need that prop.

  • Deliberately think about something else
  • Do something like a phone game that will absorb your focus for about 10-15 minutes
  • Change the topic of conversation and ask people to distract you
  • Do something physically challenging like physical exercise (pushups, yoga, pistol squats, etc)

Eventually, the goal is:

  1. Acknowledge your emotions
  2. Gently decide for yourself that you want something else for yourself. Am I treating myself like a friend? If not, what can I do to change that?
  3. Redirect your focus
  4. Maintain that new focus

All of that looks relatively simple on paper. Unfortunately, it’s not. For many of us, it can be incredibly difficult to even take the step one of acknowledging emotions. Doing so in a healthy and kind way is even more difficult. For example:

“You’d feel better if you had alcohol, all you need is a sip” “I wouldn’t feel better, it would make me feel worse and I would be letting myself down, I don’t want to do that because I care about myself”

“You’re going to relapse and take that sip because you fail and you always fail and you’re worthless.” “I don’t want to think about myself this way and  I want to learn to be gentle and kind to myself. I’m also X far into sobriety, I am not failing”.

Coming up with those healthy responses is incredibly difficult. When abuse is coming from yourself, it can be hard to see as abuse.

Understand Your Steps

Understand Your Steps

It’s important that you know what to do when your thoughts have you feeling cornered. Having a set of steps to follow means you can just follow a script and you don’t have to stop and think and get yourself out of a new situation every time. The things the committee in your head are loud about will change but the process will always be the same.

Here, you’ll also want to work on understanding your triggers. For example, emotional conflict, criticism, someone from your past, stress, exposure to alcohol, etc., can all be very common triggers. It’s a good idea to sit down with your therapist for this and work towards figuring out what your triggers are and what steps you can take to find quiet.

Those steps will often look something like:

  • I will take 10-15 minutes time out
  • I will redirect my attention elsewhere
  • If I cannot redirect my attention on my own I will ask X person(s) for help

Each of these steps is clear, has a direct and actionable thing you can do, and gives you a step you can take right now. You should also have longer term goals like:

  • I will work towards kindness towards myself. I will treat myself as a friend
  • I will walk 30-60 minutes per day or do some other form of exercise for the same period to build my mental health and stability
  • I will eat well and avoid sugary and caffeinated beverages about 80% of the time

Knowing what you can do to improve your thoughts, your thought process, and the control you have over the committee in your head will be important to ensuring you can stay in control and stay moving towards recovery.

Get Professional Help

You should never have to do everything on your own. You should never have to face figuring out yourself and your thoughts by yourself. It’s important that you have ongoing access to mental health treatment, even if you’ve already been to rehab and recovery. You deserve ongoing help and support with your mental health and with your recovery. This means you should be able to sit down with a therapist to discuss your thoughts, what you’re struggling with now, and to get help building a recovery path that works for your mental health right now. In some cases, that will mean finding a therapist, in others it will mean ensuring you have aftercare from your treatment facility, and in others it may mean going to rehab in the first place. Whatever the result, you’ll want to ensure that you are taking steps to have professional support so you can get personalized advice and treatment, whatever your stage in recovery.

Getting help with the voices in your head is important. You’ll have to learn to manage your thoughts, to clear your head, and to redirect your focus and your attention. Once you learn those skills, you’ll very likely find that you’re much more in control of the committee in your head. Good luck with your recovery.