One of the difficulties of breaking free of alcohol or drugs is that it can sometimes feel as if your own brain is working against you. Not only could you still be dealing with cravings, but you may also have to put up with flashbacks and thoughts conducive to relapse. These intrusive thoughts can be a real problem for those in early sobriety, but there are things that can be done to overcome them.
An intrusive thought can refer to any thoughts, ideas, or images that involuntarily spring to mind and cause discomfort. If a person were trying to recover from alcoholism and suddenly experience a flashback to drinking alcohol, this would be considered an intrusive thought. These intrusive thoughts can be very upsetting, and they could be so persistent that they become obsessions. This could be a symptom of mental illness, but it appears that everyone has intrusive thoughts at least occasionally so this is not really a cause of concern. Only when these mental blips interfere with life do they become a cause of concern.
Intrusive thoughts can occur in many different ways but the most common include:
- the sudden fear that you might do something embarrassing or inappropriate ( for example, laughing when somebody tells you that a loved one has died)
- a fear that you are have picked up a disease (even though there is no real reason to believe this)
- flashbacks to unpleasant things that have happened to you
- inappropriate sexual images or thoughts
- thoughts of doing something very aggressive or illegal
- the idea that not doing something would cause you to become unlucky.
Intrusive thoughts are most commonly associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), but it is not always a sign of this type of mental illness – although there are a substantial number of people in recovery who also have OCD.
The most important thing about dealing with intrusive thoughts is to never act on them. These mental hiccups do not usually last for long unless you begin to obsess over them. Resisting these thoughts can sometimes make the situation worse though, so the best thing to do is to acknowledge them and wait for them to pass. It is like telling yourself not to think about pink elephants – just by ordering yourself to do this means that you would almost certainly start thinking about pink elephants.
One of the important things to understand about intrusive thoughts is that they are ego-dystonic – this means they are actually the opposite of what you really think and feel. This, then, also means that you should never feel guilty about having them. If these thoughts were how you felt or thought about the world, they would not be intrusive in the first place.
Mindfulness meditation can be very effective for helping individuals deal with intrusive thoughts. This works because it can increase your ability to look at these thoughts in a more objective way. Once you understand that these intrusive thoughts have no real power over you, it becomes easier to put up with them. It also means you will not feel as much need to fight them, which tends to make the situation worse.
If there is any chance that you may be suffering from OCD, it will be important for you to seek proper medical assistance. If you regularly have intrusive thoughts and these interfere with your ability to function properly in sobriety, it would be important to consider getting the help you need. There are plenty of treatments available to help you manage OCD and, once you have gained control over the condition, it will be much easier for you to settle into recovery.