They called it “Stinking Thinking” and they were sure that I had it. They told me I had a damaged thinker, a broken filter, and an overactive forgetter, and more besides.
I was unconvinced.
The damage to my thinking came on slowly over a long period. Alcohol pickled my brain. Drugs killed off neurons by the thousands. Self-pity and depression never seemed to go away. The deeper I got into my addiction, the more fearful I became, and the fear fed my ego. Unchained from the heart and with no remaining morals to guide it, my ego ran amok and enjoyed it.
A hundred forms of negativity came to dominate my thoughts: low self-esteem, resentments, anger, and more. My logic had become completely screwed—of course, it was normal to drive down the road with a needle in your arm shooting cocaine, yeah!
It didn’t help that I had achieved a state of moral bankruptcy. I had no moral compass and no star to guide me.
The brain filters information from the outside world and decides what to ignore and what to pay attention to. Restaurant noise, the rumble of the subway, and my mother-in-law’s shrill irritating voice are all screened out. Mostly this occurs unconsciously. As my disease worsened, my brain filtered out anything that interfered with my using.
I didn’t hear the warnings of my friends. I couldn’t see the damage to my body that was occurring. I didn’t pay attention to what my conscience was telling me. I heard what I wanted to hear. I turned a blind eye to the pain I caused the people around me.
Should anything penetrate my filter, I developed an overactive forgetter. I could instantly forget the warning the cop just gave me about driving and drinking. I conveniently forgot my wife’s words, “For the last time, to quit drinking or I’m taking the kids and going to my mother's.” In order to buy more coke, I conveniently forgot that the rent was due.
I could forget anything which threatened my using.
Everything you think you know is wrong
I remember vividly a conversation I had with my roommate Mike, a gynecologist from New Jersey. Mike would become my mentor in recovery. He repeatedly pointed me in the right direction whenever I wandered off the path.
It was my second week in rehab in Atlanta, and we were sitting in the breezeway outside the apartment, drinking coffee while he smoked a cigarette.
“You’re not going to like this,” he said, “but everything you think you know is wrong.” Then he waited for me to deny it. I didn’t disappoint him.
“Hold on there!” I said. “I made Dean’s List, graduated with Honors, and…”
“And, all that fine knowledge of yours landed you here in rehab,” he said, “now didn’t it?”
I knew he was right, but I wasn’t going down without a fight. My ego wouldn’t let me.
“Yes, but…” I blustered.
“I’m not talking about how to change a tire or drive from here to Richmond,” he said. “I’m talking about how to behave in the world, how to feel good about yourself, and how to live a life where anger isn’t your primary emotion.”
I was squirming in my seat, but I sipped my coffee and listened.
“When I got here, I was sure I knew it all—who I was, what my problem was, and what I needed to do about it,” he said. “Then they told me what I just told you.”
“Everything I think I know is wrong?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said. “And it was as big a shock to me then as it is to you now. And just like you, I refused to believe it.”
The late spring breeze cooled my aching head. I went inside and refilled my coffee then rejoined Mike outside.
“As my head cleared, I began to see how screwed up my thinking had become,” he said. “The deterioration was so slow that I never realized it was happening. My counselor said that I didn’t need to fix just one or two things, I needed a whole new way of looking at the world, a whole new way of thinking.”
That sounded like way too much for me to handle all at once. It must have shown on my face, for Mike said, “Baby steps, my friend, baby steps. And remember—it was your very best thinking that got you here.”
“Overcoming substance abuse through the use of spiritual principles
behind 12-Step programs, to find long-term recovery from
addiction to drugs and alcohol and to live a sober life.”