Mind over Matter & The Relation to Sobriety

“You can’t fix a broken mind with a broken mind.”

I will always remember the time I heard someone say at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, “You can’t fix a broken mind with a broken mind.” I had never considered that my mind and my sobriety were entrenched.  That the condition of one deeply depends on the condition of the other was new information to me.

Through a regular (and bumpy) meditation practice, I have learned that the state of my mind does impact my ability to stay sober and, conversely, the state of my sobriety deeply influences the condition of my mind.

When I began to notice the relationship between my mind and my sobriety I was surprised at how interconnected they really are.  My thoughts affect my mood and my emotions, which in turn, impact my ability to stay clean and sober.

In the Chapter titled “There is a Solution,” the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous confirms that my mind and my sobriety are deeply connected. On page 23 it reads “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.”  Many of the concepts in the Big Book are predicated on the fact that I cannot trust my own thinking.  I have often said that my biggest problem is that I tell myself something and I believe me. Then I act in accordance to my own thoughts which are not reliable.

I became curious as to what it is exactly that my own mind thinks that has the power to put my sobriety in jeopardy.  So I began to watch it.  Learning to silently observe my own thinking was a bit awkward at first.  It took some practice and getting used to; it is the practice of making mental notes on what I am thinking.

After some time, I noticed four distinct patterns that impacted my mind and my sobriety:

1. Reliving the past

2. Controlling the future

3. Playing the victim

4. Negativity

Reliving the Past

One of the patterns I noticed when I was observing my thinking was that my thoughts were often focused on the past.  I would relive and replay conversations, “if only” events, past injustices, and times when I was not who I wanted to be.

Things that happened decades ago were frequently visualized again and again.  People from years ago were still taking up space in my head.  It seemed as though every hurt  I ever experienced never moved on.  They just got stored in an archive in my mind for me to replay. And replay them I did!

This orientation toward the past absolutely had an impact on my mind and my sobriety.  I noticed that while living in the past I was often sad, angry, hurt, or discouraged.  I never replayed the joyful or loving moments, just the ugly ones.

I could see that living in the past was a recipe for consuming large doses of regret on a daily basis.  This observation gave me tremendous motivation to change my thinking pattern.

Controlling the Future

Another repetitive mental habit I noticed was trying to control the future.  I observed that my thinking was very addicted to trying to control what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and who is going to do it.  My thoughts constantly tried to plan for events and conversations in which there was absolutely no way to influence those outcomes.

This futuristic thinking kept me in a chronic state of worry and feeling overwhelmed.  There was this low-grade anxiety that was created.  I could quickly see that trying to control the future was having a negative effect on my mind and my sobriety.

This thinking pattern kept me in a constant state of fear.  It was as if I was living life just waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Once I was aware that my mind had this habitual pattern, I became willing to find a way out of this type of suffering.

Playing the Victim

This one hit me HARD.  Realizing that I played the victim in most circumstances was a real wake-up call.  By silently watching my thinking I saw thoughts that consistently made me play small, give over my power, and act and sound like a victim.

This habitual thinking pattern was so entrenched in my thinking that I needed a lot of support to begin to turn it around.  Therapy helped.  Doing the twelve steps as instructed in the first one hundred and three pages of the Big Book with a Big Book sponsor helped too.

I gradually saw that by playing the victim I avoided taking responsibility.  As long as I was a helpless bystander then I did not have to see my part and take responsibility for my actions.

When I was able to clearly see that playing the victim only served to keep me stuck in thinking that jeopardized my sobriety, I became willing to change.


The fourth pattern of habitual thinking I observed that was that of negativity.  This too was difficult to acknowledge yet very liberating when I become free from it.  What I noticed was that my automatic reaction, the one that came out first, was almost always negative.  The glass was always half empty.

When had I become so negative? mind over matter

mind over matter
mind over matter

Deep-Rooted Conditioning

Noticing these four habitual ways of thinking really helped me to become willing to overcome them.  Some are deep-rooted conditioning that never really go away completely but merely lay dormant.  I have an internal watcher that is on the look-out for these states of mind to reawaken and try to take center stage.

I have used many tools to work with the thinking mind in order to improve my sobriety (and increase my chances of not relapsing) including meditation practice, therapy, and the twelve steps.

Perhaps the greatest asset in combating old patterns of thinking has been being in the present moment and acceptance that moment as it is.

Being in the present moment means I am not in the past or in the future.  This is the complete antidote for my first two habitual thinking patterns that threatens my sobriety.

For the third and fourth way of thinking, Playing the Victim and Negativity, acceptance has been my greatest asset.  Accepting the current moment exactly as it is takes practice, perseverance, and patience.  The pay off of being free from suffering is the reward.  Totally worth it!

My mind and my sobriety are inherently intertwined in ways I can only work with if at first I observe my thinking. Being the silent watcher of my thoughts has proven to be a very helpful tool in working with my mind to benefit my sobriety.

Photo by Aaron Huber on Unsplash

My Mind and My Sobriety, mind over matter, matters of sobriety and the mind

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