This is something I’ve been aware of for a long time. I’m not responsible for the thoughts that enter my head, but I am responsible for which ones I choose to entertain there – that’s just a different way of saying what I learned in church, that I’m not responsible for being tempted but for how I respond to the temptation.
The idea that we’re responsible for our own thoughts is for everyone, I believe, not just addicts like myself. Some just struggle more with it – and even with certain ways of thinking and not others. That’s why I need outside reference – I need a truth that is higher than my own, a power that is higher than my own, simply because mine is flawed (as an addict and even if I wasn’t, as a human being). As a Christian I have that objective standard of truth. I often remind myself, when I pray, that “your thoughts are higher than mine, your words are deeper than mine, your love is stronger than mine…” – I need access to these higher things because if I don’t have an outside reference, I am left with my own thoughts which I am responsible for, and which as I know are fatally flawed.
Then again, I sort of got trained very early on to not entertain certain thoughts. I was a master of not hearing things, too. That comes out of my relationship with my father, who I learned to simply ignore (he has a habit of nagging and repeating himself) – it got to the point where I genuinely did not hear him. I was able to focus on something else and nothing could penetrate my focus. This level of concentration has actually been quite helpful sometimes, working in busy offices and so on… but apart from that, even when something he said or did registered with me, I learned to forget it almost as soon as it happened. That’s the way my mother dealt with him. He treated her shamefully – not physical abuse, but constant financial threats, using prostitutes openly, etc., things like that. But if you’d asked her, she could tell you that he wronged her very much but would not be able to NAME ONE THING he did. The specific instances just disappeared from her memory. It’s the same for me. Something bad happens, or is done to me, and the moment it does I almost shut off and it’s forgotten as soon as it happens. To this day I can’t tell you many things my father has done to me… all I know is that my relationship with him has always been one of disdain and disgust (me towards him) and that there are many ways in which he wronged me. But I can’t tell you specifics at all. It’s weird.
Then again, it’s not like I’m trying hard to unearth these things… today I just don’t dwell on it: I’m not a fan of psychoanalysis or other psychobabble and I feel no need to dig in a past that is past. As a Christian, I’m a new creation and my past doesn’t define me.
Of course, things “done to me” are only one side of the equation – many other things aren’t so easy to block out. From the beginning of my abstinence I’ve been able quite well to redirect my thoughts away from food. I had to train myself to get there. In the first few weeks, the only way I could escape food (thoughts) was by sleeping, so that’s what I did: whenever I wasn’t at work, I slept. Later on I learned to concentrate on the person I was with, if there was food in a social situation; I learned to stay away from recipe websites and cooking shows; I learned to walk out if temptation really came on strongly. It was a conscious effort and it often still is.
Another example that I’m going through right now – there’s a man in my church who I find very attractive. Unless he expresses any interest, however, he’s just my brother and I need to redirect my thoughts. The trick here is not to dwell on redirecting my thoughts but DOING it – i.e. it’s counter-productive to try NOT to think about something. I need to make a conscious choice to think of something else and then genuinely go there with all my mind. I’m not perfect at this, but I progress.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned it is that what I dwell on, grows. Whether that’s a resentment, a crush, or a food craving: if I dwell on it (or even dwell on the fact that I’m trying not to think of it) it gets bigger. There’s real discipline involved in making a genuine break from one track of thinking I’m on, to another – and it’s hard.