How safe is the neighborhood in your head?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.


Bad neighborhood.
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When you are alone in your own head – are you in a really dangerous neighborhood?

The idea that your own thinking can be suspect is common among recovering people. One definition of the disease of addiction is that our brains go over to the other side. An alcoholic’s brain will continue to tell you that you need another drink long after the point of intoxication.

What if there was a way to make your head a safe neighborhood to inhabit?

Recovering people are quick to remind the newcomer around those tables that “Your own best thinking got you here.” There is nothing more natural than for an alcoholic to think about drinking. We know that a depressed person’s mind is full of dark and gloomy thoughts.

Some of the triggers for a relapse are of course the places and events of everyday life. But the brooding thoughts in your head can take you back to depression, anxiety, or an active addiction. Relapse triggers are found both inside and outside ourselves.  

But simply avoiding your own thoughts is not enough. Avoiding anxiety-producing situations does not make you less anxious. Not in the long run. As Jon Kabat-Zinn told us “Wherever you go there you are.”

Bill W. seems to agree, telling us that if an alcoholic needs to avoid places where liquor is served then they still have an alcoholic mind.

In the early stages of recovery, the thought of being alone is scary, particularly being alone with nothing to keep you busy. Avoiding your own thoughts is a common way to avoid negative thoughts, but you know they are still there.

Some days it is as if your own mind is out to get you. Your mind may be a scary place but that head of yours is the only home your mind will ever have. Can you learn to live comfortably in that neighborhood?

There are ways to clean up that dangerous neighborhood in your head. Dr. Kelly McGonigal tells us “Your mind can be a safe place to be.”

What is the process you need to undertake to make your own mind a safe place? How might you set up your own internal “Neighborhood Watch” to keep out those unwanted thoughts?

Mind remodeling projects are at the heart of good therapy. Change your thinking to change your life. Working through all those monsters that lurk in your head, cleaning out dysfunctional thoughts, and challenging irrational beliefs can all lead to a healthier mind. But there is more!

In the early days of the recovery movement, before there were twelve steps, they began with just three steps. Back then the first step was “Clean House,” one meaning of which was getting rid of all that mental and emotional garbage that might get you sick again.

The steps also include that last step, “working with others” which tells us that our problems, addictions, and poor mental health, are often because we think too much about ourselves and not enough about others. The reverse side of that coin, codependency, thinking only of others, and not making our mental and emotional health a priority is just as bad.

The part of the mental neighborhood clean-up project that gets neglected is that part about “prayer and meditation.” Somehow it seems a whole lot easier to swallow the prayer part than the meditation. Some of us are inclined to go way off on a religious tangent which can keep us busy and avoid our own heads but it still hasn’t cleaned out the garbage and rebuilt our mental landscape.

That second part “Meditation” is just hard for a westerner to swallow. Some of you probably read that “Medication.” Wouldn’t it be nice if we could find a pill that could cure our addiction or poor mental health? Meds can help some things but they can only go so far. You also need to engage in some mental exercises that strengthen those “right-thinking” muscles.

Why are we westerners so afraid of meditation? Well, it seems like a whole lot of effort, and even then who knows if you are doing it right? It needn’t be that difficult.

Here are some simple thoughts on using meditation to clean out that run-down neighborhood in your head.

Take out the garbage first. Let go of anger, fear, resentments, all those negative emotions, as much as you can at this stage of your recovery. As you learn more you will do better.

You can’t fix a car when you are driving it at 65. You need some downtime for the nerve cells in your brain to grow and heal. Quiet meditation is the time for that. This does not require years of practice and a set of robes. No offense to those who have spent years learning meditation but yes even a few minutes a day can pay off big in making you comfortable in your own skin.

The important thing is not to freak every time a bad or negative thought runs through our minds. That though is just out for exercise. Notice the thought, then let it go. Holding on to that thought, wrestling with it, and trying to prevent it from leaving will cause more wreckage in your head.

Check out more on the dangers of trying to avoid thinking about things in “Don’t think about Elephants.”

Don’t rush to get away from negative thoughts. This is called “Distress tolerance.” Most of us ran from our negative thoughts so much that they kept us from being safe in our own heads.

Remind yourself this is a real-life, sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. Let the thought come and go. Same with physical discomfort. Most of us are used to scratching every itch, physical, and mental. Most of the time if you leave that pain alone after a bit it will go away. If not, learn that you can feel discomfort and you will not fall apart.

Hope these suggestions get you started on your mind renewal project. If you have done some mental remodeling let the rest of us know how it worked out.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

My newest book is now available. It was my opportunity to try on a new genre. I’ve been working on this book for several years, but now seem like the right time to publish it.

Story Bureau.

Story Bureau is a thrilling Dystopian Post-Apocalyptic adventure in the Surviving the Apocalypse series.

Baldwin struggles to survive life in a post-apocalyptic world where the government controls everything.

As society collapses and his family gets plunged into poverty, Baldwin takes a job in the capital city, working for a government agency called the Story Bureau. He discovers the Story Bureau is not a benign news outlet but a sinister government plot to manipulate society.

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Dark Family Secrets: Doris wants to get her life back, but small-town prejudice could shatter her dreams.

Casino Robbery Arthur Mitchell escapes the trauma of watching his girlfriend die. But the killers know he’s a witness and want him dead.

Planned Accidents  The second Arthur Mitchell and Plutus mystery.

Letters from the Dead: The third in the Arthur Mitchell mystery series.

What would you do if you found a letter to a detective describing a crime and you knew the writer and detective were dead, and you could be next?

Sasquatch. Three things about us, you should know. One, we have seen the past. Two, we’re trapped there. Three, I don’t know if we’ll ever get back to our own time.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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5 thoughts on “How safe is the neighborhood in your head?

  1. Pingback: Recovery starts when you stop falling | counselorssoapbox

  2. Pingback: Danger at the crossroad – changes you can’t take back | counselorssoapbox

  3. This was really helpful to me!
    I have security screens,roller shutters on all the windows,deadbolts to the man holes and a home monitored alarm system. *laughing* I live in a really good neighborhood, but tell that to my brain! I’m always thinking someone is going to come in and harm me. So..there are others like me? *yes* …..Paula x


    • That’s the terrible thing about anxiety. We take all kinds of precautions think they will keep us safe, only to find out we are prisoners in our own minds. Keep working on you and you may not need the anxiety so much.


      • Thanks David. Your right, my husband says it’s like living in a prison. I sometimes wander through all the therapy if this side of me will ever change! *deep breath*… Once I can learn to leave my past behind, I think I will be free from many demons that plague my mind. Thank you David. x


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