DAY 22 | What we tell ourselves #2 (which came first: the thought or the feeling?)


I remember my mom driving me to school one morning when I was about sixteen.

She asked if I’d unplugged the CD player in my room, saying she was worried it might start a fire.

I got all uppity and yelled, “That’s so stupid!”

She started to softly cry.

Neither of us said anything else for the rest of the car ride.

Later that morning in study hall, I couldn’t pay attention to whatever I was working on.

I felt like my thoughts were caught like bubbles beneath dark, frozen waters of bleak emotion.

Try as I might, I couldn’t seem to “think my way out” of the deep regret I felt for hurting my mom.

I jotted something down that day about how my thoughts always seemed trapped within my emotional state, and that there was nothing I could do (thinking-wise) to change my state or how I felt.

Behavioral Psychology researchers, Flora and Kestner, claim your thoughts can’t change your state because they’re caused by your state, for otherwise “the cause [would be] inside the system, [and] what caused the cause to arise must [then] be explained.”

Flora and Kestner highlight what they see as a directional, cause-and-effect relationship between feelings and thoughts with this analogy: “To conclude that cognitions [thoughts] cause depression is analogous to asserting that delusions cause schizophrenia.”

Yet others have concluded that it is indeed possible to change your emotional state by intentionally changing your thoughts.

For example, Author and chronic disease specialist Catherine Feste’s personal empowerment program was tested at the University Of Michigan School Of Medicine, and was found to have clinically significant outcomes in a diabetes population.

Of the methodology behind her program, Feste states, “If you wish to change a feeling, see what happens when you change your thoughts.”

So, what does all this have to do with facing addiction?

I shared yesterday how my addicted state skews my conscious thoughts, limiting my perspective.

Something I take in from the outside (weed) has overridden my mind.

Its goal is to ensure I keep taking in more of it.

Where I once used for my own reasons, my addiction is now effectively using me for its reasons.

If my thoughts are skewed by my addicted state, could my thoughts ever be used to change my state?

I believe the key to answering that question lies in understanding an important difference between conscious and unconscious thoughts.

Conscious explanations and interpretations are prone to self-indulgence and dishonesty.

That’s because the state you’re in tends to affect what you tell yourself about it.

Much of therapy or counseling involves unraveling unhelpful conscious thought patterns to reach unconscious knowledge buried beneath.

We each deceive ourselves about our state in unique ways, though these can usually be traced back to how we learned to interpret important life events as children.

Private practitioner and substance abuse counseling consultant, Kay Freyer-Rose, says, “Many have said ‘my life isn’t perfect, but it’s better than it was.’ The recovering person must be supported in answering the question ‘Am I willing to settle for this?’ Recovery is a process of trading up.”

We trade up from limiting patterns we’ve convinced ourselves are acceptable to true desires we often hide from.

As Freyer-Rose explains: “Many children learn to be good actors, to pretend they don’t have needs, thoughts, or feelings. As adults, they find themselves affecting behavior that is not of their choosing but is what they know how to do. It has become a habituated, automatic response.”

Here’s something I once wrote while high:

“When I’m angry, addicted, or depressed, all the truth in the world goes right over my head.

“I mean, it sounds good.

“I can appreciate the logic of the steps.

“But I run from how I feel to go make some sort of epic plan to change.

“And those plans never work.”

The faulty thoughts I’ve unknowingly allowed myself to settle for are like a seedbed for the plans I run to in order to avoid facing and addressing my deeper core issues and desires.

That means my plans are really just powerless short-cuts.

Plans like that are the million fad diet books that only make you feel better about yourself for having bought them.

My goal here is the same as the goal of therapy: to help you come to see the true unconscious knowledge you’ve become so adept at obscuring with state-specific patterns of limiting, self-indulgent thoughts.

Freyer-Rose sums it all up beautifully, saying, “Information emerging from the unconscious shakes and cracks the [false] foundation upon which the individual’s life has been built, [but] denial can undermine the entire process of resolution.”

Unlike quick-fix plans, reaching unconscious knowledge is not something that happens immediately or in much of a straight line.

It’s a process of seeing your real experience as objectively as possible for however long it takes until you simply can’t let yourself stay the same anymore.

That’s when your deeper unconscious intuitions naturally connect to your experience like puzzle pieces, revealing any false foundations upon which you’ve been building your life.

As you engage in that process, you change.

Just as self-indulgence perpetuates the lies that hold you back, seeing your real experience over time causes your perspective to gradually creep forward like sunlight over the horizon, bit by bit, until your life shines with the full brightness of a new day.

Tomorrow: a more practical look at how the lies you tell yourself about your state can’t ever stand against the truths you already know deep down once those truths are brought to light.


Feste, Cathy. “Meditations.” Diabetes Forecast Mar. 2001: 111.

Flora, Stephen R., and Jane Kestner. “Cognitions, thoughts, private events, etc., are never initiating causes of behavior: reply to Overskeid.” The Psychological Record 45.4 (1995): 577+.

Freyer-Rose, Kay E. “Late recovery: a process of integration.” Addiction & Recovery 11.6 (1991): 20+.

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