Voices in Our Heads

Last week the ladies at the Lighthouse began a four part art project focusing on “the committee that meets inside our heads and votes against us.” That phrase always brings a chuckle from whatever group we’re working with because negative self-talk is common to all of us. But it can be especially damning to those who struggle with substance abuse issues as you can tell from the words written on the left side of the folder in the image at left.

Roxy had no problem filling her page with lots of derogatory words. Words that others have said to her. Words she’s said to herself. Words that often stream through her mind like an uncensored monologue of condemnation. Words that can caustically erode her resolve to recover.

This week’s therapeutic art activity was designed to begin interrupting each woman’s internalized verbal abuse. On the right side of their folders they were invited to look for the “grain of truth” in each word or phrase they’d written on the left-hand side. Then we worked with the group to reword the negative words or phrase into more positive statements consistent with their continuing recovery. Several words easily standout in Roxy’s folder. Here’s how we encouraged her to rework some of her words:

Whore could become “I haven’t always been wise sexually, but I will choose to make better choices in the future.”

Death could be transformed into “I was living a life headed for destruction using drugs, but I have hope for my future because I’m clean and sober.”

F— you might become “I was so full of anger I couldn’t contain it and lashed out at everyone. And everyone lashed out at me because I was doing drugs. But now I’m clean and sober, and learning to express my anger and frustration more appropriately.”

Roxy was getting the idea. But as we chatted with her around the table she expressed fear about the first visit she’d be making the next day to see her family. She worried that she was easily distracted and afraid she’d get in trouble traveling the distance between her new home at the Lighthouse and a nearby community where her family lives. My art partner Lee volunteered to drive her. Roxy demurred. Her roommate Leslie said, “Say yes! Say yes!” A little more coaxing and Roxy agreed.

Then Lee asked, “What time?”

“11:30.”

“Oh no, I have a funeral to go to then. Can we do it a bit later?” Options and alternatives were discussed and discarded.

“No, that’s OK” Roxy continued. “It’s enough to know that you were willing to drive me. I can get there myself.”

Having watched this exchange, I ventured, “Roxy, can you imagine Lee accompanying you as you travel from the Lighthouse to your folks?”

“Yeah.”

“If you were to get tempted, what do you think Lee would say to you?”

With only the slightest pause she began, “Well, she’d say you can do this. You’ve come too far to fail now. You’ve worked too hard to mess this up. I know you can do it”

Pretty good positive self-talk wouldn’t you say? Roxy had begun to internalize Lee’s positive influence and encouragement. She was rewriting the negative self-talk in her head that she was Nothing. She had begun the formation of a new committee to sit around her table to advise and vote for her.  And was it ever fun to turn to the whole room and say, “Did you hear what just happened?” I got to brag big time because Roxy had modeled a perfect real-life example of what we were hoping to accomplish through this art activity.

If there’s a committee that meets inside your head, can you identify the members? Do they encourage you? Or discourage you? If you were to draw a picture of your committee what would it look like? Is there a grain of truth in the negative voices inside your head? How about writing a poem about how those grains of truth can be transformed?

Looking forward to your comments.

PS – The Lighthouse is a fifteen-month, faith-based residential treatment program for women recovering from substance abuse.

 

 

 

 

 

5 comments to Voices in Our Heads

  • I was just talking to my sister last night who is struggling with negative self-talk. Thank-you. I’ll forward this to her.

  • This is encouraging to anyone who has negative self talk and I do not know if there is anyone who does not experience this.
    Thank you. Great to pass onto others.

  • Deanna Bowling

    I am a planner. I have been for many years. It comes from trying to counterbalance my home situation (I am an Adult Child of Alcoholics); and working as a clerical person for 45 years. So, having something that I can’t pencil in on my calendar is frustrating, very frustrating. I don’t like to not be able to keep commitments, so I try not to make them, frustrating in itself.

    The words in my head that attempt to dominate are “living between the events”. My committee in my head keeps trying to figure out how to get some order out of disorder, right now, thank you.

    I think what I need to do is live “smaller”, in smaller increments, letting the future take care of itself. Yah, right. Oh well, as a cousin of mine says, keep on smiling.

  • Great word Lynne. I’ve been working on the committee in my head sense you introduced me to the concept about a year ago. I’ll going to try the journal piece you describe and see what happens. Thanks!!

  • I can testify that the encouraging words that Roxy produced herself were far better than anything I might have said. At the time, I was distressed that I would not be able to follow through on helping her, which likely is some need of mine to “rescue” others. Turns out that God’s plan was way better than mine and that the best way for me to help was to lift her up in prayer. Saw her today, she nonchalantly reported that her visit turned out fine, she had no trouble getting there. Praise God!

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