I had the fortune of recently attending a retreat focused on “rewriting our stories.” You may be asking, “Wait, how can I re-write my story... it already happened? I can’t change the past.”

Exactly the point!

We cannot change the past HOWEVER we can change how we think about our past experiences and help these realizations propel us towards new ways of thinking and beliefs. I came out of the workshop looking at some of my past experiences and although some were negative and difficult, I was able to find some positive aspects to look at and appreciate.

It was hard.

For example, my parents were holocaust survivors. How could I possibly find anything positive to think or say about that horrendous experience? Not taking away from the atrocities, I realized that my parents taught me a lot by their actions. Not to hold resentments, to have resilience, and that one can recover and heal as best as they can.

This does not take away from their profound losses but it teaches me that as sad as it all is, I cannot change what happened to them, but I can still learn from their incredible strength.

At the workshop, we used a lot of the writings and materials of Byron Katie. I had never heard of her before but the approach she presents made a lot of sense and presented a structure in which to work.

Her approach, called “The Work,” is comprised of 4 questions to ask yourself about a belief or thought:

Question 1: Is it true?

This question can change your life. Be still and ask yourself if the thought you wrote down is true.

Question 2: Can you absolutely know it's true?

This is another opportunity to open your mind and to go deeper into the unknown, to find the answers that live beneath what we think we know.

Question 3: How do you react—what happens—when you believe that thought?

With this question, you begin to notice an internal cause and effect. You can see that when you believe the thought, there is a disturbance that can range from mild discomfort to fear or panic. What do you feel? How do you treat the person (or the situation) you've written about, how do you treat yourself, when you believe that thought? Make a list, and be specific.

Question 4: Who would you be without the thought?

Imagine yourself in the presence of that person (or in that situation), without believing the thought. How would your life be different if you didn't have the ability to even think the stressful thought? How would you feel? Which do you prefer—life with or without the thought? Which feels kinder, more peaceful?

Next and most important is what I call the “Turnaround.”

Turn the thought around

The "turnaround" gives you an opportunity to experience the opposite of what you believe. Once you have found one or more turnarounds to your original statement, you are invited to find several specific, genuine examples of how each turnaround is true in your life.

This approach is explained in more detail in Ms. Katie’s book “A Mind at Home with Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart, and Turn Your World Around.” It is available in print or digitally.

Remember, your addiction does not define you or have to control the rest of your life. All we have is the present and the future. Let us here at the Coleman Institute of Addiction Medicine help you detox from whatever substance you are currently addicted to. Please call us at. It’s never too late to rewrite your own story.

Deborah Reich, M.D.