Jun 29
  • Written By Scott Drochelman

  • Why Is Black And White Thinking Important And How to Deal With The Gray Areas?

    Why Is Black And White Thinking Important And How to Deal With The Gray Areas?

    Why Is Black and White Thinking Important and How To Deal With Gray Areas?

    In this Q and A episode Ashley talks about the importance of black and white thinking especially in early recovery. But then talks about what experiences and conversations that she’s had that have shaped her belief system around grey area topics. This episode is a helpful tool in navigating your own belief systems as you get sober and as your recovery evolves over time. 

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame has been clean and sober for 17 years, she’s a drug and alcohol counselor, interventionist, and the co-founder of a telehealth company called Lionrock Recovery that provides substance use disorder treatment.

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    Episode Transcript

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    You are listening to The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast. We are a community of recovering people who have overcome the odds and found the courage to change. Each week, we share stories of recovery from substance abuse, eating disorders, grief and loss, childhood trauma, and other life-changing experiences. Come join us no matter where you are on your recovery journey. Hello, beautiful people. Welcome to The Courage to Change: A Recovery Podcast. My name is Ashley Loeb Blassingame, and I am your host. And today I’m here with Scott Drochelman. We are doing a Q&A. What do we got?

    Scott Drochelman:

    Q&A. Well, we got a real hot topic today. We got, this one might sound kind of strange out the gate for some folks. If you’re like me and you’ve done some therapy, I’ve had a lot of therapists tell me to not engage in black and white thinking, but in this particular episode, we’re begging asking the question, why is black and white thinking important and how to deal with those gray areas? I understand what my therapist was telling me in avoiding my black and white thinking, but is there a place for it? And the things that fall outside of that, what are we supposed to do with that?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    So black and white thinking is very valuable as it relates to addiction, alcoholism, whatever it is in the beginning, and I’ll just share my experience here and then we’ll pick that apart. Okay? So when I was trying to get sober, I tried to separate out alcohol from drugs, drugs from alcohol, different types of alcohol. I can drink whiskey, but not vodka. Vodka, but not whiskey. I can do drugs but not alcohol. I can drink alcohol but not drugs, so on and so forth. You get the point. And I was desperately trying to figure out a way to make it work. When I got sober, I had to make it black and white. I do not consume any mind-altering substances that affect me from the neck up unless prescribed by a doctor and taken as prescribed with a plan to cease, whatever it is. So very black and white and my intentions matter a lot too, right?

    So if I accidentally consume a drink that has some alcohol and I put it down and I stopped drinking it, well, that doesn’t count. But if I continued to drink it after I know that, this is a relapse. That black and white thinking was so important for me because what I had engaged in for years was my mind creating this beautiful mind wall of reasons and pathways for how I was going to make this, or I had red strings crossing all over each other like, well, if I do this and then I do this, and if I did this and all this stuff of how I’m going to make this work and trying so hard. And when it’s black and white in the beginning, I do not do these things. Period. End of story. There is no circumstance. There is no, well, it hurts too much to bear.

    Well, whatever it is, my brain will come up with any reason or excuse to engage in substance use or stupid behavior. So black and white thinking saved my ass and it saved a lot of people. There were other things that were black and white thinking for me about community, how I engaged in my community. That I saw them several times a week, no ifs, and or buts. I attended our group meetings, period, end of story. I called certain people at certain times, whatever it was, whatever the black and white thing was. That black and white thinking made it so that I wasn’t able to insert my shitty ideas into any of the strategies around how I was going to stay sober. And that has been key. And there are downfalls to it, okay? So there are downfalls. One of the biggest downfalls to black and white thinking is my solution is the right solution. That my 12-step program is the only way to do it because that’s the only, it’s black and white, period. This is what works. There is no other way. I’ve tried everything else, it doesn’t work.

    And then if you start drinking, if you were in the program and you relapse, then I can’t be near you because I can’t go near that, that’s you’re toxic, whatever. Or admitting that there are people out there who can use one substance and not the other, whatever that is, it has to be black and white. This is the only way. This is how we do it, and we don’t look left and we don’t look right. Now that is critical in many cases. It was critical for me. I needed that in order to stay on the right path because my brain was always looking left and looking right. After many years of retraining my brain and my behavior and staying sober and creating this whole new life, I have been able to understand that people can get sober other ways, that they’re, I can understand the gray. I can see that, hey, sometimes you got to take medication as prescribed because you just had a surgery or whatever. There are gray areas, they exist and I’m okay with talking about them and seeing them and admitting that they’re there at this point.

    Scott Drochelman:

    Well, so I think that’s helpful to understand the necessity for doing things in a really black and white way, not giving yourself any leeway or wiggle room or in saying this is the way that it has to happen, it keeps your brain from being able to work around and try to beat the problem, find the way that you still get to do the thing that you want. In doing that you had to also develop a series of beliefs about people or about the right ways of doing things or about any number of things that you had to inform your opinion in order for you to be able to function in this black and white type of thinking. What are some of the specific things that as time has passed, your thoughts have changed or that they have become a little more gray or nuanced than maybe the opinions, thoughts, things like that that you had at the beginning of your sobriety?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    Sure. When I first got sober in the early years of trying to get sober, I was exposed to certain types of alcoholism, certain types of people. An example of how that affected my belief system and my evolution is that when things like Suboxone, medication-assisted treatment became a really hot topic and much more readily used and available, I struggled because I came from this background where we didn’t have that except for detox or methadone, and I had to suffer through withdrawal, and I had to suffer through behavioral change over the course of years and making it work in a different way. This option did not exist and therefore it wasn’t in my worldview. And so when it came into my worldview, it challenged those black and white thoughts. And so at first I felt like, well, you’re not really sober because there is some sort of intoxic effect or it’s not the right way or you shouldn’t do it, or whatever.

    Whatever the thing was, I had all these things. And to be clear, I still have some parameters around how I think it should be used, but it’s evolved. As I did more research, as I met more people, as I spoke with clinicians and doctors and scientists about what we were working with here and how it can help people and how it can hurt people and how it can be used, my opinion changed to it can be used as a tool, as a harm reduction tool. And one of the lenses that I’ve told you that I use is, if my child were dying of addiction, would this be something that I would be okay with? And the answer is, unequivocally, yes. Unequivocally. Would I say, well, you’re not really sober. Well, you’re not. Would I have any of those? Absolutely not. Singleness of purpose. I want them to get well and sober and be safe. And there’s none of that political nonsense as it relates to my child.

    So I like to put it through that because there are other things and other gray areas, if you will, that would come into play with my child because I do think they’re that important. So they have, they’re of substance and not just straight judgment or whatever. So that helped me. I have these little tools and lenses that I like to put on that help me figure out, do I really think this in all circumstances or am I just being judgy and using my why done this way and whatever? So my evolution around that, around medication-assisted treatment has changed. I will say, and I reserve the right to change my mind if you’re going to use this clip to slander me later, that I think it’s being used too soon. I think that the standard of care, which says that people shouldn’t come off of it once they’re on it should be reexamined.

    I think that informed consent around the fertility issues and other consequences of use are not being disclosed, and that we could be using it more responsibly and that we’re bringing in a lot of money-related incentives into the space where we can, it is my belief there are two types of harm reduction, there’s harm reduction for the person, and then there’s harm reduction for society. And I think that when it’s used as harm reduction for the person, it’s amazing. And I think that when it’s used as a blanket policy for harm reduction as society on an ongoing basis, I struggle with that. So I do have opinions around medication-assisted treatment based on a more global view of the issue, but it started out very black and white. And another space where that is the case is psychedelic and ketamine-assisted psychotherapy, hands down. I truly just laughed when it was talked about. I was like, really? And had conversations with colleagues and friends of mine, like I can’t. And then I sort of decided, well, okay, fine, that’ll work for you, but that won’t work for anybody else.

    Or again, my evolution was slow. Then I started to do the research and I saw it work on people that I truly, there’s no other explanation, there is truly no other explanation for some of the things that I’ve seen it do. It really is remarkable. And also I understand that it’s not for everybody and it doesn’t work with everybody’s recovery and everybody’s sobriety, but that there’s a place in the world of recovery, whatever types of recovery, whether that’s depression, anxiety, what have you, for this process. But my black and white thinking causes my first thought to typically eliminate the gray area, and then I start to go to my second and third thought around, maybe I should look at this differently, maybe I should ask about it, maybe I should do some research, maybe. And that’s where I’ve been able to evolve from this strict black and white thinking. But to be honest, I’m grateful for that black and white thinking because it really helped me get sober in the beginning.

    Scott Drochelman:

    I think this whole episode, this whole conversation is a little heady in some ways because it’s probably more simple to kind of stay…

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    Oh, yeah.

    Scott Drochelman:

    In the lines, just do.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    A hundred percent.

    Scott Drochelman:

    It exactly just as it is, and then I don’t have to worry about it, and I don’t have to worry about people getting upset and I don’t have to worry about any of those things. What’s the benefit to exploring outside and what are your indicators that tell you maybe you’re thinking needs to shift?

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    I think that if coming outside of your black and white thinking is a risk to your sobriety for real, that you shouldn’t do it because without your sobriety, you’re not going to have a life. So it’s kind of a non-starter. So if you feel like if I start to even consider, so I’ll give you an example. There’s a recovery program that does not count time, and I had a close friend who ended up dying, who was very fond of this program. And I really tried to understand, I spent some decent amount of time trying to understand how this worked and what it would be like to not count time. And if you used, if you had, what we would call, a relapse in other areas of the field, they would call a slip and you just would just get up and keep going and you didn’t count time.

    When I spent time thinking about myself in this paradigm, in this belief system of not counting consecutive sober days, I always ended up loaded. In my head just thinking it through, okay, so if I could go out tomorrow, have a drink, and then come back the next day and have it not, it’s like, okay, well, we’re just keep going because you’ve had more sober days than not, and we’re just not going to count it. And the fear for me of losing my time is a embarrassingly strong motivator and has been for many years. And without that, within the confines of my ego and this time motivator, I’ve done a lot of work because I’m here and this is uncomfortable and unpleasant and I have feelings, but I can’t lose my sobriety because my ego, so then I end up doing the work.

    Without those guardrails of my ego and that kind of counting and whatever, I wouldn’t be able to do that. And my friend turned out to be, had that same struggle and passed. And some people can make that work, but that’s a gray that does not work for me. I have to keep that black and white. That’s one of those things where this was presented to me. I thought it was interesting. I did a lot of exploring around this particular program. That’s an example of something being presented that risked my sobriety and that I just needed to not, like I didn’t go to those group meetings, even though they’re really interesting and I think they do work for people.

    I was just like, yeah, that’s not, I can’t. I think it gets tricky when you have to impose your black and white thinking on other people and other systems and other beliefs and other cultures and other programs, but I also relate to this is what worked for me, and if you want my help, I’m going to tell you what worked for me. It’s helpful to be able to see that gray works for other people, and it’s important to be able to hold onto your black and white if you know that going into that gray really doesn’t feel safe for you. Does that make sense?

    Scott Drochelman:

    Mm-hmm. It’s a magic trick. And so if you don’t-

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    It’s a magic trick. Yeah.

    Scott Drochelman:

    If you don’t do the steps in the order, then the magic trick doesn’t work and the bunny doesn’t come out of the hat.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    Things are done a certain way and work a certain way and work with certain people for a reason, but when I hold on to what works for me and I do what works for me and I’m confident and successful in that avenue, but I allow room in the world for other things to work for other people, for it to look different, that’s when I am in my best place with black and white thinking and nuance and gray.

    Scott Drochelman:

    I love that. I love how you put that. The point of this whole episode is just, it’s sort of a mission of the show, which is that we want to tell lots of different kinds of stories. We want to tell different paths to healing for folks. We want to, even if we are not pro some of those particular things, we want to have the conversation, explore what is working for people, because at the end of the day, and I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but I know this about you, is like, we want people to get better. We want people to not be in this space where their life is just miserable and they’re alone and they have no way out and they have no hope. We want to present a whole lot of ideas because we don’t want anybody to be in that spot. And so if sometimes we might talk about a subject that’s uncomfortable or something that we’re not even endorsing ourselves, again, it’s all with the idea that we want help for everybody, all different kinds of people.

    Ashley Loeb Blassingame:

    Yep, there’s a place to evolve on topics. Sometimes we don’t evolve until we have to, right? It’s like, okay, this is now a relevant topic to my life, and now is a time for me to evolve. I’m not going to go out and find topics to evolve on, typically. There’s plenty of work to do right here, so that’s often how it happens. And so here are resources for people to come back and look at and think about. But again, I do say having black and white thinking can serve many of us very well, and it’s important to have a strategy with that, and I think that it’s great to know what works for you and to hold onto that, especially when it comes to topics that are this serious. It is life and death for many and most of us, so I understand and respect it. And also we have to be willing to admit that there is gray in the world and for other people, and that the true goal is not to be with the most time in a program.

    The true goal is to be happy and healthy. That’s the true goal. It’s not to win the sobriety award by white-knuckling days together. That is not why I got sober, and I have to sometimes remind myself of that fact. I’m here to be healthy and happy, not to have some sort of award or ego recognition, not being the coolest person in your 12-step program. On that note, my dear friends, we will see you next time. As always, you can reach out to us at podcast@lionrock.life, that’s the email, podcast@lionrock.life. We love to hear from you. Please feel free to send in questions, and we are happy to do Q&As on them, and let us know what you think. All right. We’ll see you next time.

    This podcast is sponsored by Lionrock.life. Lionrock.life is a diverse and supportive recovery community offering weekly over 70 online peer-support meetings, useful recovery information, and entertaining content. Whether you’re newly sober, have many years in recovery, or you’re recovering from something other than drugs and alcohol, we have space for you. Visit www.lionrock.life today and enter promo code, courage, for one month of unlimited peer-support meetings free. Find the joy in recovery at Lionrock.life.

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