The Art of Reframe-Knowing Where to Put Your Head

By Ken Wells - 04/06/2021


Series Two: Blog Eighteen

You are not Your Thoughts” —Unknown

Experiences in life that create great pain can only be transcended through the power of reframing the reality of life. People who endure hardship, physical pain, or who are tortured by the grip of addiction learn to reframe their condition in life.

Long-distance ultra-marathon runners experience excruciating pain in the process of completing their journey. They learn to embrace the pain that comes from pounding their joints while running many miles. I have listened to those who have experienced the ritual of a Sweat lodge needing to manage the intense suffocating heat through reframing their thoughts. In his book The Spirit of Healing, Lewis Mehl-Medrona, who has led countless Sweat lodge ceremonies, writes that to make the sweat lodge tradition meaningful “you must know where to put your head”. Pain and discomfort trigger panic, dread, impatience and drudgery. Managing these life experiences requires learning the skill of reframing.

Addiction cravings can be this way. When cravings begin, many addicts feel fear, panic, and great anxiety sealed with haunting shame. It initiates a compelling urge to run and to avoid what seems to be impending doom based on past failure from powerful urges to act out. However, the goal is to reframe or to “know where to put your head”.  Through learning reparenting skills an addict can recognize vulnerability when cravings begin to build, remove themselves from high risk, recognize the legitimate need that must be met through healthy response, and then activate healthy intervention, communication and support. This recovery skill requires the art of reframing life circumstance.

Addicts and their partners must learn to manage the fear of triggers and cravings that are inevitable with addiction recovery. This can be achieved through practicing the skill of reframing. This is true for both addict and partner. Often, the partner wants to control the addict’s response to triggers and cravings through policing the addict’s behaviors and addict thoughts. Seldom is this effective. If anything, it adds to the increased cravings that result from added stressful triggers of being scrutinized and monitored by the partner. Letting go of what you cannot control is required for both in order to effectively engage recovery. Learning the art of reframing helps both the addict and partner in the practice of letting go.

Where we get stuck: Soren Kierkegaard once wrote that “life is meant to be lived forward but can only be understood backward”. Hindsight always helps improve our vision of experience. Often, we look back and see how over-reactive we had been or cues we missed and mistakes we made. We tell ourselves that we will correct our errors and move forward to face another day. However, addicts often do not do this. Our best-laid plans create the mess we are in and it would make sense to reframe and do something different. But, we don’t! We simply keep doing the same thing again and again—producing the same result.

Listed are some common life experiences that addicts stumble and struggle to reframe.


Many things trigger a bad attitude. A foul mood is a common experience for an addict in recovery. Waking up with a bad attitude triggered by a foul mood is common. Addicts try to shift from a bad attitude to a positive attitude by reframing life experience and creating action to do the next right thing.

Victim Posture:

Shit happens! It’s true, not just for addicts but for everyone! At times everybody wallows in victim posture. Addicts struggle to adjust their thinking from negative mistaken beliefs to empowered positive thought. Wallowing in the mud of victim posture triggers a slippery slide toward relapse for most addicts.

Closed hearted living:

Disappointment and fear of failure trigger an addict to pull away and shut down. Addicts become dominated by fear of failure and tend to focus on outcomes. In recovery, an addict must battle to keep their heart open. A closed heart will fuel pessimism and harbor shame. Fear of rejection and abandonment triggers an addict to close their heart.

Oppressive conditions:

Oppression fuels addictive response. Social conditions that promote power over others is painful and unsustainable for healthy human response. Addicts who find themselves in an oppressed position with family and society struggle with the skill of reframing because their life experience is fraught with social domination.


Life isn’t fair nor just! Particularly if you are an addict who has been incarcerated. Even more so, if you are an addict who is a minority or a female. Coping with positions and conditions of life that are stacked against you makes it very difficult to reframe a world colored without you in it.


You may not consider yourself political but every drug addict is greatly affected by the political will of legislators. The war on drugs has demonized addicts. Draconian prison sentencing has put people in cages who are not violent. Politically, we have disparaged some addictive behaviors while applauding others. Addicts struggle to sift and sort through societal bias while at the same time cultivating reframing skills necessary to manage life effectively.

Helpful Reframing Skills:

The good news is that every addict has the capacity to reframe life experience. One person described reframing as “the capacity to focus on the best part of the party for me”. Reframing is a skill set that creates amazing results! Here are a few helpful suggestions toward cultivating this important skill.

Cultivate a culture of empowerment:

This can involve every aspect of your life. Empowerment affects your language. Catch yourself using self-references that are self-denigrating. Learn to use language that only builds you up with respect and dignity. Carry yourself with dignity and pride. Look at your world with the expectation of being treated with dignity. When others don’t treat you this way, refuse to give your power away to someone who manifests a lesser energy. Organize your personal space that expresses who you are. Create rituals, traditions, and symbols that surround you to remind you that you are an unrepeatable miracle of God. Don’t let anyone rob you of your personal power. If you do, circle back and reclaim your power and center yourself in your own sense of awareness. Many things condition a culture of personal empowerment. All of them require a dedication to practice.

Commit to not personalizing what others think, say or do toward you:

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” People tend to magnify problems and think others are more focused on their mistakes than they really are. When people over-react or you think they have hurt your feelings, it is easy to personalize and conclude it is all about you. In his book The Four Agreements, Don Miguel-Ruiz argues that what other people think, say or do is never about you. Embracing this reality is a skillset that will powerfully assist you in maintaining your perspective on life. Don’t worry, no one is perfect in doing this. However, in practicing to not personalize, you will increase your expertise in reframing skills.

Focus on what you can control:

You cannot control how other people act, respond, or think about you. What you can control is what you think about. You can interrupt compulsive craving thoughts. You can catch yourself empowering a negative belief about yourself and act on a positive belief that you choose to embrace. You can act on what you choose to affirm about you. When you make a mistake and lapse (drift into high-risk behaviors) or relapse, you don’t have to wallow in the mud of self-criticism created by your failure. You don’t have to beat yourself up. You can recognize the destructive thought or action as an aberration to who you are and step back to center with an open heart. This component toward successful reframing requires commitment to training.

Cocoon yourself and renew your visions of who you are and where you are headed:

Tests, trials and tribulations in life have a way of eating at the core of your soul. Cocooning is a way of taking a temporary time out in life. It is a process of blocking out the pressures and responsibilities of every day. It involves the self-care of your soul, replenishing your energies and renewing your vision of who you are and fine-tunes the course of your life. It creates the emotional, physical, and spiritual energy that you will need to reframe life experience and get your head where it needs to be. Addicts must tolerate and embrace unwanted feelings and address daily destructive thoughts. Getting your head where it needs to be is a reframing skillset that is often overlooked in early recovery. Those who have experienced long-term sobriety and serenity have humbly endorsed and engaged this powerful skillset.

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