Become a member of Allies in Recovery and we’ll teach you how to intervene, communicate and guide your loved one toward treatment.Become a member of Allies in Recovery today.

Cows Do It With Grass, We Do It With Thoughts

woman worrying on side of bed at night

If you were a cow, you would have a four-part stomach. Much of your day would be about eating. And part of your unique digestive process would involve ruminating: the process of bringing back up what’s already been chewed and swallowed, in order to chew and swallow it some more.

But you are a human being, with just one stomach, and probably way more worries than a typical cow. When we humans ruminate, we do so with thoughts. We do with our thoughts what cows do with grass they’ve already eaten. We hold on tight to our thoughts. We turn them over and over and around and around. We don’t let go. Even when those very thoughts are causing us added suffering.

In Beyond Addiction*, a guide to CRAFT for families, the authors encourage us to pay special attention to what’s happening in our minds.

It’s perfectly normal and human to tend toward repetitive thinking. Especially when your personal situation is stressful and complicated. But ruminating can make things harder for us. Beyond Addiction’s authors suggest we ask ourselves: “Am I ruminating or am I problem-solving?”

If you are problem-solving, it will feel new and refreshing and productive. When you experience this type of thinking, by all means ride the wave. There may be things you want to jot down so you can continue working them out.

But, as the authors point out,

“…if you see that you are replaying the same event or running through the same string of frightening possibilities in a loop, then use that awareness to consciously move your thoughts in a different direction.”

I know that moving your thinking in a different direction is easier said than done. But I assure you, it most certainly IS possible! Rather than trying to erase your thoughts or stop thinking, try simply shifting into a different gear.

This is part of self-care, which you hear us talking about a lot. I’m not talking about manucures or mud baths here — though by all means, enjoy those if you can — I am talking about the more daily, minute-to-minute gestures and habits we all need to cultivate, to feel better more of the time.

In Key Observations exercise #20, “Suggestions for Getting Through Hard Times,”  we provide a list and ask you to check off things you can do to distract or soothe yourself, from a list of possibilities. This is just a handful of suggestions. That’s why we’ve left a space for you to keep adding your own ideas.

Whenever you need a reminder of ways to break the cycle of your ruminating, come back to this list. Pick one thing. Take 5 minutes or half an hour and do one of those activities. For each one of us, the list will be different. Mine might include:

  • taking a bath
  • walking my dog
  • lying on my back on a mat and closing my eyes
  • practicing belly breathing
  • writing a letter
  • chopping vegetables
  • swinging on a swing or hammoc
  • singing or dancing to music that lifts my spirits
  • reading aloud to my young child

Your list will be different. The important part is learning to notice when our thoughts are doing us more harm than good. And beginning to take simple steps to reverse that harmful action.

As we practice these ways of feeling better, not only do we benefit greatly. Those around us also begin to enjoy the calmer, more positive atmosphere. Tension drops, communications improve. It’s win-win.

*Beyond Addiction: How Science and Kindness Help People Change — Jeffrey Foote, PhD, Carrie Wilkens, PhD, Nicole Kosante, PhD (see more in The Supplement)


♦  Should you choose to purchase a book we have highlighted here in the Discussion Blog, please know that your purchase will help support the AiR website



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. I love the cow and four stomachs comparison. It not only lightened up my thinking with humor, it also made a lot of real sense and left an image of the cow and processes that will readily came back to mind when/if I ruminate to long or in unhelpful ways. Thank you!