What is the Fading Affect Bias?
Simply put the Fading Affect Bias, or FAB as phycologist call it, refers to the way your brain will forget or fade memories associated with unpleasant emotions faster than memories associated with pleasant emotions.
Your brain’s ability to dampen a negative memory over time is a great coping mechanism but it can be a problem for the newly sober. What happens if you need to remember the bad drinking days to avoid relapsing?
Not being able to remember in full detail a moment which has caused you trauma, will help your brain protect its self and remain positive and healthy.
The Fading Affect Bias does not mean you will forget the moment but rather in time you will not remember it so vividly. Painful memories will recede more quickly allowing you to cope better over time and move on.
I think this is fascinating and explains why, as human beings, we are able to survive and overcome many of life’s atrocities.
However, there is a downside to the Fading Affect Bias. What happens when you rely on the unpleasant memories so you don’t make the same mistake again?
Fading Affect Bias and Sobriety
When you first quit drinking the Fading Affect Bias can cause you to forget how terrible your drinking was and question whether quitting was necessary. Especially if you are also missing friends or feeling like you are missing out due to your decision to quit.
Fading Affect Bias can make you think “I wasn’t that bad”
Fading Affect Bias will distort your memories leaving you remembering the good old days without any of the negative painful details. Of course, you will still remember the hangovers, annoying your friends or losing your phone for the hundredth time.
Yet what will fade is the negative emotions associated with these moments. The regret, shame and anxiety you felt after drinking will no longer be as painful. It will become harder and harder to remember why you decided to stop drinking and easier and easier to wonder if drinking again might be a good idea.
How to Overcome Fading Affect Bias in Sobriety
Fading Affect Bias can last anything from 12 hours to 3 months. However, just being aware that it exists and that it distorts your perceptions will be really helpful to you.
Many people benefit from attending AA meetings because these meetings are a chance to share, or hear other people share their drinking stories. Remembering how bad alcohol affected your life and keeping that story alive can help stop or reduce the Fading Affect Bias.
If AA isn’t your thing, that’s fine but connecting with people who understand the lies alcohol tell us is really beneficial. You can try online support through private Facebook Groups or follow inspirational sober folk on Instagram. You can check out people’s sober blogs on WordPress or read my sober diary from the beginning here.
Other ways to overcome the Fading Affect Bias is to write down all the reasons why you decided to quit drinking in the first place.
Write down why you weren’t happy with your drinking. Did it cause arguments, did you lie, hide alcohol or do other things you later regretted?
How did it made you feel? Anxious, shameful, sad? Write it all down and keep it somewhere safe, but accessible, so when you start feeling nostalgic about the ‘good ol’ days’ you can read your reasons for quitting and hold strong in your sobriety.
Craving alcohol is completely normal and remember it does pass. Nevertheless, when you start to romanticise about drinking alcohol or you’re just finding sobriety hard, it helps to speak to someone about how you are feeling or re-read your reasons for quitting.
Doing this will help give you clarity and re-affirm your decision to quit which will reduce the Fading Affect Bias.
Fading Affect Bias allows painful memories to fade faster than happy memories.
This is useful when we need to heal from a traumatic event, such as the loss of a loved one but it becomes problematic when we rely on the negative memories to stay sober and not go back to drinking.
When the Fading Affect Bias allows your memories to fade to the point where you decide drinking is a good idea or the good drinking memories out way the bad. It’s time to take action.
You need to remember why drinking is not a good idea for you. Write down why you decided to give up drinking. Include everything, every little shameful, upsetting detail. No one is going to see it. This is just for you. Include how it made you feel. Anxious, sick, depressed, no energy, self-loathing, regret?
Craving alcohol is normal, especially in the early days or when you feel you’re missing out somehow.
When it becomes too difficult and you start to romanticise your drinking days, get out your list of reasons and remind yourself why you gave up in the first place.
Having this clarity with help stop the cravings and overcome the Fading Affect Bias.
Other things you can do to reduce the Fading Affect Bias or stop a craving is to connect with other sober people by sharing your story or read/comment on theirs.
You can meet other sober people who ‘get it’ at AA or online via WordPress, Facebook or Instagram etc. Alternatively drop me an email at email@example.com.
Remember Your Why