Change can be hard. Once you get used to thinking, believing and acting a certain way, anything else is tough at best and unimaginable at worst. But one day it's time to make a U-turn where you're used to a hard right. Don't look back. You might get salty.
I have a client whose husband one day, many years ago now, quit drinking and drugs just out of the blue. There was no lead up. There was no hitting rock bottom. He never attended an AA meeting. He doesn't talk about it. He's never lapsed. He's never relapsed. He just looked around his junky apartment one day when coming out of stupor, and he said, "is this what I want my life to be?"
Now it could be said that he didn't spend enough time examining his pathology. He didn't face the underlying cause. But in some ways, a lot of ways, he's better off because of it. He never accepted a label of "alcoholic," "drug addict," "loser," "piece of trash." So he never had to run from the label. He never had to look back at the label. He never had to think he was an unchangeable X. He just moved forward, one foot in front of the other.
I think this is a critical piece of the ancient Hebrew story about Lot's wife. Following divine ordinance, she's fled her old life. But she looks back and is turned to a pillar of salt. You can't say the feeling isn't familiar. If you look back on an old time, an old you, a mistaken place, you can feel the saltiness. It's unsettling. And what place have you, thinking about a road you've deliberately chosen not to travel?
I like to picture any repeated thought or behavior as a trail through a thicketed woods. As more and more traffic travels that same trail it gets worn very smooth. There are no more vines in the way, no more logs in the path, no more brush to remove. It's open, unimpeded and free. Picture a superhighway where there once was the first wagon creaking and thunking over frontier grasslands. The same thing happens with the action potentials in your brain. Over time, as you travel that same trail, it becomes virtually effortless for your brain to run the same sequence. To think or behave a certain way becomes as flowingly easy as your most familiar trip to work, school, or your favorite hangout. Sometimes you arrive and aren't even sure how you got there - it's so easy. It's like reading that last sentence. You don't even think about the word "sometimes," let alone the s sound, o sound, m sound, e sound, t sound, i sound, m sound, e sound or adding them together and then interpreting the meaning. In an instant you read the first three words of that sentence as a unit and fit them into the context of the ensuing sentence. It's preconscious. It's habit.
Every moment of every day the vast majority of our responses are pre-programmed to be instantaneous and require very little energy. So when the time comes to think, believe, act or behave a different way... ugh, it's like a badly plotted city construction detour. It takes longer. It's less efficient. It's frustrating. It's angering. It's not natural. It's not fair. It's not right. It's not good. It's just wrong. It just shouldn't be that way. It can even feel like you're going to die. It hurts. It's an affront to your very identity. It's a breech of your rights. It's the worst thing imaginable. It's unconscionable.
But in some cases, it's the only way out. If that's the case, the worst possible thing you can do is look back, longing for the way you once lived, lusting for the easy road you've decided not to take, hoping for some justification to run the same neural circuit you know so well.
I recently heard a speaker make a very good point about temptation. We are a temptation-heavy culture. After all, we're capitalists, the best darn ones who've ever existed on planet earth. Making capital hinges on temptation. Heck, advertising is little more than a tempting allure. But to be tempted is not the same as giving in. Watching a Coca Cola commercial is not the same as drinking a refreshing Coke. But it is tempting. As such, if you don't want to drink Coke anymore, maybe you shouldn't even subject yourself to temptation either. If you are committed to turning from Coke, you've got to commit to turning from the temptation of Coke too.
It sounds extreme, I know. But the extreme can become the every day. It's just another trail to mow down. Yeah, it's uncomfortable. But it'll become effortless. In my household, we don't fight temptation when grocery shopping anymore. Being gluten free is preconscious. There's no internal conflict purchasing only fresh food. It's become the worn path. It's become the easy trail. Now, it's hard to make some of the wrong nutritional choices, because they've become so unfamiliar. When people tell me they had bread, or pasta, or beer, I just say, "they still make that?". It's partly a joke. But I kinda mean it.
Unfortunately most people aren't going to help you turn your back on your old life. We tend to vilify the dieter among us. We tend not to abstain from alcohol when our friends are struggling with addiction. There's some sort of social premium on accusingly stating "I don't understand why you...". More effort is put into "I don't understand how..." as a debate device than in actually trying to understand people.
We tend to say "be who you are" to those of us grappling with change. It's a nonsensical statement by the way. No one IS anything. Like a river, we are constantly flowing, changing, widening or thinning in spots, getting deeper or shallower here and there, smoothing rocks or pulling off sediment. You are always becoming, but never are.
I don't say this as some sort of transcendental hokum. It's true. Every moment you are sloughing off dead cells, making new replacements. Outside of a few exceptions (I.e. - neurons in the cerebral cortex, some heart cells, etc.) there isn't a cell currently in your body that existed ten years ago, nor one that will exist in another ten years. So what exactly are you labeling? Nothing permanent. Nothing more than a process which can be changed this instant. Nothing more than a trail which will be different one day in the future, just as it didn't exist one day in the past. And the new “you” need no longer be salty.
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