I have stopped smoking, stopping drinking alcohol, stopped gambling, stopped taking drugs, stopped eating rubbish and stopped watching pornography. My life structure is stronger as a result of each of these choices; but each choice came with a sacrifice, each road carried with it several obstacles that were determined to stop me dead in my tracks.
You may know these obstacles as relapse. A word that is banded about when people struggle to create a consistent approach to the creation of new and improved habits. Relapse is an exceptionally important part of the process of creating positive change in your life. If you are capable of moving a destructive habit so far into the back of your mind that it loses it’s ability to see; then all power to you. For the rest of us there is relapse.
Let’s not hide. Let’s not play the game of let’s pretend. Instead let’s acknowledge that relapse is a crucial part of the recovery process. Let’s meet it head on, shake its hand and welcome it into our life.
I stopped smoking when my son was born. I didn’t smoke for years. Then one day, when I was drunk, I smoked a small Arabic type cigar that someone had brought back from an overseas trip. For a few weeks I would smoke these disgusting things; each time when I was drunk, and I would use the excuse that they were not cigarettes, to help re-enforce my decision to quit smoking in the first place. It was barmy. Then I stopped drinking, ran out of Arabic cigarettes and haven’t smoked since.
So what happened?
I believe that my lifestyle structure was not strong enough to support my decision to stop smoking. As long as I continued to drink alcohol I was an addict waiting for an opportunity to fall into the pit. I also learned a lot about my relapse. I was able to observe what I was doing from a completely different standpoint (when I had finally sobered up). It re-enforced my initial belief that cigarettes offered me zero benefits and created a stronger pain signal when I thought of smoking.
When I initially gave up drinking I remember sharing a bottle of wine with my ex-wife during a wedding anniversary. I was scared that our evening would have been spoilt if I allowed my ex wife to drink on her own. Then a few years later when we split up and got divorced I fell in love with another woman. I was feeling very unattractive and possessed very low self-esteem. I know that I am not the life and soul of the party and this worried me as I thought my new woman would leave me. So I started to drink. It lasted a few months before my son woke me out of my stupor. That relapse was the greatest thing that has ever happened to me; even better than the first time I stopped drinking. That was over two years ago and I haven’t let one drop pass my lips.
So what happened?
I was not prepared for the trauma of divorce. Suddenly, alcohol had a benefit for me. I thought that it would make me more interesting. It seems ridiculous now, but that’s exactly what happened.
When I originally gave up drinking over four years ago I had a crippling gambling problem. I built up a debt of around £30k before I decided that I had a problem that may need complete abstention. I stopped gambling the day that I stopped drinking, although I continued to play poker. I told myself that poker was a game of skill and that I could control that area of my life.
I have spent the past fortnight working at the World Series of Poker (WSOP) in Las Vegas. My friends came over to stay for a week and I played poker with them. I lost control. I lost money that I didn’t have and lost a little self-respect. I scared myself because I saw a glimpse of the man who created a £30k debt.
I have decided to stop playing poker. I can’t control it. So I don’t want it in my life.
So what happened?
When I originally stopped gambling four years ago I didn’t make a fundamental choice to quit. Instead, I just made a choice, and there is a huge gulf between the two. Today, I am making a fundamental choice not to allow gambling to control any part of my life. There will be no more poker.
If you read my blog and feel the inspiration to change, then you need to know that it’s difficult. Our mind will try everything in its power to get back to the old way of being. Those habits are so strong, so powerful and so full of pleasurable memories that the pull because magnetic.
But that’s ok. Don’t be so hard on yourself if you relapse. What is important is how you behave once you have relapsed. You can take one of two doors. You can walk through the one marked ‘past’ and go back to the way things were. If you take this route you will quickly forget everything you have learned, you will start to believe your old excuses for keeping your life in the grip of destructive habits and you will foolishly believe you can control those demons who once walked all over your soul.
Alternatively, you can walk through the door marked ‘future.’ You can accept that you will make mistakes, and as long as you learn from them and continually improve as a result of the experience then it’s all good. You don’t get special points for not drinking for four years as opposed to two. This isn’t the AA…there isn’t a running count.
Relapse is perfectly normal. It is a part of the process when you decide to try and create a better habit standing in front of the destructive one that has been ruling your life. It’s a good thing. It helps you grow stronger and wiser, just make sure, the next time it happens, that you walk through the right door.
Leave the past where it is, it’s gone, and remember how devastating it was to be controlled by it.
When was the last time you had a relapse? Please share your experience with the NeedyHelper.
Photo courtesy of h.koppdelaney cc @flickr.com