Old Habits Die Hard.

I’ve read that you can form a new habit by consistently focusing on it for 21 consecutive days. I want to immediately say it’s not true because if it was, surely I should have aced my recovery months ago? Maybe it is, or maybe it can only be applied to small changes not the big life altering ones. In a way, I wish it was possible to overcome my challenges in 21 days and yet, at the same time, I don’t.

Recovery is about so much more than forming new habits. It’s about creating a lifestyle that promotes long term happiness instead of forming habits which are much more likely to be of passing interest. It’s about growing day by day, month by month and year by year. I’m like a child, I learned to crawl before I could stand and I’m learning to walk before I can run. Kids learn those things in the first 12-24 months of their life and I’m on a similar developmental timeline as them just on a completely different scale. If I shortened my recovery to 21 days I would miss out on a whole world of pain, emptiness and terror and get rid of my yo-yo of emotions. Which sounds great, actually it sounds wonderful, but how much knowledge would I lose by doing that too? Everyday I’m learning more about myself, the world, how to manage difficulties, how to interact with people, how to fight when I’m exhausted, how to pursue my goals, how to love myself. I learn from reading, from talking and from actively doing. Imagine how much I’d lose out on if I didn’t have the time to learn it. How much could I cram into 21 days that would have a lasting effect on my entire life? Knowledge is power and some of the most important lessons come from experiences that are hardest to deal with.

Recovery is also about breaking old habits and we all know it’s harder to relearn something properly than it is to fix something you think you already know. It’s not possible to relearn a lifetime of thinking in 21 days. For me, I didn’t even know I had bad habits at first. Then I didn’t know how many I had. Then I didn’t realise how engrained they were. That on its own has taken months to recognise and start to change. And boy do I have a lot to change. Sometimes when I realise something else I just want to scream ‘are you kidding me?!‘ because my list is so long. How can I not have realised how detrimental my lifestyle was- that whole you can’t see the wood for the tress scenario is all too apparent when you’re analysing your life. It’s all worth it when I start to make those little breakthroughs though. My favourite moment ever in recovery has also been what I think is my biggest breakthrough (although I’ve no idea if it is actually a big deal) and, surprisingly, it was a moment where I was rendered speechless. No epiphany or sinking realisation, just a moment of peaceful bliss in my mind. A tiny piece of clarity. A calm before a storm. That I managed to hold onto for all of 30 seconds mind you.

-An aside to help you understand that moment. I am a person who gets by in life by considering the worst possible scenario of every situation or moment and fixating on it. I worry about it, cry about it, get the shakes, sweat, don’t sleep, have nightmares. You name it I do it. Maybe I’ll break my neck or end up paralysed. Whatever it is, it’s the least ever probable outcome that’s realistically not going to happen. (So if you’re ever doing a risk assessment and run out of ideas of things that could happen I’m your person). In counselling when I’m worked up Declan will ask me, calm as you like, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ At first I’d give him a barrage of things, I wouldn’t be able to stop listing them. He would make one irrelevant and another would pop up. Eventually I started holding back a little, I would pause because I knew he was waiting for me to decide which things on my list I’d name and I didn’t know whether to say them or just let them go. But genuine fears come out so I would always go on. Then one session Declan asked again ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’… I didn’t know. My mind was completely blank and I have never been so shocked or speechless in my life. I’m pretty sure I was gaping like a fish trying to process it. Then I started looking for something, frantically thinking there must be, must be, something awful that can happen. I came up with nothing and eventually when I admitted ‘I don’t know’ I couldn’t stop laughing. That moment represented my first true taste of freedom from the prison I’d created and it was amazing! Now, I can’t remember what I was worked up about but that moment when I had no fears, that 30 second response to a simple question, that has fuelled me since. I crave it. I can’t explain the pure joy that moment gave me. I have permanently stored that wonderful feeling and it has never failed to make me smile or laugh whenever I remember it.-

The post hasn’t gone the way I’d intended but I’m glad I just went with it because when I started writing I felt the complete opposite to how I do right now. I was exhausted and struggling to see the bright side after a troubling few days. I didn’t want to keep pushing forward and had lost my momentum. I was feeling extremely confused and lost about what to do next and what to focus on. Now I’m feeling happy again. Not a euphoric ready to go, you can’t stop me, I’m bouncing off the walls feeling that I sometimes get when I have energy but a genuine warms you from the inside out happiness. That’s what’s this is about, that’s what recovery is about and that’s why it makes all the trials 100% worth it. That moment is a tiny snapshot of my life but I appreciate it more than I ever would have had I not experienced the same lead up to it. It shows how tiny changes can make massive differences. It shows why getting rid of all those old habits is crucial to successfully overcoming my mental health challenges. And this post has made me aware of something else…that when I’m having bad days I’m still falling back onto those bad habits and making it harder for myself. Damn you brain. It’s time I ninja kicked these old habits to the curb and left them there, to whither and die…because old habits die hard.

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