Your past may have influenced where you are today, but where you want to be tomorrow is up to you. No matter when, how, or why you started using or abusing drugs, at one point it became a learned behavior. You may have learned about drugs in your own family. For some, a family member may have turned you on or used with you. For others, you may have tried to escape feelings or memories that brought you to a place you didn’t want to be and self- medicating became easier. Even with the innocence of having fun with friends, it still can become a bad habit that leads to addiction that could destroy your life. Most importantly, anyone can change bad habits; because anything learned can be unlearned.
While bad habits may be hard to break, good choices are not as difficult as we sometimes make them. Imagine a dog accidently trapped in the trunk of a car. No matter how short the trip was, the dog, if given a choice, would never want to go in a car again. There would be no denial it was a bad experience; one he would not want to relive again. Yet, even if you had a bad experience or a major consequence at any time during your use, why would you ever use again? The “Boiled Frog Syndrome” may shed some light. If a frog was placed in boiling hot water, it would leap out immediately. Intellectually, the frog knows he is in a bad place. He does not want to feel the pain. He is aware of the consequences of staying. However, if the frog doesn’t jump, it will acclimate to the temperature. As the temperature continues to rise, it adjusts to the heat no matter how painful. Eventually the frog boils to death. This is similar to addiction. Regardless of the consequences, staying builds tolerance. The more you tolerate, the more you use, and the longer you stay. Denial keeps you trapped. You ignore the warning signs and problems that come with continuing to engage in drug use. Ultimately, it’s too late. Many describe this as their “rock bottom.”
In order to change a behavior, you must first change your attitude toward it. You must acknowledge that you have the problem and how it has impacted your life. In my book, “Directions: Your Roadmap to Happiness”, I discuss the ABCs of Life.
• A is Attitude (Your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and interpretations) •
B is Behavior (Your reactions, responses and behaviors)
• C are choices (Decisions you make and the consequences of those choices)
If your perception is you are not addicted, you will continue to use in spite of the problems your using causes. Your faulty thoughts, feelings and interpretations will keep you stuck in denial. Conversely, if you hit rock bottom and are not in denial, you’ll seek help. Changing your attitude will help you change your behavior and the quality of your life. Your attitude can ultimately lead you to addiction or recovery. When you are in denial, your thoughts, feelings, perceptions and interpretations are distorted. The longer you engage in self-defeating behaviors, the more you train your brain that your chemical use is a viable option in your life. In reality, if you are addicted, you are not choosing any options. The drug has control. You may be powerless over your chemical addiction, but you are not powerless over the choice to use or not to use. Your brain works like a computer. It stores memory and connects links together. When you continue to use, everything you do while using becomes connected and natural. Not using creates anxiety and overwhelming feelings. The brain looks for normalcy. Unfortunately, for the addict, normalcy keeps you trapped in your addiction. Recovery is possible but you must be willing to change the way you perceive your life and the choices you make.
Before you can successfully stop the behavior you must retrain your brain to think, feel, interpret and perceive things and situations differently. I recommend the following simple steps to stop those self-defeating behaviors:
• First, “Recognize you have a problem and decide what to do about it.” Just like the first step of Alcoholics Anonymous, you must admit you are powerless over a chemical and your life is unmanageable. Now that you acknowledge you have a problem, take responsibility to do something about it. Make sobriety your number one priority. Abstain from all chemicals. Remember one drink/drug is too much, because one is never enough.
• Second, “Own your behavior” Be honest with yourself. Be aware that denial is a road to relapse. Admit you can’t do it alone. Don’t blame anyone or anything for the choices you have made.
• Third, “Take responsibility for the behavior.” Make a conscious choice to stay sober. Seek professional help, attend AA meetings and find a sponsor. Look up and read about addiction. Reprogram your brain by avoiding old hangouts and old friends who use. Find healthy alternatives to deal with the urges of using.
• Fourth, “Try to understand your feelings.” Talk to others who struggle with addiction. Journal your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Make an appointment with a therapist.
• Fifth, “Stop the behavior immediately.” By now, you should have already begun to reprogram your brain that you have alternatives. Stop all use. No excuses. There will never be a good reason to use. Nothing is worth losing your sobriety over. Don’t give in to urges. Get rid of all paraphernalia.
Chemical addiction is a disease. You may not have caused it, but you are responsible to find a way to treat it. Abstinence is the first step. You may be powerless over chemicals, but remember you are not powerless over making the choice to use or not to use. If you struggle with problems from your past, you do not have to let them have power over you in the present. Do not let anyone dictate the direction your life will move in the future. There was a banner in church that I found quite profound. It simply said: “God’s gift to you is life. Your gift to Him is how you live it. Stay sober and live a happier and healthier life.”
Carol Bettino is in private practice in Prescott Valley, Arizona. She is the author of “Better Choices, Better Life” and “Directions: Your Roadmap to Happiness”. She is an Adjunct Faculty Instructor at Northern Arizona University-Yavapai and Yavapai Community College. Follow her blog: directionsaroadmaptohappiness.blogspot.com