The day I decided to stop using drugs was not a particularly special day.
It was sometime in the summer of 2006 on a not so remarkable evening.
Nothing earth-shattering had happened during my day. No drama at work or in my relationship at the time.
I was sitting in my room getting high.
I looked around me at my surroundings, and decided I had had enough.
Why was it that I always had money for drugs but not enough to pay my bills?
Why was all of my self-medicating leaving me not only poorer but less fulfilled in every aspect of my life?
Literally, nothing in my life had improved as a result of my self-destructive tendencies. Everything in one way, shape or form had deteriorated.
As the adage goes: Change occurs when you finally get tired of your own bullshit.
And I was tired.
Tired of suffering and feeling the need to self-medicate and alienate myself from others as a result of it.
I don’t have a lot of clients who share my background of drug abuse, but that number is growing. I am now helping more and more who are in recovery, whether the drug of choice was alcohol or substances.
But many of my clients come to me because they’re tired of suffering.
Suffering that comes from coping with things like stress through emotional overeating or coping through various cycles of binge, purge, repeat.
And to watch people suffer is no luxury.
To be the coach to someone who is trying to break these chains is a tightrope walk that alternates between immensely gratifying and genuinely traumatic.
The premise is still the same. You may be hoping for a dramatic, life-changing catalyst that snaps you back to reality and gives you control over your eating habits.
But that may not come.
You may experience the death of someone close to you or your doctor tells you that your bloodwork confirms that you are now at risk of “insert syndrome or condition here.”
Your catalyst for change will likely have to come from within.
You will have to get tired of your own bullshit.
You will be lucky if someone you care about and trust actually calls you out on that bullshit.
I had people in my life like that but I was unwilling to listen because I didn’t think I had a problem. My justification was that I saw people who were involved in far less who were dead, incarcerated, or were basically vegetables. That hadn’t happened to me, so it was easy to assume I was getting through unscathed.
But that was not the reality.
Our ability to sabotage ourselves comes at a price. I look back on an entire decade of drug abuse, depression, co-dependency and infidelities and ask “What the hell was I thinking?”
My clients ask themselves something similar but for different reasons:
“Why do I continue to do this to myself?”
It’s not my place to answer that. It is my place to inspire your change.
I will say that for some people, therapy may be an avenue worth considering. If you have decades of self-abuse through food or repeated cycles of what you qualify as depression or the “blues” (seasonal or otherwise) you may need the help of a trained professional.
For me, I’ve had to continue to nurture some healthier steps to keep my mind in a better and more productive place.
- Find an outlet. By time I stopped using drugs, I was already exercising regularly. It had not quite taken hold of me the way that is in my life now. Contrary to the belief of some, I don’t exercise because I love it. I exercise because it’s a necessity. I make my training something that is enjoyable enough that I stick with it and reap the benefits over time. I do not expect dramatic overnight results and I play the long game with my training. In other words, I want to be able to workout for my whole life. Being able to do so requires sustainable workouts. Reading, writing, listening to and playing music have also been mainstays for me. If I didn’t have an outlet, it would have been easy to fall back into patterns where I had nothing to look forward to except the next drug.
- Pick new playmates. It didn’t happen immediately but I had to start finding people who were also clean and not using. The lure and the attraction of drugs was constantly present so I had to draw some hard lines that those particular behaviors were off the table. If you’re struggling with certain food behaviors, this may require you eliminating certain foods/drinks from the home and talking to your social circle (family, co-workers) about your respective struggle. Be explicit with your needs. Explain that there is an area of your life where you have a found a vulnerability. You will need their help to conquer it. These conversations can be difficult to have because many people do not like admitting their weaknesses. If your obstacle is with food, we know that food is a necessity so it has to be available for our survival but it may have to be controlled in a way that helps us not harms us. For me personally, I had to put clear distance between 95% of the people who were in my life at that time. Being not only linked to them but linked to certain environments bred an atmosphere that made me want to continue the previous behaviors until I made the step to turn away.
- Stop playing the victim. There were a lot of places I could point my frustrations in life when I finally stopped doing drugs. I could (and did) blame my fiancee (at the time), my job stress, the traumatic events of my childhood, etc. I could find anyone around me to say “You’re the reason I behave this way.” But that was delusional. We are in charge of our decisions. We choose how to react to circumstances. When you feel the empowering change of admitting, “I am in control of this” you will take the steps to change your situation. There will always be a situation where the pattern of self-destruction seems like an easy thing to fall back into because it is what you are accustomed to. This takes time and effort to undo and prevent.
- Let no one steal your power. Wherever you are in life, you are there for a reason. You have survived by luck, sheer will, stubbornness, or by determination. Start with that. Realize that you have the capacity for success but you need a pattern of seeing success work for you. Celebrate your little victories. In many ways, the “one day at a time” approach of 12-step programs has it right. Focus on the day you’re in, not the day behind you (which cannot change) or the day ahead of you (which is too far in the future to influence with 100% accuracy.) Toxic people, life traumas, circumstances which are wildly out of our control will constantly be in our life. Manage these areas with humility, compassion and understanding but with clear boundaries. If you can’t manage these boundaries, someone else will manage them for you. This is where things go awry.
- Know that you’re in this for the long haul. I spent ten years in a self-proclaimed “love affair” with drugs. I have been clean for twelve years. It is still my (un)natural tendency to temporarily lose my sense of self-worth when things go wrong. I am okay with that. I am okay being a work in progress. I accept failing at certain things at certain times. I have tools to succeed and I use them. I expect many years of life to come and I want to get better over time at using my success tools. They are not formed by wealth or material things (although sometimes I like to tell myself they are.) No matter how many years of self-defeating cycles you have repeated, you are capable (and worthy) of change.
You are worth more than the struggles you suffer through.
You are worth more than the people who have discouraged you from progress have led you to believe. This goes for parents, children, friends and anyone else who has made you feel less than adequate.
You are worth more than your diet.
You are worth more than your dietary misgivings.
You have a gift of life.
You have a gift of seeing yourself succeed because no decent human being ever wants to celebrate the feeling of failing at life and at health.
Stop suffering. Change begins with you.
“We Make Great People Greater”