When I was 31 years old, I began to admit that drinking wasn't suiting me. Wine was my evening pleasure and my epicurean joy. It was also moderating my levels of anxiety and letting me detach from uncomfortable feelings. I had wine to celebrate and to relax. While I told myself it was a hobby and not an addiction, it was causing me to spend more money that I felt was reasonable, wake up tired, and perpetuated the anxiety that I had in the first place. Did I want this to be me when I was 70? I wondered at what age I would finally change things.
So I stopped.
Later, I learnt that cold turkey is one of the least successful styles. Changing a habit in isolation of support, others who are also changing that habit, or counselling was hard. There were the new emotions to deal with -- particularly uncomfortable since I hadn't really developed the skills to process them -- and my old social patterns, which meant I enjoyed meeting a friend for a glass of wine. The point being, there were new things to figure out, and I didn't have a mentor or friend who I could ask for guidance from in this step. Now I see that when making a change like this the more you know about the path ahead the better prepared you'll be.
Should you be considering a change in habits, or wondering if you could quit something and see what that was like, there are excellent insights in the book "Unhooked. How to quit anything." by Dr. Frederick Woolverton and Susan Shapiro. It would have been a source of ideas and support for me all those years ago. You'll find a wealth of stories and information about what to expect and what you'll gain back when you take this journey. There's specific advice and years of insight from two people who have both grappled with addictions of their own and from the clients Dr. Woolverton has worked with.
Reading the book more recently helped me re-affirm and look at more of my habits. It's not the things we're doing, but it's the "why" we're doing them. Internet surfing, caffeine, shopping, working long hours... as a society we have many ways to avoid dealing with our emotions. According to a 2015 study, we check our phones on average 85 times a day. Almost half of smartphone users are glued to their screens for more than 5 hours per day. You can check where you fall on this spectrum by setting up the screen time function on your iPhone. Do we really intend for our lives to be like this? Or are there other things that would be more fulfilling?
I'm skipping parts of my story, but since this shift I've since had more energy for hobbies, more hours in the day for highly productive work, and more awareness when uncomfortable feelings arise. It didn't make my anxiety go away, but I've seen now that it does roll though and pass, even if it feels like it's the most uncomfortable thing to process at the time. I'd never have know that until I sat with the feeling and let it do its thing.
Should you be ready, here are some of the ways from the book to begin the process of unhooking yourself from your habit:
1. Find what's missing.
Figure out what you most want in your life that you haven't been able to get. Can you make a list of exactly what that is? Write your own fantasy obituary and get in touch with what you hope your life accomplishments will be. Admit that your addiction (or habit) is probably what's been standing in your way of getting what you need most deeply. And admit that it is a poor substitute.
2. Slow down.
Sleeplessness, stress, workaholism, and over-scheduling exacerbate addictive behaviour. Transformations that stick require time, thoughtfulness, energy, and introspection. If possible take vacation days, a holiday, or a weekend off. If you can't consider a yoga class, meditation, a long massage, or an afternoon by yourself with no obligations or deadlines. You need time to think, breathe, relax, and rationally assess where you are emotionally and where you need to go next.
3. Be open-minded.
You already know this: patterns are hard to break. You might have to reevaluate everything that you do and consume to uncover where the problem really lies. Something as seemingly minor as going to sleep an hour earlier, waking up a bit later, saying no to a social event, switching from soda to tea, or adding another night with childcare to your schedule can make the difference between failure and success.
Here you'll find essays and musings on applied mindfulness. What does this look like on a daily basis? How can you infuse it in your day to enjoy yourself more? Join hundreds of others on the the mailing list (link in footer) to get these straight to your inbox.