Spoiler Alert #1: I normally will not write a post until I have some semblance of a solution worked out. Absolutely not the case with this one, read on at your own risk
Spoiler Alert #2: I have a lot to say, this will be longer than usual
I’ve spent some time recently contemplating the various ways I am an all-or-nothing gal. Turns out, there’s almost no way I’m not all or nothing. In other words, I’m all or nothing about being all or nothing. I do not have to search far to give you an example, this is how my day went yesterday:
I have a general cleaning routine that has been disrupted by recent life events, and I realized yesterday that I need to clean all the major areas of the house (probably the minor areas too, I just don’t care about them). So I pick the area I think needs it the most, which is my bathroom, and figure I’d get that knocked out with no problem. So I go in, gather the rugs to bring to the laundry room, and I realize that the towels probably need to be done too, which of course means the kids’ towels need it as well. Which leads me to the conclusion that sheets must need to be washed, and now I’m realizing I am starting to grow this project bigger than I originally intended. Then again, all of these things do need to be done. So all of that goes downstairs, and I start cleaning the bathroom. I realize some of the cleaning supplies I need are in the kids’ bathroom, so I go into a cabinet to retrieve them. To my dismay I uncover a nightmare of things thrown into that cabinet, which knocked over cleaning supplies, which created a huge mess (my reaction to that is for another post). I clean that up, and now I am significantly behind on a project that I’ve made bigger than I intended in the first place, but I’ve started, so simply stopping this process is inconceivable. I am back and forth between laundry and the bathroom, now my sheets are done, and I’m thinking I can’t possibly put clean sheets on a bed (with surrounding furniture) that hasn’t been dusted, so out comes the Pledge. This project takes very little time, and then I make the bed. I realize at this point my bedroom is all but clean if I just vacuum, but I can’t do that if there are clothes in a basket on the floor, so I quick fold them up and put them away. Then I vacuum, but really, the carpet doesn’t end at my bedroom, right? There’s a hallway connected to it, and, connected to that hallway are three other rooms. Finish that up, feeling good about how the upstairs looks, and then take a look around my downstairs. I am appalled by the difference. It’s as if I did nothing at all! So, guess what happens? You got it, room by room, the exact same process.
Now, I’m re-reading the paragraph above, and I feel like I am #humblebragging. Let’s round it out with another story:
It’s the middle of April. Through a series of events, I have embarked on several adventures that I think will all work towards the same goal of improved fitness. I have joined Weight Watchers online with my cousin, I have purchased a Fitbit to track my activity, and I am training for an upcoming 5K. Healthy goals, practical tools, lots of accountability, teamwork and support. In the first 10 days, I have an absolutely banner week, lost an incredible amount of weight, exercised every single day, and improved my Fitbit stats each day I used it. I was also pretty early into my self-directed smoking cessation program as well.
Anyway, weigh in day falls on a Thursday (although who am I kidding, I was checking myself at least twice a day every day), which also happened to be my husband’s birthday. So I happily report the good news to my cousin who is doing this with me, and I let her know that I will be having a “fun” day since it is his birthday. Which I did.
The next day, a Friday, my husband took off work and we went and got spa treatments and had a nice lunch. I guess two days of not tracking are okay, right? And exercise, well, I’ll just get back on it over the weekend.
Except that I didn’t, and the eating continued to devolve. Points counting is a thing of the past, as is exercise. Monday rolls around, and this happens to be the biggest trigger day of the week for me to want to smoke. But there is no way I am backtracking on that progress, so I think that I will give myself one more free-for-all day so that I don’t smoke. Here’s what a free-for-all day looks like:
First off, I will plan for my favorite food in the world: a soft pretzel. Where I like to buy pretzels you save money by buying two. And while I’m at it, better pick the saltiest ones they’ve got, in case the salt falls off in the bag (which I will wind up eating anyway). Round that off with a 32 ounce soda.
Once I’ve eaten all of this, is there really a point to stopping? I might as well go for all my favorite foods, which tend towards crunchy and salty. Eat them as the mood strikes.
If I’m eating like this, do I really feel like moving at this point? Let’s just make it a fun day all around, and watch some mindless television. And so that day continues on, with very little productive to show for it.
So there’s the other side of the all or nothing lifestyle. Of course, I could paint a much grimmer picture, were I to go back a few years and describe a day in the life of active addiction.
And it’s not just about eating, exercising and cleaning. Here are some other categories:
Television: It is a point of pride that I have never missed an episode of Survivor. My husband will corroborate this story… he did not watch it with me Season one, in fact mocked the concept, and I remind him on a very regular basis of this fact. There have been something like 28 seasons of this show, and I will watch it no matter what.
Reading: I am either obsessively reading, or I cannot locate my electronic reader. Absolutely no middle ground. I am on the latter side right now, and yet I still go to my book club lunches (they should excommunicate me right about now).
Apparel Shopping: if I find something I like, I need it in every color. That or I’m wearing the same pajamas like it is my uniform. Seriously, I will wait for the dryer before I get changed for the evening.
Organization as it Relates to the Basement: I am either all about it, and the basement looks like it did last summer after the garage sale, or I abandon it and the basement looks like it does right now (Editorial comment: I do not live alone in my house, and I REFUSE to take sole responsibility for the state of the basement. On the other hand, it seems to bother only me, and my choice when I’m on this end of the organizational spectrum is to just avoid it at all costs. But I digress…)
Free Refills: If I dine at a restaurant that offers free refills of my favorite beverage in this world (Diet Pepsi)… well, I’m sure I don’t have to finish this sentence!
Don’t Touch My Pitcher: Last summer I wrote about a plan for improving my fitness by introducing things into my life, rather than taking things away. Interestingly, these things have managed to hang around for what’s coming up on a year now (if interested, read here). One of those things was increasing my water intake. Now, believe me, there are days when I drink none (of course, all or nothing, right?), but most days I am habitual about drinking 10 glasses of water. The process has evolved to the point that I bought my own pitcher with one of those cages in the middle that I can put lemon and lime in to infuse the water, and I drink it until it is gone, then refill it for the next day. Great practice, right? Until another family member attempts to drink from this pitcher, then all hell’s breaking loose. Because I am selfish and don’t want to share? Not a chance… because then I can’t keep track of my water intake!
So obviously I could add to these categories ad infinitum (I’m sure it feels like I already have), but I think I’ve made my point.
I am sure that, if you could, you would finish reading this, walk over to me, give me a hug, tell me I am not alone, and that I just need to work towards finding some balance in my life. And I would sincerely agree with you, but if you looked closely into my eyes, you would see somewhat of a vacant stare. Not because I’m ignoring your great advice, but because those words truly mean nothing to me.
As in, I get it theoretically, but have no idea how to practically apply the concept to real-life scenarios. Curiously, I remember having similar thoughts about some of the steps in my 12-step recovery program.
My good friend Lisa over at Sober Identity once posed to me this challenge: Figure out what you are gaining from holding on to a behavior you wish to change. Because you ARE gaining something from it, whether you want to admit it or not. If you can figure it out, you can work to meet this need in more positive ways.
So what is the gain to living my life like this? To be continued in The All or Nothing Lifestyle, Examined…
Who knew I had so much to say on this subject? Not me!
To continue on with yesterday’s story, in which I was regaling you with tales of my absence from writing, I had decided to do things, rather than buy things, for my husband for his birthday this year. Yesterday I talked about getting up-to-date on my medical nonsense, but I also wanted to do something else in time for his birthday. It was this gift, more than all the doctor’s appointments, that kept me away from the computer, and the blog, for the past few weeks. Call it ego, call it pride, call it shame, this part is hard to admit, but I believe putting it out there will keep me committed: I wanted to officially call myself a non-smoker.
I can hear the gasps, especially the people who know me and wouldn’t know about this part of my life. You see, I smoked like the alcoholic/addict that I am: secretly. Which is pretty difficult to do, given the olfactory consequences of the action of smoking! But I am clever, and I was also determined not to walk around smelling like an ashtray, so the fact that I smoked was known only to a very select few people.
Quick history with my smoking: started in graduate school, gave it up when I started dating the man who would become my husband, did not even think about it again for about a decade. A family member’s personal crisis had us bonding together over cigarettes about 8 years ago, and since that time I have been hit or miss. Then, when I hit my personal bottom, and was separated from my husband and family, oh boy did the smoking take front and center stage. Talk about replacing one bad habit with another! That period went on for about 6 months. The more confident I became in my recovery, the less I relied upon smoking, until I got to about where I leveled out: less than 5 a day, about 4-5 days a week.
In other words, this habit was entirely mental, as I could go for days at a time without wanting or needing one. Which goes to prove mental habits are just as hard to break as physical ones, at least in my case this is true. I have been planning to quit at every recovery milestone, but couldn’t seem to make myself do it.
I just recently heard someone in a meeting talking about his experience in AA. He never had any doubt that AA works, as he spent a long time coming to meetings, but continuing to drink, and he saw for himself the people who stayed sober. He wanted sobriety, he explained, he just didn’t want to give up drinking in order to get it.
To those who have never struggled with addiction of any kind, this logic probably sounds absurd; he said it, and I got it immediately, as it summed up perfectly how I felt about smoking: I wanted to identify myself as a non-smoker, I wanted all the benefits that come with being a non-smoker (not having to worry about smelling, clear lungs, better health, the list goes on and on), I just didn’t want to stop smoking in order to have those things.
I’m not sure what it was about my husband’s looming birthday that was motivating me, but I finally got serious about ridding myself of this albatross once and for all. My husband, to my knowledge, has never smoked a cigarette. I mentioned I gave it up when we were dating, largely at his request. We have had many, let’s call them spirited discussions, about my smoking, and he is one of the key reasons I am as fastidious as I am about not smelling “like a smoker.” I know that he has deep fears about my health, and that I have not taken those fears very seriously, and that is why I thought this would be the most meaningful gift I could give him.
I have stopped and started too many times to count, but in recent years I had never gotten further than about 6 days without giving up. I also know that the greater the time removed from smoking, the less likely I will be to pick up a cigarette, because I will come to cherish my “smoke-free” days as I do my sober ones. The trick is stringing enough of them together for them to matter to me.
So I picked date, I enlisted the help of my Mom, and I employed the next tool I learned in recovery: I figured out where and when I was most tempted to smoke, and I changed everything I could about my days to increase my chance for smoke-free success. As I mentioned, I was an isolated smoker; I was very uncomfortable smoking in any public place. So for about two weeks straight, I kept myself out and about as much as I could, and changed up my schedule as much as I could, to limit my opportunities to smoke.
I also gave myself incentives along the way, things that motivated me to continue on the journey. Giving these rewards served two purposes: the obvious, a reward for a job done well (not smoking), but also a motivation to continue on the journey (if you pick up a cigarette now, you just ruined the reward you gave yourself yesterday). Silly stuff that would not matter to anyone but myself, but I’ll tell you, this strategy really kept me going.
Finally, accountability: I started with just my Mom, because I was so scared I would mess up. But then, slowly, I let people in on what I was doing, and each person I told strengthened my resolve all the more. I feel like I really turned a corner when I announced it at my Monday meeting, and asked them to ask me about it the following week. I knew if I got that bold, then I was probably not turning back.
And I didn’t. I was able to share this news with my husband, who was, again, very relieved to hear that I had given up this health endangering act. For myself, the process certainly had “notes” of recovery… a time of day when I would normally have a cigarette, and then I would remember, “oh yeah, I don’t do that anymore,” and I would feel that sort of empty sadness that comes post-addiction, but overall the process was not nearly as gut-wrenching as recovery from other mind-altering substances. I have had numerous people remark that giving up smoking was far worse than giving up drinking; for me that simply was not the case. I had about a week’s worth of feeling irritable for no particular reason, but it faded pretty quickly. Now, when I get that feeling of “wouldn’t it be nice to have a cigarette,” I have a bunch of concrete reasons to say no: I’ve come this far, I have people to answer to, I would have to go back to all that “cigarette subterfuge” that I hated so much, and, now, I would have to report back to all you!
My name is Josie, and I am a former smoker!
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit. –Aristotle
My husband emailed me a great article on forming new habits (http://zenhabits.net/sticky/). My first thought… what is he trying to tell me? My next thought… I don’t really want to know!
The first part of the article talks about all the ways we revert to old patterns, even when we acknowledge we want to create new habits. And boy oh boy, could I relate to this part of the article. Skipping a day of exercise turns into a week, and before I know it I haven’t seen the inside of my gym in months. And then the whole starting over process… just thinking about it is so painful that I can almost convince myself that I am happy with the way things are. And when I contemplate the number of times I have “started over” with my exercise regime, it becomes so overwhelming, it feels like I should just give up, because I have no long-term track record of success.
So that part of the article was a tad depressing.
But then, I read on to the second part of the article, which talks about how to create a habit from the ground up. Simple advice that we have all heard before… start with one very specific habit, and make no other changes in your life besides the one habit. Make the smallest possible change, but stick with that small change every single day. Be accountable by talking to other people about your decision to acquire this habit. Monitor negative self-talk; in other words, don’t talk yourself out of believing you can make this change. Reward yourself regularly for sticking with the new habit.
When I read the second part of the article, it sounded familiar, because it is very much a part of my recovery story. I have shared more times than I can count what I did in my days in early recovery… I prayed, I went to meetings, I talked to other alcoholics, and I refrained from picking up a drink or drug. One specific habit, several very small action steps, but I did them every single day, and I talked about the importance of doing them with anyone who would listen. And, over time, the rewards for this newly acquired habit… well, I would need a separate blog to detail all the rewards.
Here’s the upside to creating a habit, and one I would do well to remember any time I debate about going to the gym: if you do it often enough, it becomes second nature, and gets to the point where you miss it when it’s gone. Circumstances were such this week that I went two days without going to a 12-step meeting. By the third morning (today), I woke up, realized that my schedule was free, and could not wait to get there. Now, the day I am able to report this behavior with respect to exercise… well, it will be a glorious day indeed!
Unrelated to the subject matter at hand, today I am grateful for running water, and the miraculously talented family member who came to my rescue when the water was not running!
Related to the subject matter at hand, reading the article, then getting up from the computer, getting in the car, and driving to the gym… it’s a miracle!