A wise person told me many moons ago that change is the law of life. We have all heard the expression “the only thing permanent is change.” There are things that change more frequently than others: night becomes day, smiles can easily be turned to frowns, and it’s said that if you live in Florida, the weather can change at the drop of a hat. The seasons change at Mother Nature’s command, and caterpillars become beautiful butterflies over time.
So why is it that we, as human beings, are reluctant to change? According to Rosabeth Moss Kanter of the Harvard Business Review, the reasons are many. For those of us who suffer from substance use disorders, the answer can be as simple as this: it’s work.
Change is a departure from the past. As people in recovery, we are typically well aware that the last version of ourselves wasn’t working, hadn’t worked, or never worked at all, but that version is the only one we know. We are on a first-name basis with that person, trust that person, and are well acquainted with that person. And even though we know that person is undesirable, unhealthy and as annoying as fingernails scraping a chalkboard, we keep them around anyway. Change interferes with the norm, requiring us to think about our every action.
Change takes us off of auto-pilot and challenges us to order our steps. It brings us into our conscious mind and makes us doubt our ability to become a better version of ourselves. As we try to pull ourselves out of a misery that has no space or time, often it’s the same donkey with a new saddle. We begin our “new” program with admirable intentions but soon fade back into the same old routine only to find ourselves returning to old people, places, and things.
On January 31, 2006, I decided the only thing I needed to change was everything. My life was going to pieces because I had no peace. My eggs were so scrambled all I had left were the shells. But how to initiate this change was the challenge. So, I made a list of all of the things that kept me descending deeper into my addiction. I even needed to change how I made lists because I had made them before but to no avail.
I got honest with myself, and instead of listing my character defects, I decided to jot down all of the capabilities, strengths, and merits I had exhibited long before full-blown addiction. But as I started to write, the adjectives that described the “old” me — the version of me during my active addiction — started to flow fast and furious like water over a dam. As you can imagine, on my list were things I could not see in a mirror. Then there was the, “how am I going to change all of this before lunchtime?” dilemma because, like any good addict, I needed the microwave fix. But I also realized that I savored slow-cooked food much more than its nuked counterpart.
I needed a transformation like a dried-up prune that required soaking in sugar water. So I began to play a grown-up game of opposites. In the past, I had been guilty of making my recovery rocket science as opposed to simple addition. This time I decided to “dumb it down” — from Plato to Playdough, if you will. I transformed hate into love. Animosity was now goodwill and friendship. I replaced resentment with sympathy and kindness.
There were some defects that I just deleted from my old repertoire, with lying, manipulation and defensiveness at the top of the list. I replaced selfishness with giving back. I stopped judging others and began being accountable for my own actions, and my arrogance soon faded to modesty like cheap cologne on a hot summer’s day.
I began to like the 2.0 version of me. I was new and improved — better than ever. I had a bolder taste. I’d discovered that by not standing behind my character flaws, but instead getting in front of them, I had the ball and was driving to score the winning touchdown of a tied game, rather than trying to stop the opposing team from scoring on me. Simple.
If people keep doing the same things they’ve always done, they will keep getting the same results. In other words: If nothing changes, then nothing changes.
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