Take it or Leave it

I remember when I was in an inpatient treatment. There were gym sessions, men’s and women’s group meetings, therapy appointments, required reading and step-work… and there was equine therapy. 

I am terrified of horses, but it was mandatory that we go to this goddamn ranch and walk these giant skittish animals around in a circle, and try to get on top of them, and a lot of other insanity. Needless to say, I hated it, but there were a few girls there that thought is was the most magical thing they had ever done. One of them described it as ‘spiritual.’ A few of them cried because it was such a powerful experience (and also because you cry a lot when you’re getting clean off of hard drugs). 

The point is that “No one knows what’s best for you, except you,” and “All habits are not created equal.” What works for one person might not work for you. What one person thinks is unhelpful and pointless might be your key to success. I have friends that can still drink or smoke weed in moderation without craving a stronger high. I can’t take Nyquil when I’m sick without breaking out in track marks two weeks later. 

Why? 

Our genetics are different. Quitting smoking can be harder for people with darker pigmented skin because nicotine has an affinity for melanin-containing tissues (source: Wikipedia). This is just one example of the infinite ways we are different from each other and the infinite ways our habits affect us differently. So when someone asks you why you can’t stop drinking or smoking (it wasn’t so hard for them after all), you can ask them why they’re asking you such a stupid fucking question. 

Our habits are different: Some things we want to quit actually contain substances which are addicting (e.g. tobacco, hard drugs). Some things are just addictive for us because of the pleasure and satisfaction we receive from doing them. Quitting heroin is a lot different than quitting sugar because you can’t reward yourself for a week of sobriety by a little ‘cheat meal.’ And, if your friends continue to eat sugar in front of you, they’re still your friends, but if they’re using heroin in front of you, you probably need to get new friends. 

Our personalities are different: Equine therapy didn’t work for me because I’m afraid of horses. Being around something I’m afraid of isn’t a good reward for staying sober. Hiking might be an exhilarating and spiritual reward for me, but maybe you hate bugs and sunburn easily, so it’s more of a punishment than a reward. 

Create your own reward. When you’re making your own personal program to quit your habit, think of the things you like (i.e. your rewards):

  • Shopping
  • Getting positive feedback on social media
  • Reading or buying a new book
  • Playing a sport (e.g. golfing, swimming, tennis, football)
  • Being in nature (e.g. hiking, driving to a scenic spot)
  • Interacting with animals
  • Doing self-care (e.g. bubble baths or facials)
  • Playing an instrument
  • Eating a certain food (if it’s not counterproductive to your goal)
  • Spending time with friends or family
  • Spending time by yourself

Create your own supports: Now add your supports to your personal program. A lot of these will overlap with rewards (e.g. talking to a therapist might be both rewarding and supportive).

  • Mindfulness
  • Physical activity
  • Hypnosis
  • Acupuncture
  • Home remedies
  • Aversion therapy
  • Therapy or counseling
  • Medication
  • Motivational media
  • Social support
  • Financial or material incentives
  • Self-help groups
  • Self-help books
  • Spirituality

Exploring means trying: Exploring does not mean looking into something and deciding it won’t work for you before you even give it a try, and sometimes the first try will be misleading. I went to several NA meetings before I found one I actually liked. I tried a lot of different exercise routines before I found out that I really like yoga (which I would have never thought because of the negative stereotypes I had for ‘pretentious’ yoga practitioners). 

It’s a process: There is no one solution that will work for everyone. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. For some people abruptly quitting (i.e. cold turkey) is the answer. For others: tapering down and then quitting. Seeing a therapist might be punishment for some, or a time of release and bliss for others. Medication might be your key, or it might have unbearable side-effects, or no effects at all. If you’re competitive, try challenging or betting against a friend who also wants to quit something. If you’re cooperative, making a plan together with your friend will probably be more effective. 

Anticipate the struggle: Trying to quit might make you feel cravings, anxiety, irritability, depression, or weight gain. Be aware of the effects that you struggle with most and tailor your personal program plan to address them. If you’re quitting smoking and you’re gaining weight because you need something to do with your hands and mouth, try chewing gum or stocking up on healthy snacks that you can constantly munch on and not gain a massive amount of weight. 

If your urge to use is so strong that you don’t even need an external trigger to feel the craving, or you can’t distract yourself from the craving in any way, talk to a professional about your options. The last time I got sober, I tried Naltrexone, and it helped me almost instantly to manage my cravings, but the side effects were a nightmare. The injection site on my ass hurt so bad, I couldn’t sit down for weeks. My nausea and insomnia were way worse than they had been during previous detoxes, but I would still get the shot if I had to do it over again. Remembering how awful my last time getting clean was because of the Naltrexone is one of my strongest motivators for staying sober now.  

Be open-minded. Try everything and don’t give up. The majority of stuff you try won’t have an effect, or won’t have an immediate effect, or won’t have an effect all by itself. Eventually, if you keep trying, stay persistent and patient, you’ll build a whole program of different supports and rewards that will combine to finally give you the success you’ve always wanted.

Please comment. Please share. Remember this page is all about support, encouragement, and helping each other. All our struggles are different, but at their core, they’re really all the same. 

Helpful Links:

Ideas for rewards:

155 Ways to Reward Yourself for Completing a Goal or Task

https://remedygrove.com/wellness/101-Ways-to-Reward-Yourself-Why-Self-Flagellation-Doesnt-Work

Find a support group:

https://healthfinder.gov/FindServices/SearchContext.aspx?topic=833

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