How do you not…

I spend my days talking with folks about how to not do things. How I do not drink? How do I not use drugs? How do I stop cutting myself? How do I stop working so much?
To the person who has never suffered an addiction, these questions seem strange. How do you not do something? You just don’t do it. It’s obvious and yet it is insufficient. Knowing the answers isn’t enough; we have to accept them and find replacements for unhealthy habits.
What’s the difference between knowing and accepting? It’s all about the feelings. In the case of addiction, the person feels compelled to do something that they know is unhealthy, and yet they feel as though they have no choice in the matter. What used to feel good now comes at a high price.
People never really just stop a habit; they replace it. As you consider the behavior that no longer works for you, the operative question is, “what will I do instead of that?” This needs to be a conscious decision. When people quit smoking cigarettes, they often gain weight. This is partly because smoking increases metabolism but is also due in large part to a choice to eat more. The ex-smoker doesn’t generally know that they are doing this until they experience the weight gain. It’s simple – we subconsciously substitute one bad habit for another. The fact that we often don’t even realize we’ve done so says a lot about how much attention we’re paying to ourselves.
Mindfulness, to me, means paying attention to my own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Anything that we seek to change we must become more aware of. Unhealthy habits are usually things we think very little about and they become things we do automatically. Nowhere is this more evident than smoking. Smokers have routines and times that a cigarette will accompany or follow an activity. Beer and cigarettes, coffee and cigarettes, getting in the car and lighting up, having a smoke after dinner – all of these are rituals and habits that a nicotine addict does without thought.
Making plans for success is vital. Consciously choosing and preparing how we will do things gives us a much better outcome. Whatever you seek to overcome, don’t do it alone. Part of the plans you make should include who you will talk with about your struggles, how they can be supportive of you (even if just by letting you vent) and when you will access that support (not waiting until you can’t stand it is key).

Jim LaPierre

About Jim LaPierre

Jim LaPierre LCSW CCS is the Executive Director of Higher Ground Services in Brewer, Maine. He is a Recovery Ally, mental health therapist and addictions counselor. He specializes in facilitating recovery (whether from addiction, trauma, depression, anxiety, or past abuse) overcome obstacles, and improve their quality of life. Jim offers a limited amount of online therapy to those with very flexible schedules.