In the grand tradition of going back to work this week, I felt it was time to dust off the cobwebs in my brain and get a little more serious and clinical on you. Lately I’m hearing from many family members and friends facing crossroads in their lives. So I figured that since my post divorce life has been one huge intersection, complete with a couple of train wrecks, I could try to shed some light on the process of change.
Back in 2005 in my post graduate work in counseling, I was asked to pick a therapeutic orientation to study, write a thesis on and present to the class. Our professor said that this was a stepping stone for us, and felt that most students ended up using the approach they tended to gravitate towards for their post graduate, aka “real life” work. At the time, I chose Solution Focused Therapy, which I still use today, because it helps clients to create and discover their own answers to their problems. And mostly because it was the easiest and requires less brain power. As those who know me, know I’m always taking the easy way out. The other approaches were so much more complex, involving changing thinking, feeling and behaviors and challenging negative thoughts that lead to unstable moods and blah blah blah, psycho babble goes on… Over the years in grad school and when first starting my career, I discovered that there was more to it than me finding the approach that took less work. I finally came to the conclusion that I often avoided anything that involved confronting not only my own, but also the unhealthy habits and tendencies of others, then immediately thought “Why the hell did I become a therapist then?”.
All of us have habits. And by habits I mean behaviors that we engage in routinely and repeatedly, and have a difficult time stopping even if we think we should. Some good, some bad, some inappropriate. Whatever the case, they’re things that we know we should give up but don’t for whatever reason. Because they feel too good, are all we know, are too much fun or we’ve just tried to but we can’t stop. For me, I’ve noticed that I typically engage in my patterns and habits because they are comfortable, or all I’ve become accustomed to know, not because I can’t give them up, but because I don’t want to. Period. Like when my mom and friends tried desperately for many, many years to get me to stop sucking my fingers and take away my “blanko”, even in college. But I couldn’t do it until I was ready. And as for my patterns, I tend to get stuck somewhere I don’t belong, then cycle through this place several times until Marcey decides something needs to change. I’ve always felt I was a strong person and can tell anyone to fuck off if need be. However, there are also times when I can’t resist going back to that bag of chips I just put away. Like the time Miranda on Sex and the City took the chocolate cake out of the garbage and ate it. That’s me. But we’re not just talking about cake here. We’re talking about many things.
So the question becomes, how do we stop going to the source of our pain for more pleasure? Cognitive Behavior Therapists would say to stop the thinking patterns that drive the behaviors that intern lead to the emotion, which just activates the vicious cycle all over again. Um yeah, that’s too complicated for me. I can preach it but I can’t practice it, because it’s never been something I can do for myself. Although it is one the most effective strategies for depression, anxiety and addictions. In my “solve your own problems kinda gal” mindset, I’ve decided that the number one rule is that you can’t stop doing something until you’re ready. You need motivation, a clear picture of where you want to be and a path of how you’re going to get there. Maybe not the whole path, but at least just a starting point. This isn’t something that can be forced on you by others that aren’t living your life and aren’t in your brain. That’s why I’m a firm believer that mandated therapy rarely works. You can’t have people backing you into a corner to try and get you to change. You have to be the one to want to do it and instead surround yourself with those that you can be honest with when you fuck up, who won’t judge or abandon you. Those that want to be around you and care, no matter what stupid or annoying shit you are doing.
The answer seems so simple, just get yourself to a place where you want to see a change. But sometimes the only way to get there is to be jolted into reality by external forces or events that you had no control over. It’s that shock moment where you’ve just been stunned by something someone did to you or seeing yourself hit rock bottom and knowing you can only go up from here. And you say enough is enough. It helps to get rip shit angry when you do this because it will drive your motivation even harder. Feeling sad leads to negative thinking, then repeating the behavior to stop the sadness then feeling like shit because you just gave in and now it’s all happening all over again. It’s the anger that keeps you on the path to fighting for the change. Why do you think so many people get fired up at the gym, drinking that stupid ass gallon container of water (that is not necessary btw), headphones blaring, listening to some sort of fight music lifting 100lb weights while I’m over there strolling on the treadmill at 3.0 mph listening to T. Swizzle? Or why Beyoncé is all of a sudden turning lemons into lemonade and is an angry superhuman that can perform for like 18 minutes during an award show, when the others only got 4 minutes of stage time. Or when you step on the scale and it says- what?!!!!??? Oh hell no. For instance, I clearly remember my mom being an avid smoker of Virginia Slims. In the car while rocking out to Rick Astley, or while drinking coffee spraying her head of teased hair with a can of Aqua Net, the cigarettes were always there. One day, she saw an x-ray of a smoker’s lung for the first time and that was it. She never smoked again. Although my sister and I definitely gave her some serious tempting moments to light up over the years, she never did. Get my drift?
My sister always tells me that trying to do the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. I think we all tried to prove this in Chemistry class several times back in the day. But I failed Chemistry class, in high school and in college. Hands down no question, no clue, to this day. Not my strong suit. Why? Because I want what I want, and I have a hard time giving up until I get the outcome that I want. I’ll manipulate the results, skew the average and always come up with a new hypothesis to test the limits of change. It’s like when I demand that my hairdresser make me blonder every time I go and tell her that it’s okay because I used intensive conditioner all month. And she tells me she’ll do what I say and my hair will be blonde but it will also be on the floor. Do I end up listening to her, of course because I don’t want my hair to fall the fuck out. Anyhow, what I’m saying is this, if you’re like me, you may already know why you don’t want to let this thing go. You need more time, or feel things may change eventually and you’re willing to hold out or it’s just not something you’re capable of changing or stopping at the moment. And if you know why you’re doing it and this is reason enough for you, and it feels justified, leave it be. For now. It will never work for you if you try force something on your self or anyone else. Whether it’s a good or bad thing for you. Just know that when your shock moment comes, you should know what you need to do and where you need to be, which shouldn’t include hell on Earth, since there’s always a chance you may go there when you die anyway….So make sure you strike while the iron’s hot.
You Got This!
M.Rizzetta, M.S., LPC (who doesn’t use real therapy approaches)