Whether your ‘drug of choice’ (as Oprah might say) is food, alcohol, drugs, smoking, over-spending, self-harm, gambling, getting back into a bad relationship or less pernicious but still annoying bad habits, it can feel really disheartening when, after doing ‘well’ for such a long time, we relapse.
Do your best to stop beating yourself up about it. Instead of taking it as a sign that nothing ever changes and it’s not worth attempting again, be as kind as possible to yourself.
You had quit. For however long you’d managed. You’ve done it, broken that pattern. You can do it again.
What helped you quit? What will you do differently this time? What worked from last time that you can repeat (as often as it takes to quit for good)?
You might be angry with yourself and feel you don’t deserve your kindness but chances are, beating yourself up will make those unhealthy cravings even stronger.
Approaching your relapse with kindness and curiosity (Interesting! I just did ___ for the first time in ___! I wonder what triggered it…) can offer real insight.
What have you learned from this relapse to help you tweak your routine? What will you replace the bad habit with? Our brains need something concrete.
When I quit smoking back in 2001, the chemist wouldn’t sell me a nicotine ‘inhalator’ AND the patches and a friend said I sounded like a proper addict when I was insisting that I ‘needed’ the inhalator.
In the end (of course, I could have gone to a different chemist), I chose a clear quartz crystal wand to use as a fake cigarette to replicate that deep breath and while I still occasionally dream about Marlboro (never enjoying one, always, ‘Oh no! I had a cigarette! Am addicted again!’ nightmares), I’ve not had one since.
When we do anything repeatedly, our brain creates neural pathways to make the action habitual. If you imagine your brain as a jungle, the things we do most frequently become like well-worn pathways and so become effortless (reaching for that cigarette/drink/extra packet of crisps/blade/whatever) during certain times.
Think about it, you probably don’t even think about which foot you pop into your trousers first when you get dressed as it’s probably the thing you’ve done habitually since you learned to dress yourself as a small child. Learning a new way of doing something and making it habitual takes more effort.
What are your biggest triggers? For me, I’d smoke as soon as I opened my eyes in the morning and there were certain points every day when I would reach for a cigarette so I came up with as many alternatives for each of these times as possible.
Be patient with yourself as you create your replacement (positive! healthy! life enhancing!) habit. How long have you been doing the thing you want to quit? Chances are, it’s pretty embedded.
Give yourself time to create the new neural pathways that will enable your healthier habit to become your default.
Yes, it might be really hard but it is worth persevering. Create a reward system of treats to keep you motivated and on track.
Certain drugs release feel-good hormone dopamine really quickly (hence their addictive nature) but we can mimic this (to an less intense degree) by anticipating different, healthier rewards and honouring our promises to ourselves.
You’ve quit before. You can do it again (and again, and again). Each time offers new insights and learning and you will get there.
Be as kind as humanly possible to yourself and you’ll be much more likely to get there faster and less painfully.
Image courtesy of nuttakit / freedigitalphotos.net