Every form of addiction is bad, no matter whether the narcotic be alcohol or morphine or idealism. Carl Jung
I admire anyone who rids himself of an addiction. Gene Tierney
Addiction: what is it? A person may protest that s/he is no gambler, alcoholic, food addict, etc.
Medical professionals agree that a person starts out seeking a reward of some sort. A person experiences relief or reward that then begins to affect motivation, memory, and related brain functions. Unfortunately, seeking this type of stimulus starts to lead to negative consequences in the person’s life: spiritually, behaviorally, physically, financially, and relationally.
Over time, a person is not able to abstain from using their primary ‘drug’; needs more and more of that ‘drug’ to feel okay, and starts to lose judgement about right and wrong in his/her life.
Psychologists have studied the theory of change for quite a while, and it may be helpful to understand the stages of change in order to better be able to change.
The first stage, called pre-contemplation, is what other people call denial.
In this stage, we don’t think that we have a problem. Other people have a problem: the government, our boss, other co-workers, politicians. Anyone but us!
It’s our way of giving ourselves permission to continue using whatever we’re using to feel better. No one can convince us that we have a problem.
The second stage of change is called contemplation.
In the contemplation stage, we begin to admit that maybe some things are problematic about our addictive behavior. Maybe we’ve gotten into a horrendous fight with a loved one, and we start to realize that when we drink, we lose inhibitions, and we say things we regret. Or, maybe we just binged and/or purged, and we feel guilty, ashamed, and awful.
We’re still not ready to change at this stage.
But the wheels in our mind are beginning to turn. We start to consider the negatives of what we are doing to ourselves.
It’s just as important to acknowledge, at this point, what we are getting from our compulsive activity. If we aren’t honest with ourselves, and half-heartedly try to talk ourselves out of what we are doing by pointing out only the negatives, we won’t be very successful.
Preparation happens when we decide to do something about changing our lives for the better.
At this point, we’ve decided that the negatives of what we’re doing to ourselves outweigh whatever relief the behavior brings.
More importantly, we also realize that we’re missing out on a better way of life.
During preparation, we research support groups, professional help, or other close, trusted friends who will be able to help us as we change our habits. We may start working on cutting down the frequency and amount of our addictive behavior.
When we take action, we’ve drawn the line in the sand. We’ve decided that we’ve had enough of what our behavior is doing to us. We do whatever it takes. Going to counseling, going to support meetings, avoiding people/places/things that make us more likely to relapse are all ways to take action.
Taking action also means embracing healthy alternatives to our problem behavior.
Once we start taking action, we have to maintain that change.
In other words, we have to start learning the lifestyle habits that will support our new and healthy behavior choices. We may start exercising again; we may find out that we have much more time on our hands, now that we are not engaged in our addictive behavior.
There will also be the challenges: emotional and maybe physical withdrawal of our systems from taking our addictive behavior away from ourselves. Sadness, depression, and anger are not uncommon feelings. Some of us may even feel like we’re having a nervous breakdown!
Now is the key time for your to reach out! Call your trusted friends, talk to your counselor, go to your support groups! It took a long time for your problem behavior to become a problem: it will take a long time to grow into your new and healthy lifestyle!
I don’t know what the statistics are for the number of tries it takes to stop smoking. I use smoking as one example of changing behavior. I’ve met some people who had very little trouble giving up nicotine. But the numbers of those who relapse back into smoking are very high.
The key, if and when we relapse, is to remember that we have a choice of which stage of change we are going to return to. We can go back into denial/pre-contemplation, or we can go directly back to action.
I hope this article will help you better understand why it’s not so easy to change. Oftentimes, it takes the strongest person to admit s/he has a problem and to reach out for help. Don’t hesitate to make the positive changes you deserve while fighting an addiction!
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