Everyone has habits.
Some can be helpful, some can be harmful, and some can actually be pretty neutral.
To get started, let’s define a habit:
“a settled or regular tendency or practice, especially one that is hard to give up.”
Now, just like with a lot of various things in life, whether or not something is a positive or negative force in your life depends entirely on you. In some cases, what works for one person does not work for others.
For example, I find that keeping tidy and deep cleaning every week is a good habit to have, as it relaxes me and I enjoy living in a really organized environment. But for someone else, this might not be as relaxing or helpful, and so their habits may be to wipe down the kitchen counters and make their bed everyday while having a more spontaneous approach to cleaning, and that’s perfectly fine.
Another example would be the habit of minding my own business. I still have occasions where my nosiness comes back, but for the most part, I keep to myself and let others live how they want to. Whereas before, I was constantly seeing what others were doing and using that to judge myself, while also going overboard on trying to control my partner’s life to try to keep both his addiction, and recovery from said addiction, in check.
Something else to consider while on the topic of habits is a word I’m sure you are familiar with: triggers.
For our addicted loved ones, triggers are situations or actions that have the ability to cause them to relapse, to bring back old memories of using drugs, or to be what sets off other old actions or behaviors that they are trying to change.
And it can be the same for us, just without the drugs part.
For one example, at the beginning of my recovery, I would become uncomfortable when my partner wouldn’t tell me when he was coming home. Now I realize that it’s because he was busy, or just forgot like a normal person does from time to time, but back then I was certain that this meant he was out using and wasn’t in his right mind. Or, if you want a really specific example, seeing orange electrical wire connectors on the ground out of the corner of my eye would send me into a panic. For those of you who don’t know why this would be a trigger based on your own experience, they kinda resemble the needle caps for the syringes he would use.
But really, a trigger can be anything that causes us to slip back into old habits that we are trying to grow out of and create new to replace them, so they aren’t limited to the world of addiction.
To ensure that you stay on solid ground and continue to move forward, it is important to identify these different aspects of yourself and keep them in your awareness. Being out of sync with yourself can cause you to be more susceptible to triggers, as you lose your sense of calm and balance.
Part of self work is learning more about yourself, which allows you to learn what may be triggers for you. But when you have someone with addiction, you may be wondering why habits are important, especially if you are in the beginning stages of looking for answers.
Like many of us out there, including me at one point, you may think that your partner is the only one who needs to do the work and the changing. I mean, they’re the ones doing the drugs right? We aren’t doing anything bad or illegal or immoral so yeah, it’s all on them and they need to start, right?
I’m sorry to say that it’s actually not all them, even if it seems like it. While we aren’t doing the illegal activities, we are still responsible for ourselves, which means that we need to start our own inner work and recovery to get our own lives back on track. If all we do is place blame and accusations, no one gets anywhere.
Once you take some accountability for your life at the moment, you can then start the process of moving forward. And one way to do this is to get in the habit of getting better habits.
For me, I had a habit of always being a pessimist.
“Nothing will ever get better.”
“We’ll never have enough money to move up in life.”
"He’ll never stay in recovery and I’ll be back to being stressed out, embarrassed, and miserable.”
"He’s going to use drugs for the rest of his life and he’ll probably die soon leaving me and our daughter alone in the world without him.”
You know those thoughts, and I’m sure you have a lot more than that. I only have so much room to list all of mine.
And when all you have are thoughts like this in your head, it’s hard to live on a day to day basis even when you’re miserable and used to it, so entertaining the idea of improvement for even one minute is just out of the question.
But that’s where you have to start. It all starts in your mind.
Instead of cycling these depressing thoughts of doom and gloom, try changing them first to neutral, and then to more positive.
“Maybe things aren’t as bad as they seem.”
“I can change how my life is going.”
"I can control how my life goes.”
“I will be ok no matter what.”
“He can recover and it doesn’t have to always end badly.”
And that’s the first step.
Because you see, habits all start in your mind. One step to neutral. One step to positive. One step to finding the motivation to actually start some work, like journaling your thoughts or practicing self care without feeling guilty or enforcing some boundaries that work for you.
Getting in the habit of changing your mindsets is the key to moving forward, and up and out of the depressing cycle you were putting yourself through before.
As I keep saying, mindsets are everything, and the way you change them and keep them that way is through habits!
Now, is it a one time thing that switches on like a light switch? Um, no. I wish it was, but no.
For me, it took years of trying everything else that was (ahem) not my business or my responsibility, for me to finally realize that I had to do work on myself in order to get anywhere. And so I just started doing it one day, where I focused on different thoughts. Which then fostered hope. And better moods. And more excitement about life. And a better ability to not react to things that once killed me. And more, dare I say it, happiness.
It’s what finally allowed me to get the energy and motivation to start the work on myself, to let go of the past, to move past my resentments and fears, and all the other baggage that kept me from recovering and being grateful for where I was at that moment. It allowed me to not get too ahead of myself and crash, but to be hopeful and grounded. It allowed me to get to a place where I was then able to support him in a healthy and balanced way that also allowed him space to grow in his own recovery without overstepping my limits and trying to control him.
It allowed me to, in a sense, completely reinvent myself. And once I did that, everyone else started seeing me different as well and trusting my decisions, which allowed me to expand my environment of change and also expand my support system.
Does it take patience? Yes, of course it does. There were days that I wanted to give up because come on, it didn’t look like I had done anything at all because everything still looked the same, so what’s the point? But I realized that even though it seemed tiring to keep going, the time would pass regardless so why not keep it up? It was my last option after all, so what did I have to lose?
Does it take time? Yes, as much as you need or as little as you decide on. It took me a little while to get in the habit of better feeling thoughts, but it’s not a linear timeline for anyone. Start here, maybe slip up a few times, keep going, and that’s that. It’s up to you.
Is it difficult? If you look at it that way, or you can see it as a positive challenge that ends with a better life. It’s just like the thoughts I was trying to change in this whole experience: it’s all in how you frame it.
Is it worth it? Of course! I mean who doesn’t want to feel better and not let life, or your loved one’s addiction, keep you down?
Now, just like with anything in our little world of addiction and loved ones, the end goal isn’t to get them to change. It’s not to assert anything outside of ourselves, and it’s not a tool to use against us or the ones we care about. Or really, to even stay in our relationship or keep any specific parts of ourselves the same if that's not what is actually best for us.
All the inner work we decide to do on and for ourselves is to bring us closer to understanding who we are and bringing to us what we want in our life, no matter what that is. Once we stop fighting against the waves and take a second to breathe, and another to take the first step, we can learn so much about ourselves and what we want our lives to look like, which then puts us on the path to actually getting it.
I know it can be a shock, and a change, and difficult at times. But I can also say that from personal experience, it’s so worth it and way better than how things used to be.
So why not try it out?
And what better way to start that journey than with some new habits?