I like to talk a lot about changing habits. I feel like this is a little piece of recovery that gets overlooked. There are so many things we do in our everyday lives that are just a matter of habit. I spent so many years perfecting those habits, doing certain things a certain way, and when I got sober all of those things did not go away. Those habits and behaviors I was accustomed to did not change over night.
I always joke that it took me to four years sober to stop dating drunk people. It sounds funny, and you would think it was common sense to not date drunk people in sobriety, but it was a habit. For fifteen years of dating I dated a certain type of guy. It was a personality, a lifestyle, and it was drunk. Just because I got sober didn’t change all those years of habit. It took me a long time and a lot of trial and error to finally realize that I needed to do something different.
For me, it was about rebuilding myself and rebuilding my self-esteem. First, I had to recognize that I wanted something different in my life. Then, in the moment, I had to make a different choice. Instead of going out with the partying guy when he asked me, I had to remember that I wanted something different now, and I said no. After doing it a few times, it became my new habit.
The same thing goes for other areas of my life. When someone would do or say something that would irritate me, I had to make a choice to react differently. Usually, I would fly off the handle and run my mouth, I would be condescending, and mean. That behavior didn’t get me anywhere and I didn’t like feeling embarrassed after I would act like that. So I had to remember, when I would feel my temper rising, I had to remember that I didn’t want to act like that anymore, and I had to make a different choice. I embarrassed myself a lot by overreacting to ridiculous situations. But that isn’t the person I want to be anymore.
There are always people in our lives that push our buttons. For some it is a spouse, for some it is a parent, or a sibling, maybe a boss. In all of these interactions, I have to make a choice to do it differently. I can’t go into a conversation, or the holiday table, thinking about how much that person is going to piss me off. Instead, I make a choice to do it differently. I decide to keep my mouth shut, I decide that maybe I should listen instead of talk, perhaps I could even try to understand someone else’s point of view instead of concentrating so much on making them hear mine. Maybe I could be patient, instead of impatient, or I could be supportive instead of expecting support, I could be respectful instead of demanding undeserved respect.
In recovery, I have to change almost all of my habits. But the thing I have to remember is that it takes time. I have to practice each thing as it comes up, and I have to understand that I will never do it perfectly, but I keep trying. I can’t expect that all of the behaviors that I have practiced over the forty years of my life are going to magically change just because I stopped drinking. But I have to know that, in order to stay sober, I have to change those habits. This is about a new way of life, a new way of thinking, and a new way of living. If I go back to the same places, doing the same things, with the same people, then I am going to do the same things. I have to be different. Slowly but surely.
I’m never going to get it right the first time around. It took me years to perfect my bad habits, and it will take time to create new habits. The first step is to be conscious of the need to think differently, then begin to act differently.