We ‘addicts’ try over and over again to stop drinking, smoking, using or doing the things that cause us to suffer. Some of us have been in numerous treatment programs and yet repeatedly relapse into so-called old behaviour. Why?
In spite of our knowledge and awareness about our unhealthy habits and not withstanding the tools and skills that we were given we just can’t seem to change our behaviour.
In my experience it all has to do with strongly engrained behavioral patterns that we perceive as comfortable or comforting and which – of course – are not. Our mind is a master of association. We associate smells, images, scenes, people, places and things in the present to past experiences and memories and to the feelings and emotions that go along with them.
A relapse is not simply the falling back into the acting out of a specific unhealthy habit. There is a ritualistic side to it. It could be the room or chair we sit in when we display(ed) the unhealthy behaviour. Or the time of day, or the people we are with. Coming home from or leaving for work for instance.
After a 4 or 8 week treatment program in the unfamiliar setting of yet another clinic or facility we return to our homes and it is not unlikely that the return to this familiarity triggers the return to the unhealthy habit.
The message is obvious. Getting rid of unhealthy habits means more than simply stopping the specific unwanted act. We need to alter or break the existing associations our mind has created and that we subconsciously linked to our unhealthy habits.
A simple beginning would be to consciously analyze the how, what, when and where of our unhealthy habits and make small changes. Get rid of the chair or couch you usually sit in when acting out the behavior you want to change. Ditch the ashtray you use or the box where you secretly keep your stash or bottle. Change the store you usually go to before going home. By consciously making these changes you are sending your brain the message that the old ‘pattern’ no longer functions.
Try, it works if you work it.