“Just because you got the monkey off your back does not mean the circus has left town.” –George Carlin
It’s weird that I write about addiction as often as I do considering that how benign my battles with addiction have been. My brother’s drug issues (God rest his soul) stripped the appeal of any serious dabbling in that arena. I’m pretty much a light weight when it comes to drinking and not interested in competing. I gave up smoking many years back and I haven’t been addicted to chocolate since forever; but it is still a topic that I am hyperaware of because I see how easily the circus can enter your house if the doors aren’t barricaded.
I find myself pondering the question: what makes us be bad? Why engage in behaviors we know are bad for us?
I’m reading this book on craving: Craving: Why We Can’t Seem to Get Enough by Omar Manejwala who is an M.D. and an addiction expert. Apparently some of what I call addiction is viewed medically as either OCD or impulsive control disorder, but Manejwala says that they “exhibit most of the core features of addiction, including craving, tolerance and withdrawal, using more and longer than intended, unsuccessful efforts to control or limit the behaviors, and act out despite significant, debilitating, and adverse consequences.” For me, the appeal of learning about these subjects is figuring out how to choose in my own best interest. I don’t always. Ok, I don’t frequently. It’s not that I am out there scarfing down bags of potato chips (a food I rarely buy with good reason), or spend days on end gaming, or getting wasted. No, my impulse control issues are way more subtle than that: an extra few bites of dinner when I’m really already full; an extra episode of Grey’s Anatomy when I really only meant to watch one. (This is why I’ve seen the first two episodes of the season so far and not just the first one. But hey – I didn’t watch all five!). Taking extra blue cheese dressing on my salad when I know I shouldn’t be having creamy dressings at all, and particularly not any that contain cheese. (It’s a digestive issue, or more specifically a flatulence one. TMI? Sorry.)
Anyway, I’m asking the question because the older I get, the less stamina I seem to have. I’ve taken to afternoon naps and when I don’t get one (like yesterday), I’m falling asleep at 9:30 at night. I don’t have the energy. I know I should be juicing, but I haven’t started yet. I know I should give up drinking altogether, but I still enjoy having a few three or four nights a week. I know I should… – well, you get the idea: eat healthier, exercise more, etc, etc. The desire is there. The intent is there. The follow-through not so much.
(Besides, even diet and exercise can become addiction.)
It occurred to me this morning that anytime we don’t do what we know we “should” be doing, that our actions are sowing seeds of shame. It’s a vehicle for beating ourselves up for not being better; and if we don’t beat ourselves up, if we give ourselves a break, (forgive ourselves) then we are branded as audacious (what Brene Brown calls, “who do you think you are?”).
I’m a person that values balance, so I like to strike a happy equilibrium between audaciously claiming my “bad” behavior and doing what I need to do to help myself become a better person. For me, I like to understand “why” things are as they are, even though my spiritual studies constantly remind me that “I do not know what anything is for” and that I am, in fact, making up my world view to suit my own purposes. The analytical part of my brain still loves latching on to scientific explanations as a vehicle to help me control my out-of-control.
I haven’t finished reading the book yet, but what I’ve surmised thus far is that spiritual practice is hugely important, as are groups. Apparently groups can influence behavior much more effectively than going it alone (which makes total sense to me since minds ae connected). And it helps to start doing healthy things first. As Manejwala puts it, “dealing with cravings is much more about what you start doing than what you stop doing.”
So, as I force myself to engage in behavior that I’d really rather just park in the back seat while I sleep my way through a laziness marathon, I remind myself that success is born from self-discipline. That long term goals are usually only achieved by shelving short-term gratification and that as much as I enjoy a good sloughing off of responsibility, it can’t be a steady diet. The older I get, the less I can tolerate excess of any kind.
Especially since I wasn’t that self-disciplined when I was younger.
So what makes us engage in behaviors we know are bad for us? Because we can, sister. Because we still can.
Namaste, my friends, Namaste.