Contrary to popular belief, addictions do not fuel artistic capability. Smoking, drinking, overeating, dieting, gambling and excessive spending can serve as a form of writers block, keeping us from trusting or accessing our full potential. At their worst, these toxic crutches can nuke our creativity and wellbeing for good.
Stephen King lost all pleasure in writing when his battle with alcoholism peaked. Karen Carpenter died from her addictive behaviors. (Imagine what more the musical world might contain had she healed and survived…) And although it seems glamourous it films, TV and photography, smoking—one of the most common crutches—can monopolize our time, energy and financial resources. It’s also responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the U.S. each year.
Most smokers, when told to quit, want to know not why, but how, says the American Cancer Association. Most understand the financial burden the habit creates ($3,600.00 per year for pack-a-day smokers in the U.S.) and the associated health risks. But largely because quitting ain’t easy physically or emotionally, 1 in 4 men and 1 in 5 women smoke on.
Like other dependencies, quitting smoking requires knowing why you smoke, a genuine desire to quit and a stronghold decision for change. And wouldn’t you know, many of the techniques useful for overcoming tobacco abuse work well for other toxic crutches.
Since many of you don’t smoke (GOOD FOR YOU!), I’ve decided to broaden the scope of this Lifesaving Resolution. The following are excerpts from Stealth Health‘s “Ways to Stop Smoking Cigarettes & Quit Smoking For Good.“ As you go through the list, replace the icon with a damaging habit of your own.
Make an honest list of all the things you like about :(. Draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and write them on one side; on the other side make a list of all the things you dislike, such as how it can interfere with your health, work, family, etc., suggests Daniel Z. Lieberman, M.D., director of the Clinical Psychiatric Research Center at George Washington University Medical Center in Washington, D.C.
Make another list of why quitting won’t be easy. Be thorough, even if the list gets long and discouraging. Here’s the important part: Next to each entry, list one or more options for overcoming that challenge. One item might be: “:( helps me deal with stress.” Your option might be: “Take five-minute walks instead.” The more you anticipate the challenges…and their solutions, the better your chance of success.
Prepare a list of things to do when a craving hits. Suggestions include: take a walk, drink a glass of water, kiss your partner, throw the ball for the dog, wash the car, clean out a cupboard, have sex, chew gum, wash your face, brush your teeth… Make copies of the list and keep one with you at all times. (**This won’t work for all toxic crutches. If you plan to give up cell phone use while driving, for example, sex won’t work—safely anyway. You could instead breath deeply, turn on the radio or clutch the steering wheel with both hands.)
See an acupuncturist. There’s some evidence that auricular acupuncture (i.e., needles in the ears) curbs cigarette cravings quite successfully, says Ather Ali, N.D., a naturopathic physician completing a National Institutes of Health-sponsored postdoctoral research fellowship at the Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center in Derby, Connecticut. (**Acupuncture may also help manage alcoholism, binge eating, depression, insomnia and stress.)
Think of difficult things you have done in the past. Ask people who know you well to remind you of challenges you have successfully overcome, says Dr. Lieberman. This will give you the necessary self-confidence to stick with your pledge not to :(.
To minimize cravings, change your routine. Sit in a different chair at breakfast or take a different route to work. If you usually after work, change that to a walk.
Tell your friends, coworkers, boss, partner, kids, etc., how you feel about situations instead of bottling up your emotions. If something makes you angry, express it instead of smothering it with :(. If you’re bored, admit to yourself that you’re bored and find something energetic to do instead.
If you relapse, just start again. You haven’t failed.
NOW FOR A SPECIAL TREAT… I’ve asked the talented Jan Harrell, PhD to share her insight on toxic crutches. With 30 years as a clinical psychologist under her belt, she’s a resource worth listening to with an attentive, open heart.
AM: From a psychological standpoint, why do most people rely on “toxic crutches,” such as cigarettes, alcohol and over eating or spending?
JH: All of us, while in large, capable adult bodies with well-developed intellectual left brains are aware, even if it isn’t something we consciously think about, of how vulnerable we each are, how little we can ultimately control. With great courage and determination, we step out into the world and try our best to create the lives we hope for, to find safety and fulfilment, all the while aware of that vulnerability.
Sometimes it makes itself known to us as the feelings of anxiety or depression, sometimes it takes the disguise of self-judgment or anger, but it is always a reflection of our deep awareness about how little control we can count on having. Those “toxic” crutches, whether substance abuse (food, cigarettes, alcohol, food) or addictive behaviors (gambling, spending, TV, video games) are places of refuge, where we can both comfort our feelings of being powerless and overwhelmed, and forget them for a while.
AM: How can a person who wishes to overcome a dependency cultivate desire and motivation (rather quitting because they feel they “should”)?
JH: When we truly understand what emotions and struggles underlie our non-logical behavior, rather than being in judgment or it, rather than trying to force ourselves with will-power and logic, we will be able to kindly and sympathetically, support our sense of vulnerability.
If we can accept that our “maladaptive” behaviors were the best that we were able to come up with, but that there are more loving ways to deal with the challenge of human existence with all the unavoidable vulnerability and lack of control, then we will be able to support ourselves in the same kind way we would guide a child who simply hasn’t learned, yet, how to navigate a difficult situation.
AM: What about for those who lack belief in themselves…feel incapable of giving up there crutch?
JH: Our desire to change and find emotional strength and freedom can be the lifeline we hold onto as we find the knowledge and tools we need to create the life we long for.
AM: How important is a support system? When is professional help necessary?
JH: Imagine Freud had been a teacher, not a doctor. People clearly liked to talk with him, so he probably would have offered classes on understanding human emotion. Instead of this being a question of “mental health” or “mental illness” we would all be thinking about emotional education, and what we feel and how we handle those feelings would simply be a course of study we all would take.
If we look at “professional help” as simply doing a one on one study of ourselves, life and how to handle it, there need be no shame or judgment. It would be no different than deciding to take a trip to France and wanting to learn the language so our trip would be a more rich experience. Just because we decide to travel to France doesn’t make us able to speak French! We aren’t “mentally ill” because we can’t naturally speak French! We all need to be fluent in the understanding and managing of our human emotion. If we aren’t, why wouldn’t we want to learn!
AM: (Isn’t she fabulous??? :)) Thanks again, Jan, for your time and wisdom.
What toxic crutches have you, or do you wish to, over come? Have they come between you and your passions? Are you able to view “maladaptive behaviors” as the best you can/could do?