Twenty-one Days

I had a therapist tell me once, years ago, that it takes 21 days to form or break a habit. For some reason, this statement popped up in my brain the other day. Breaking bad habits and forming new ones is a big part of my recovery, so I decided to look into it.

I googled this factoid and found a myriad of self-help type websites that said “experts agree” or “research has shown” that it takes 21 days to make/break/change a habit without citing the actual experts or research. I even found an iphone app. It’s $0.99 though, so eff that (yes, I really am that cheap).

With a little more digging, I found that the 21 Day Habit Theory was first introduced by Dr. Maxwell Maltz. He was a plastic surgeon who worked with amputees and found that it takes an average of 21 days for the phantom sensation of the lost limb to cease. Later, he applied this finding to work with his plastic surgery patients. He found that many of them maintained their negative self-image even after surgery had given them the results they sought. He found that before surgery, he could use this same 21 day period to help patients improve their self-esteem, through visualization, to the point where they no longer wanted surgery. It doesn’t seem like this discovery would be in his best interest, except he published a bestselling self-help book in 1960. His theory was that it takes the human mind about 21 days to adjust to a major life change.

In the five plus months of my sobriety I’ve broken many bad habits. Here’s a list of a few of them. I’ve replaced them with some good habits, writing this blog, for example. But I’ve also replaced them with some bad habits. Sure, I don’t come home from work and waste the rest of my evening online on dating and sex sites, but I do come home and waste the rest of the evening in bed watching tv. I’m not going on dates with three or four men a weekend, but I’m also hardly leaving my house on the weekends.

I know a lot of it has to do with the season. It was easy for me to work out and take yoga classes during the summer, but now it’s cold, dark when I wake up, and dark by the time I’m home from work. I don’t want to do shit but turn on the heat, eat fancy cheeses and chocolate, drink wine and curl up in bed. But this isn’t taking care of myself. So I’m going to apply this 21 day habit theory and do some form of physical exercise for 21 days. Hopefully, after 21 days, it will become a habit that I automatically do without having to force myself or work up special motivation. Not only will regular exercise benefit me physically and mentally, it will also get me out of the house. I’ll let you know the results of this experiment in about three weeks.

Are there any habits any of you want to change? Have you ever successfully used the 21 day model to change a habit?

Snapped Back In

In my last entry, I wrote about how I’ve been struggling the last week or so to stay present and how I had to keep forcing myself to take contrary action. I’d been kind of taking a mental vacation, but today I received some stressful news and I was forced to snap out of it.

If I don’t find a less expensive apartment and cut down my costs as soon as possible, I won’t be able to pay my rent in a few months, and I won’t have any savings left. Since I am a sex a love addict, I “sexualize stress, guilt, loneliness, anger, shame, fear and envy” and I “use sex or emotional dependence as substitutes for nurturing care, and support.” My first reaction was to find some man to take care or me, fuck the stress away, and make it all better. As appealing as that strategy sounds, I know from past experiences it does not really work out so well in the long run. So I’ve been facing the stress head-on — looking at apartments (I actually forgot craigslist could be used for something other than finding dates/sex partners), contacting consignment stores to sell some furniture I have in storage, and dealing with other money dramas.

I even placed an ad on craigslist (no, not that kind of ad) for housing wanted. I know it’s a long shot, but my sponsor always says to put things out to the Universe. My hope is some kindly mansion-dweller will be charmed by my ad and rent out a room to me. You never know, right?

Since I can’t deal with the stress I’m feeling now with sex, I used yoga, my sex alternative. I took a class today, and it was really hard for me to let go of my stress. My teacher had to keep reminding me to breath. We did a lot of hip openers in this class. I have always heard that hip openers can make people really emotional because feelings like guilt and stress that go unresolved are usually stored in the hips. I never really bought this because I am full of un-dealt-with emotions and my hips are so open I can do the splits. But the hip openers we were doing today were different poses from the ones I usually do, and stretched a different area than I am used to. I actually started crying in class! Luckily, I was able to quickly get myself together, and I don’t think anyone noticed.

Even though today has been stressful, I am grateful that I am able to be present, and that I am dealing with my affairs like an adult.

 

 

 

Balance

The past few weeks I seem to vacillate between, “Holy Shit, I’ve cured myself! Every thing is wonderful now and I am completely ready to have a healthy relationship!;” and, “Oh my God, what the fuck is wrong with me? Will I ever be normal?” One day I am ready to conquer the world, the next it is a struggle to even leave my apartment. Yesterday I wanted to act out on all my bottom lines and I had to force myself to do anything healthy. Today I am being all kinds of productive and doing everything right.

When I was in the active phase of my addiction, I thought that having a the perfect boyfriend/husband/lover would be the magical cure-all to all of my life’s woes. Now I realize nothing — not even the 12 steps is going to magically cure me. I have to work hard and use all the tools at my disposal to become whole.

Since I’ve been in recovery, I’ve been practicing yoga 4-5 times a week. Like everything else, yoga is not magic. I do, however, notice a huge different in my mind, body and spirit on the days when I practice. I feel more centered, and like I am approaching wholeness. It takes the edge off when I want to act out, when I’m depressed, when I feel like I hate everything in my life. Yoga reminds me to count my blessings, rather than count my disadvantages (which, unfortunately, was my default system of measure for most of my life).

Physically, I am more flexible, stronger, and have more stamina. My balance has improved, but I still fall regularly and am usually the first and sometimes only person in class to fall during a pose. Today, during class, when I lost my balance during a crescent moon pose (high lunge). The instructor said something like, “they say good balance is a sign of a peaceful mind.” That made sense to me, as my mind is always jumping from one extreme to the other.

I suspect when I learn to find a peaceful middle ground in my head, balance between extremes, I  will find physical balance as well.

Clarity

This morning I woke up with some uncomfortable feelings. I haven’t seen or communicated with HC (the last guy I had a seriously unhealthy involvement with, prior to deciding to work a program of recovery) since early May. Recently, the specific craving for him has lessened. But this morning I woke up missing him. I missed his smell, his touch, his voice, his hands, his body. The feeling was intense. I know if I wanted to, I could call him and he would probably want to see me, but I know the high I would get off the couple hours I spent with him would not be worth the pain that would come after.

Three months without HC in my life, has made the feelings of withdrawal from him more manageable. At first it was absolute agony, though. I know if I see him again, the clock will reset and I will be exactly where I was three months ago, and possibly even worse off.

So instead of contacting HC, or spying on him online (one of my bottom lines and something I could literarily waste the day doing), I took contrary action. I got up and got out of my house and took a yoga class. After that class I took a second one.

Yoga is a huge tool for me in recovery. It not only distracts me from the pain of withdrawal, but it is also healing. After I practice, I feel like a better person. I feel centered and whole.

At the end of the second class, the instructor had us place our hands in prayer position, with our thumbs at our foreheads, praying for clarity of thought. Then we moved our thumbs to our lips and prayed for clarity of words. Finally we moved to our heart to pray for clarity of action.

Next time I am obsessing over HC or some other asshole, feeling the urge to flirt with an unavailable guy , or about to act out, I will practice this and ask my Higher Power for clarity.