Monday, February 10, 2014

Break All the Rules of Addiction--Part 4

Have you started breaking any of the first three rules yet? I hope your insubordination is starting to make a difference.

Addiction's Rule #4: Only Unoriginal Actions Allowed. Our addictive behaviors are like the jerks of our knee when the patellar tendon is struck with a mallet. They tend to be tired, uninspired, and overdone. As we find our vein and shoot up or tip another tall one back, we're indistinguishable from millions of other people throughout the history of the world who've done the very same thing in the very same way. (Yawn.)

I encourage my clients who are addicted to sex to ask themselves: is there anything I'm doing that couldn't be done by anyone else in the human race--and for that matter, most of the animal kingdom? Even by a couple of overexcited dogs in the park? If it sounds disrespectful to put it that way, that's the point. It's not us as individuals, but such behavior that is completely unworthy of respect. It's addiction itself that assaults our humanity and insult our dignity.

Is there anything original about the way I overeat or yell at my kids? Stop the scene and insert another actor. We don't bring anything to those activities that no one else could. Are we really content with being interchangeable?

When we were moving to California, I pulled the moving van into the parking lot of a Reno hotel at 1:30 a.m. As I walked to the reservations counter, I could see a bank of slot machines. To my amazement, even at that time of night, every machine in the row was occupied. These people didn't seem to be having much fun. By their long faces, slumped shoulders, I would never have guessed that this was an activity they'd been saving up for and anticipating all week. They looked more like automatons along an assembly line. Grab, lift, insert, reach, pull, watch... Grab, lift, insert, reach, pull, watch... Wow. The oppressed laborers I'd seen in a documentary about Chinese sweat shops seemed more vibrant than these folks. As I walked to my room, I was tired and wanted to go to sleep. And I had to live on student wages. I was so glad gambling wasn't one of my vices, and I didn't have to take my place at one of those machines.

To Break It: Do What's You. We weaken the hold of addiction whenever we show up for life and bring our unique flair to whatever we're doing. They broke the mold after they made you, right? So act like it! Do something only you can do. I'm not talking about climbing Mount Everest or swimming the English Channel. We can let our personality shine even when we're doing the simplest of tasks.

Fast forward to your 80th birthday. Imagine that you couldn't be happier with the way your life's gone from now until then. You've lived a life that's full. You travelled each and every highway. And more, much more than this, you did it youuur waaaay! Now imagine that you overhear a few of the conversations going on at the party. What are two or three of the adjectives you hope people will use to describe you and the way you lived?

She was so much fun.

He was so thoughtful.

She was so dedicated to our cause.

Now imagine that your visitors start telling stories about actions of yours they witnessed that demonstrate those qualities. And, lo and behold, you also recall the event they're talking about! Then it hits you that it was something you did in a moment when you were feeling the pull of your addiction, but decided to do something more personally meaningful instead.

"I remember walking out after taking the LSAT, turning on my phone, and finding a text from him asking me how it had gone."

"I remember her sharing with me some of her beautiful photographs."

"I remember when a huge group of us were walking into the building and he stood patiently and held the door for everyone else in line."

Your Daily Dose: The Value Menu Game. Take the time to come up with a list of perhaps half a dozen values and personality traits that make you who you are. List those across the top of a page. Then, list below those headings a few activities--or even brief gestures--that exhibit those qualities. Want to be someone who's respectful? Take the time to learn and use all your coworkers names. Spontaneous? Brainstorm some everyday adventures you take off on with your family. Playful? Help your nephew and his friends set up a spook alley. Appreciative? Start a list of people in your life who deserve thank you notes and watch for snippets of time throughout the week when you can work on writing and sending them.

Then, at least once a day, pick something off your Value Menu and do it! On a day when you have more time you might go give blood or help organize the shelves at the food bank. On a day you have no spare time at all, at least pause to hug your daughter and kiss her on the forehead on your way out the door. Who knows, maybe she'll be the one at your 80th birthday party who says, "She was so supportive. One morning when I was 11, she started giving me 'juicies and squishies'. From then on she did it every morning before she left for work." And then, just maybe, with tears in her eyes: "It couldn't have come at a better time. That affection from my mom helped me get through the next three years, which were the hardest of my life."

When you hear feedback like that, don't be surprised. When thoughtful care and conscious intention infuse your actions, when you "do what's you" instead of mindlessly repeating a compulsion, it's perfectly reasonable for others to see your actions as inspired.

Would mean less to your daughter if she knew that the hug and kiss were a real stretch for you at first? That it started out only because you valued her, rather than flowing from your natural affection? That at the time you felt more like compulsively shopping online than taking that time to show her love? I don't know about her, but to me it means even more. Actions like these are more dignified when our heart's not quite in them. Anyone can do what they feel like doing. What's really admirable is demanding something higher from ourselves when we could so easily do what's familiar and easy.

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