Monday, July 12, 2010

The addicted mind

I recently read a post by a fellow blogger who was struggling to stop smoking. I don't know how it is going because he vowed to quit forever quite recently. I give kudos to anyone who is trying to change a bad habit. What did Mark Twain say about this? You stop a bad habit by dragging it down the stairs, one step at a time, not tossing it out forever.

I am trying to quit drinking coffee for the umpteenth time because it's not good for my reflux. Intellectually, I know this. Emotionally, I don't know if I can live without coffee! It's one of the small, intense joys of my life. I have a FB friend who spent about a month posting status reports relating to coffee --- the aroma, the gotta-have-it quality, all kinds of creative plays on coffee and caffeine. She & I have a lot in common!

The mind is quite persistent about continuing a bad habit. There is an obvious explanation: those things we do frequently become hardwired into the brain. A neural shortcut develops over time. This also may explain chronic pain. Even if the original physical complaint no longer exists, the body may still feel phantom pain that is quite real in the way it is experienced. This can be an explanation for chronic back pain or headaches or other pains that do not respond to treatment.

The mind is quite devious at getting what it wants, when it comes to perpetuating a bad habit. It will coax, taunt, and throw a tantrum. It will start negotiating to undermine your resolution. If you want to quit something "forever," the mind will whisper -- forever -- that's a really, really long time. And it's so drastic. Do you really need to do something that drastic?

Then it starts the rationalizing. The little lies. Which are different from big lies, only in that they haven't grown up yet.

Will it ruin you to have just one more (whatever it is) or make it an occasional treat? What would be wrong with that? Why would you want to deprive yourself completely of something that has been such an ingrained part of your life, not to mention something that's given you pleasure and joy, things that aren't exactly abundant in this world? You can control it. You can have one exception, enjoy it, then go back to abstinence.

And then there are the triggers, the times when you normally would be indulging. For me, it's early in the morning and about 3 pm. At work, these are the times when I smell the coffee brewing and get a strong urge to enjoy some. Strong, nearly overwhelming. And really, what harm is there in just 2 cups of coffee a day? Two measly cups. That's all my mind asks. Over and over, during times when I feel strong, and at times when I am caving in and impulsive.

My doctor asked what size cups of coffee I drank -- she said she felt it was important to distinguish. 8 ounces? Or a Bill Miller tea bucket size? Details, my mind whispers. She's being so picky.

It just takes one impulsive slip to fall off that wagon of abstinence. It seems like falling off is so much easier than climbing back on the durn thing. And you barely feel the pain of failing. The pain, in many cases, is deferred -- maybe later, when you come down with cancer or other health problem; maybe never. Don't you like to gamble? It makes life more exciting.

The pleasure? That's NOW, baby. Get it while you can. Quick! Don't think about it. Don't over-analyze.

So people say that quitting smoking is the hardest, hardest thing to do. I'm just glad I never started.What a lucky break that was with parents who both smoked. But I've got to tell all those people who think that quitting smoking is the toughest -- I'll give them a run for their money with me and coffee.

1 comment:

  1. Falling off is definitely the easy part. I can vouch for that. But so far, I am staying on with the no-smoking thing. Perhaps I was just ready. I had tried many times before. But this time just felt like the right time. I had done the prep work, and all it took was a decision. Not that it's been easy, mind you. There are days . . .

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