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Why Aren’t Negative Consequences Enough to Promote Change? How Bad Does it Have to Get Before I Kick My Butt into Gear?

Why Aren’t Negative Consequences Enough to Promote Change?

Man’s eternal quest: 

“I want my substance or behaviour.  I need it in my life.  I really enjoy it.  I just want the bad stuff to stop.  I just want to control it!”

When you’re struggling to deal with problem behaviours or substance use issues, you’re undoubtedly fearful, terrified even, of being told to relinquish the behaviour entirely.  This is completely unimaginable to you because you seek much comfort from it.  You believe you need it to cope, relax, be social, and get away from the problems of life – in short- to just get through the day.    Unpleasant feelings like anger, fear, boredom or loneliness begin the craving process.  As it escalates, you forget or dismiss the negative consequences that cause you so much pain in the aftermath of the event.   Intensity of desire rules the day.   It is easier, more familiar, to allow your life to become ruled by the triggers and anticipations and just give in.

“But I Can’t Live Without It!”

As the substance use or compulsive behaviour continues, so do the negative consequences. The costs keep adding up- self-loathing, angry loved ones, lost jobs and financial uncertainties.  It doesn’t make sense to you.  You can’t understand why you keep doing it.  But then fear of its loss prompts you to think. “I can’t stop entirely.  Control is the issue.  I just need to learn how to control it.”

When you are in this Catch 22 Squeeze you cannot see the forest for the trees.  You have zero objectivity and you resist the all too frequent offers of help from family members or employers - the endless threats, the self-hatred and guilt.  You wall yourself off emotionally until all that really exists is your relationship with your behaviour of choice. 

It’s important to understand we all want more than simple survival.  We want to live fully and feel life vividly.  For some, using substances and/or excessive behaviours seems like the only way to achieve this desired feeling of ‘aliveness’.  It’s very difficult to describe in words the urgency, the power of the pull toward engagement that is felt when you’re in craving mode.  The fear of being deprived of this powerful relationship shatters any intention to resist. Despite the ever growing list of catastrophes, you fear the loss of the substance or activity beyond measure.  Having any quality of life without this powerful relationship seems impossible.

Triggers and High- Risk Situations.

Over time, you come to associate the substance use or compulsive behaviour with certain cues or triggers and anticipated rewards ---for example, a clock signals quitting time at work, - time for a few drinks. You respond to the trigger by looking forward to the experience as you have so many times before.   Craving sets in.  Because the rewards of engaging in the behaviour happen quickly – the high for example, craving and anticipation quickly build.  You can quite literally ‘taste it’.  Then you remember last week and the threats from your employer.  You begin the process of dialing back any circumstance that might prevent you from moving forward into substance use or excessive behaviour. What do you need to tell yourself in order to make moving forward seem like a good idea, indeed, a sensible idea.  The “This time will be different.” lie fills the bill very nicely.  “I’ll just have a snack, spend ten bucks, have two drinks etc. etc.   You think about the good times, the fun, seeing friends, how sexy you’ll look in that new dress and your anticipation builds more and more.  You minimize your employer’s comments because, after all, this time will be different.  You’re in charge. 

The truth is, of course, craving is in charge. Craving and positive expectations (how wonderful you feel just thinking about it – how terrific you’ll feel when you’re actually using or doing it.) are driving the bus.  Overcoming the craving seems impossible at this moment.  Positive expectations and renewed feelings of entitlement- “after the day I’ve had, I deserve a drink” overcome any lingering possibilities that it’s not too late to change your mind - make a different decision. You give in.    

Research and the ability of scans to actually see what’s happening to the brain during these periods of craving and the ‘using or doing’ that follows, demonstrates we are in the grip of a powerful experience.  Parts of the brain light up like a Christmas tree.  And, believe it or not, the same pleasure pathways in the brain go into overdrive regardless of the object at hand, a substance or compulsive behaviour. No wonder it’s so hard to mentally change the subject and put the brakes on. 

It is certainly true that people feel substances or viscerally respond to certain behaviours differently than others do.  Biology does influence, to some extent, how hard it is for you to stop or moderate your behaviours.  These are the finer points of your uniqueness.  All of this can be explained to you.  There are answers to what seems confusing and arbitrary to you at the present moment.  It’s important to reach out for some new information that might be different to the time weary explanations you’ve heard over and over again.  It’s about taking all of the information you’ve gleaned from many different and often opposing points of view and weighing and measuring it all up until you arrive at the truth.    And that’s the wonder of it all.  We are all well and truly able to arrive at the decision and find the path that makes the very best sense for each of us.  We are individuals.  What fits like a glove for you won’t fit me at all.

Change is easy. “What?  No way! “  

Yes, my friend, change is easy.  We’ve all done it a thousand times.

It’s following-through that you need help with.  You are unaware of your immense power.  Or perhaps you just scoff when you hear that.  The notion of powerlessness we’ve all heard so much about feels very true in that intense moment of craving and decision -making.  The truth is, you feel powerless when in the grip of craving but you are anything but.   You have immense power but it is power you don’t want to exercise.  You want to buy the latest and greatest widget or the third beer.  You are the only one who has any control over your own behaviour but you’d much rather have those red shoes and so you succumb.  In that moment of panic when craving wells up in your throat and you begin to succumb, you choose not to believe that something, anything, might be better – much, much better than yet another pair of red shoes and the exploding bad credit that comes along for the ride.  You choose to believe you’re powerless.  This is the point where the wheels fall off the bus every time.  Understanding how to follow-through in the context of your addictive acting out is the missing link.  What kicks follow-through into gear is a skill you have yet to learn.  You learn what to do the moment something threatens your decision to change and you learn how to accomplish what has seemed impossible in the past.    “No I can’t!” becomes ‘Yes I can.”

Let’s conclude with an obvious statement that few would deny.

You don’t tear your car engine apart in an attempt to “fix it” if this is the first time you’ve ever looked under the hood.  What are the odds of success?  Experts exist to help you get to the gold ring in the most effective and timely manner possible.  Use them!

I can’t help you fix your engine but I am an addictions expert and I know how the gold ring can be yours.  Help is available today- not next week – today.  Give my office a call at 519-438-4947 and arrange for your 15 minutes of free consultation time.   I look forward to speaking with you.

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