Why on earth would I start out a year long, self-care themed guided journey, with Abstain? Boring! Isn’t January supposed to be about doing new things, not not doing things?
While the other 11 monthly themes this year are more aligned with trying new and enjoyable aspects of life (just wait till February’s theme!) it’s important to mentally/physically/ emotionally/spiritually detox from those areas in our life that are no longer serving us. What’s one thing in your life that you feel like you need less of?
Tips on abstaining. Abstaining is not effective if we:
· Make forever statements “I’m never doing ____ again!”
· Set unrealistic goals. “I’m going to abstain from 20 different things at once!”
· Think failing is an option. And not in the militant, uber sporty “Failing isn’t an option” way, more like a “there is no such thing as failing, as long as you show up you pass” sort of way! Abstaining is not about perfection, its about information. So, if you “break” your goal, don’t give up, keep trying, but notice what led up to it, what purpose it served, how did you feel after etc.
· Focus on all or nothing- In drug and alcohol recovery, the focus is often on sobriety, not using the substance ever again. That is really important for some people, and doesn’t work for other people. Some people prefer recovery programs that center around moderation, which replace the principle of “never again” with “less”. That can apply to any area of our life where we are temporarily abstaining. Maybe you will find you don’t want this element in your life ever again, or maybe you just need less.
· Replace what you are abstaining from with other, more harmful coping mechanisms. If you are abstaining from biting your nails and find you start smoking/vaping, maybe reflect on this goal and how you are going about it…
Caveat- I will never, never, never suggest or encourage weight loss as a goal. I am all for intuitive eating, adjusting relationships with food and our bodies, incorporating movement into our daily routine, and noticing what healthy actions make us feel better. I am not about dieting, weight loss, fasting or anything else that is based in the shameful belief that "you are not good enough this way". I've worked hard on this myself, and don't want to enable this belief in others. If that is what you are looking for, I am not the therapist for you.
Why taking a break is helpful:
You know how in those Magic Eye pictures where you see one thing but then you squint, or shift, or stand on your head you can see something else? (I mean, I was never able to see anything other than the first picture, but for the sake of the metaphor I’m putting my faith into the belief that these things are real)! So, what initially looks like mountains is now actually a duck, or something (again, I never saw it. Should I change this metaphor? Nah, double down!) And now you are looking at the duck and can’t unsee the duck, this picture is forever changed in your eyes just by a slight shift in perspective and the belief that there is more to what initially meets the eye (nailed it!)
Unsure if drinking is a problem? Noticing that something feels off in one of your relationships but can’t quite figure out what? Feeling drained after certain conversations, phone scrolling or fighting with your kids to go to bed? Take a break from some behavior that you are doing in that equation to adjust your perspective and observe what shifts.
Now that we can see things a little differently “huh, maybe me spending 10 hours a day on social media isn’t great”, we need some space. Sometimes, by creating a little space and stepping back from something we know or at least suspect isn’t working for us we can experience new ideas/feelings/needs that begin to fill that space.
Feel your feels-
It can be pretty overwhelming when we take a break from using our traditional coping and numbing techniques. You may be surprised by some of the emotions that arise in you when you subtract a behavior. Perhaps you are working to reduce your perfectionist tendencies and are flooded with guilt and insecurity. Perhaps you are working to break codependent habits (after all we can’t actually change anyone) and then notice you are really, really angry.
Feel your feelings, and then label them. Select a word to match how you are feeling (labeling feelings is a superpower!) When we move away from being either “good, bad or mad”, and can instead say we are dealing with “shame”, “envy”, “joy”, “fear” etc, we have added insight into what our needs are and what our options are.
With an attitude of openness and curiosity ask yourself- Why do I do ____? How do I feel not doing ___? What does my body feel like when I ___ and when I don’t ___? When did this start? What does this give me? What does this take away from me? What would my life be like without or with just less ___? You are not yet making decisions, or lifetime commitments, you are just exploring and understanding.
As we explore our thoughts/feelings/physical symptoms, approach this with a mindset of neutrality and compassion. We do not do things for no reason, there is some sort of gain that we get from even the most harmful of behaviors. Drugs initially feel good. Self-harming can be seen as a release. Staying in an abusive relationship can keep in place comfort or safety. Screaming at your kids may temporarily feel good, and after all that’s how you were parented. (Changing how you parent could mean having to address some feelings about your own childhood). Pretty much anything we do has the potential to serve as an avoidance technique from dealing with other, more painful and complicated areas of our lives.
I’ve practiced and advised a lot of goal setting techniques in my day. While some are hit or miss, I believe that if we aren’t acknowledging the gain we are getting from a behavior we are less equipped to deal with the fall out after changing it.
If we cut our skin, we clean it before we bandage it, so that it can heal properly. If we are damaging our bodies, mind or spirit, it can be very helpful to do a cleanse of sorts to detox impurities and give ourselves the best chance to heal. Just as our lungs start to heal very quickly after stopping smoking, our self-worth/self-respect/self-love can begin to bloom in healthier environments.
Perhaps this looks like compassionate affirmations replacing those perfectionistic or judgmental thoughts. Perhaps your relationship with others and yourself starts to heal as you distance yourself from co-dependency. Perhaps some hope begins to seem back into your mindset when you stop watching the news 24 hours a day or doom-scrolling on your phone.
Just as life injures us all and we all have unhealthy habits, we are all capable and deserving of healing.
Wishing you insight, space to reflect, and a very full New Year!