By: Marilyn L. Davis
We Make Changes Daily; It’s Just Selective
“When people are ready to, they change. They never do it before then, and sometimes they die before they get around to it. You can’t make them change if they don’t want to, just like when they do want to, you can’t stop them.” ~ Andy Warhol, Andy Warhol in His Own Words
People have alternatives and choices in their recovery that they never had in their use, yet people will talk about how hard change is, when, in fact, we make changes every day.
However, what we change is usually based on whether we like the change or not. We make changes because we want to, not necessarily because we have to.
How Do We Change?
If you look at the mechanics or mechanism of change, you know how often people change. Think about a typical day:
- You get clothes ready the night before, got up this morning and decided to wear something else.
- There’s a traffic problem up ahead; you change directions.
- Your favorite store is closed, so you try shopping at another one.
- You were listening to the radio, then did not like the next song, so you changed the station.
- A co-worker mentioned a new restaurant, and you decide to go to it instead of your usual.
Do you spend an excessive amount of time deciding if your changes are good or bad? Probably not, because inconsequential or unimportant changes don’t usually elicit fear or negative connections. In the examples, the person decided that the other available choices would be more pleasant, a better choice, or enjoyable, so there was no problem in changing.
However, our choice of change is often selective; in other words, we change what we want to change.
Some Changes are Easy
Seemingly inconsequential decisions and choices help people see that more significant changes work in the same manner. Therefore, we are capable of changing many things in our lives. So why is it that most of these daily changes happen without all the encouragement, threats, coercion, punishments, and rewards?
What Will I Get Out of This Change?
It is when we cannot see that change is going to be better or that we will feel better because of the change, we often balk, resist, or create obstacles to change. We give in to fears, discuss how difficult it is to change, and create excuses, so we don’t have to change. I coach people in recovery, and when I’m asked if I can guarantee particular outcomes for a specific change, I’m honest and tell them I can’t predict a specific outcome.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees that a man will become witty, debonair, and get the prom queen because he now has a job. Or that someone will win the lottery because they are spending money on a ticket and not drugs. Nor will mothering instincts magically take effect because she is not drunk all the time.
What can happen is that these changes allow people to learn something new; that he might just experience a non-using relationship, or she can take a parenting class without the fear of nodding off.
Why Balk at Necessary Changes?
For many addicts and alcoholics, it’s hard to reconcile the conflicts of knowing that they need to change and then doing the complete opposite. It is frustrating to the addict as well as those associated with them. It’s also scary when we realize how much needs changing.
Sometimes thoroughly examining your reasons for doing or not doing something lets you see the aspect of yourself that has prevented you from changing. You can then decide if this reason is still valid to you, or maybe an old idea that you can retire.
Arnold Bennett sums up changes quite well in this quote: “Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”
So, when you find yourself resisting or giving into fears about change, a simple way to help yourself overcome them is to list the obstacles, discomforts, or barriers that prevent you from changing.
Actions Steps to Stop Balking at the Changes
There are no right or wrong answers for this, and you should not edit them, thinking some of them are dumb or stupid. Are there some of these that apply to you when you resist change?
- You’re concerned with the consequences of the change.
- What if people do not like the changed you?
- Changes make you uncomfortable.
- You disagree with the family, friends, and others about what needs to change.
- Will you actually get better outcomes if you change?
- Even thinking about a change makes you anxious and fearful.
- Most changes you’ve made before didn’t turn out well.
- You are not sure what to change and what to change it into.
- Are there people who will help you make changes?
- You’re afraid to ask people for help with changing.
When you make your list, use some from above if they describe your obstacles and barriers. However, if they do not, then be honest, and come up with your own, so that it is personal and relevant to you.
For some of you, merely knowing what your choices have cost you or the consequences you have gotten is not enough to get you motivated to change. For many of you, the fear of both success and failure will prevent you from moving forward.
Stop Telling Me What To Change
- You are bad.
- People think you’re a loser.
- No one is satisfied with your changes so far.
- Some of you hear that what effort you have put into changing is not enough, so to heck with it.
- All this talk of change sounds like messages from your past.
- Some of you get outright stubborn and do not change just because someone told you to change.
Apparently if someone you care about has asked you to change, a court has told you to change, treatment is encouraging you to change, people in recovery supportive meetings are telling you how they changed, and a part of you wants to change, then there must be some other barriers in you that prevent you from fully and completely embracing change.
May Be Time for a Personal Intervention
Interventions work because they disrupt the normal way of doing things. Interventions do not have to be from outside sources but can happen because you are no longer willing to accept the outcomes, dislike the consequences, and genuinely want something different in your life.
Some people think that the “change” has to come all at once, or that the first changes will be perfect. Rarely does this happen about the ideas, behaviors, and actions that you have operated from for years.
However, you can make daily headway on significant changes by modifying little things.
If you procrastinate because the task seems so large or intimidating, spend 15 minutes on it. Make that much headway on the bigger problem.
What often happens is that you end up spending a little more time, feel a great sense of relief that you have made some progress, and can get encouraged to do a bit more tomorrow.
Small incremental changes and effort work for cleaning your house, detailing your car, or removing obstacles to change.
Reward Your Positive Changes
Giving yourself credit when you have accomplished changes can motivate you to make more changes. Giving yourself a personal reward, regardless of its value to others, validates and encourages your changes.
The rewards that you give yourself can reflect back to you each time you see the object.
For instance, you have always wanted to acquire original artwork, but spending money on drugs prevented you from even considering such a purchase. Now, you can head to a local art festival, and even if the acquisition is $500.00, it is still considerably less than you spent on drugs.
• Hang this on the wall
• Put it on the shelf
• Wear that original jewelry
Each time you see it or touch your neck, your artwork validates your changes. I have a friend who started a charm necklace to remind her of all the blessings of her recovery.
Making a reward wearable means you always have a reminder of your changes and your recovery options.
Art, or a charm necklace, not your thing? Then find something that represents a reward to you. It might be a book, dinner at an upscale restaurant, front row tickets to a concert or theater production, fresh flowers once a week, or new clothes, car, or home. The list of rewards will be personal to you, just as the barriers and obstacles were.
Writing, and recovery heals the heart.