Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The Stages of Change

It is interesting (and probably telling/meant to be/stars aligning/etc) that most of my graduate studies have consisted of behavior change ideas, concepts and theories. In all of that work, however, you never learn how to change your own behavior (maybe it is an assumption that being in the field of public health you might practice what you preach...ha!)....but, I do think it has been quite interesting and informative to be able to see, first hand, how behavior change plays out and what struggles come about in the process....but I digress...

The actual point of this blog
I've noticed, over the course of this journey, some stages/mind sets that I have experienced along the way. I think the first month was easy (anyone can change a behavior for a month) and maybe my rationale for not drinking was more surface level. Then once I passed that three month mark I began to realize the benefits, the positive changes on my life, the changes in my personality, and really started to believe in my decision. And for about 5 months after that I strongly believed in my decision, received a TON of support from friends and family, and each day confirmed why I was abstaining from alcohol. Now, and for the past couple of months, I have continued to stick to my guns and have noticed that my thinking process has changed from being an internal process to being a comparative/external process. In other words, I have been comparing myself to others more, whereas before I felt confident and independent and successful and sort of unique (in a good way).

As I have mentioned before, humans rationalize their decisions to match with their actions. So since I have retired from drinking, I have had to change my view on alcohol to coincide with my behavior. Which I have been able to do quite successfully. Now, I believe, the issue is for me not to push these new found views on others. I have said before that a wise man once told me to remember that "just because I have a headache, doesn't mean the whole world needs to take an aspirin". Which I strongly believe. Just because I decided to quit drinking, in NO way, means that others need to do the same. BUT, I will say that keeping my mind in check on that notion is difficult. Think about it...if I have told myself that my sobriety is great, and I feel healthy, and I am no longer making stupid decisions, and I don't use it as a crutch to make life easier or relieve stress...then imagine how difficult it is to hold onto those feelings, AND not view others differently for going against them when I see those close to me drinking. I think on the positive side, I notice these thoughts (my questionable views about other people, my interpretations on their use of alcohol) as soon as they entire my mind, so I am able to refocus myself and realize that they are them and I am me and everyone is different...and to realize that I quit because alcohol was in no way, shape, or form benefiting my life....I didn't quit because I drank socially/healthfully and was able to control myself.

But I will say that I can see why behavior change for drug addicts, smokers, etc is very difficult when your social network are users. And while this might be somewhat of an exaggeration, everyone I know drinks...regardless of what level of drinking they engage in, bottom line is everyone does drink. So when doctors, social workers, therapists tell recovering drug addicts to remove themselves from the unhealthy environment and find different friends- that works for them....but for me to remove myself from an environment of alcohol use is basically impossible. And I don't really believe that anyone will understand this social and mental conflict until they have experienced it...but it is hard.

And I don't say this to make anyone uncomfortable...as always, this is my decision, my battle, and my life. And I want to continue to live and be social in this environment which will require me to work through this mental battle...and in the end (silver lining) make myself stronger. But I just wanted to share this interesting mental process I have been going through. Each day is different...full of different thoughts and views, different interactions with alcohol and sobriety, and different levels of affirmation and questioning of my decision.

Oh life...how you never cease to challenge me :)


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Maybe it's not just me?

As I sit here about to watch "What's Eating You?", an eating disorder special on E!, I can't help but think about my own issues. Recently I've realized that a large majority of my friends/peers in high school had eating "issues" (I call them "issues" because it sounds less like a mental health disorder, which is not generally socially accepted...). I can easily count 8 people close to me that dealt with some form of eating/body image issues growing up. This HAS to do with the culture we were brought up in. While we were growing up, so was Howard County (our home town). Howard County was growing to be more affluent and welcomed more upperclass individuals...which is all fine and dandy, until children start comparing themselves to one an other. Things such as wealth and possessions were sometimes out of the hands of teenagers; body, however, was not. Many people struggle with body images because they long to control something in their life, and this is that thing. I am starting to believe that the youth in Howard County struggle so much to control their popularity and their appearance/appeal to others, leading them to strive for the perfect body. Because these pivitol teenage years are full of comparing and modeling, girls can't help but compare and compete with others to work out more, eat less, weigh less, and wear smaller sizes. And yes, I understand that eating disorders are everywhere and Howard County isn't the only area that has a high population of girls suffering from this disorder....BUT, I think the pressure that is put on youth from this area to be the most popular...and the modeling that they see from their mothers and older sisters who are also competing for acceptance among their peers truly influences this issue.

Luckily, for the most part, the girls that I know with these issues have been able to move forward and be strong, gorgeous, successful women. But I have even heard people say that coming home generates those unhealthy behaviors/thoughts again. Which I can completely agree with...there is a fear that the people that knew you as being small will see you bigger and not approve or gossip about you...so that fear causes you to want to make sure you are as attractive and in shape as possible. It is really quite sad. It is sad that an area that is so affluent and breeds some highly intelligent and successful adults, can also pressure young adults to strive for perfection when it is completely unneccessary.

Anyways...my hope is that with time, education and societal changes that the next generation in this area won't be so focused on their appearance and perfection. Granted, that is probably impossible because kids will always compare themselves to each other...but I hope that the focus is not on body image. I hope that being active and healthy is the lifestyle that youth aspire to live. It is very interesting that an area that prides itself in having such a wonderful school system and producing such smart and successful kids, doesn't realize that it is also cultivating mental and behavioral health issues that carry on into adulthood.

Be happy. Love yourself...because, at the end of the day, you are the only one that matters.


Monday, November 8, 2010

A Motto to Live By

"It's never too late for change"

A lot of things recently have made me assess how I am viewed by others. Things such as meeting new people (what kind of first impression do I make?), a radio discussion on what defines sexy (how do I carry myself?), trying to get ahead at work (do I appear to be an intelligent 'go-getter'?), and then lastly the damsel in distress persona that I've so carefully crafted for myself (can that be changed?). And all of those things led me (as usual) to a self evaluation and analysis.

As I have grown in the past year, I have internally gained a strong sense of confidence and in the past couple of months have worked to make that more externally apparent. I think the insecurities were led by a mixture of hiding behind electronic forms of communication and alcohol. I remember in middle school being quite confident and vocal and self assured, and then somewhere in high school I can remember this going away. Part of the reason (I believe) was my desire to please others. For some reason (probably stemming from some childhood incident, as all things do) I became somewhat apathetic and decided it was easiest to go with the flow...this way more people liked me because I rarely disagreed with their ideas and opinions, and I didn't have to struggle with making decisions for myself. I think this is best exemplified in the fact that I applied to all of the colleges my friends were going to and didn't even bother doing research or visiting any to make a decision for myself.

So after developing this laid back attitude, I started using letters, emails, and texts to vocalize any discontent that I felt. So basically I was able to be a hard ass on paper but once someone tried to talk face-to-face I completely caved and went back to agreeing with everyone. And then, of course, I used alcohol as a crutch but I think I've discussed that enough :). Now, ultimately I don't think this attitude choice that I made really affected too much because, for the most part, I enjoyed what my friends did and didn't like arguing anyways. And I do believe that if I was strongly opposed to something that I did say something. But I have realized that this attitude has left me with this helpless, indecisive persona. As I have said before, I have always made fun of myself as a way to deal with (ignore) the serious issues in my life. So by never making my own decisions and continuing to make stupid ones (and make a joke of it) when I do, I think that a lot of people view me as being pretty incompetent...like a little child that needs guidance or something awful will happen. Now granted, this may have been true (and sometimes still is) BUT through all of these adverse experiences and rude awakenings, I have learned a lot and am a lot more knowledgeable than I think people make me out to be.

I don't always state my opposing opinion if I know that the topic is near and dear to someones heart or they are a little self conscious about the issue, because I don't really see the point in bursting someone's bubble if the issue isn't a serious one. And I sometimes let people help me out when I really don't need help, because I think it makes people feel good to help others...and it really isn't hurting me. BUT, I would just like to say that for the record (haha) I am a pretty smart cookie, I always learn from my mistakes (even if it takes a while to sink in), and deep down I kind of know I am pretty awesome and a force to be reckoned with ;)

And to circle back around to the first line...I don't believe it is ever too late for a change. As I have said before, my current view on drinking has changed from "why not" to "why do it"...and it keeps me in check. I believe that also applies to this lackadaisical attitude I had before..."why not just go along with the crowd, it won't hurt anyone"...as opposed to "why do it? how will being helpless and apathetic help me?". The hardest mind to change is always going to be your own. And your perception of yourself will always be the hardest, most critical one. I believe that once you have YOUR mind focused and have a confident perception of yourself, the views of others will fall into place. And coming from experience I think that developing external confidence is just as hard as developing internal confidence, after living a life of being quiet, timid, and looking unapproachable. But I think, as always, that acknowledging your "pitfalls" is the first step...and nothing is impossible, and it is never too late.