Wednesday 7 November 2018

How Long Does it Take to Break a Habit?

We're not very good at waiting for things.

We've become so used to being able to buy anything online and have it arrive at our front door within twenty-four hours. We have any information we might ever need about anything just a few clicks away. We can find a date just by swiping right. Instant gratification is the new norm.

When I quit drinking, I knew that the first few days, possibly weeks, would be pretty awful, but I thought that, fairly quickly, life would return to normal and I could forget about the whole thing.

How wrong I was.

You see, changing a deeply ingrained habit takes time. 

I spent nearly three decades persuading my sub-conscious mind to equate any social event with alcohol. Then, over time, I taught it that alcohol was necessary to deal with any celebration, any commiseration, any stress, any anxiety or, in fact, pretty much any emotion at all.

However determined you are that alcohol, cigarettes, sugar, prescription drugs (delete as appropriate) no longer have a role in your life, you cannot hurry up your subconscious. It will catch up with the new agenda eventually, but you have to, slowly, slowly, build new neural pathways to replace the old ones.

For fifteen years, I was a terrible smoker. I adored smoking. I saw it as rebellious and sexy, and cigarettes were the prop I relied on to get me through any slightly tough times. By the end, I would need to light a cigarette just to answer the telephone, and I was smoking around thirty a day.

Quitting was really hard. I didn't think I'd ever be able to enjoy a party again, or a meal with friends without the cigarette at the end to look forward to. How could I have sex without being able to light up afterwards?

It took a long time to persuade my sub-conscious to get with the programme. I missed it less and less, but the cravings would still blind-side me for months after I quit.

Yet now, the idea of smoking after a meal, or after sex, or indeed any time at all fills me with total horror. Why on earth would I do that to myself?

And, three years after quitting drinking, I'm starting to feel the same about booze.

These days, I hardly ever think about drinking. I don't notice what other people are drinking. I have to remind myself to buy wine if someone's coming round for dinner, and I never look at their glass with envy. In fact, I don't look at it at all.

But getting to this point took a while. You can't do it in one month, which is why Dry January can be a bit off-putting. The first month is really hard, and not long enough to see the real benefits.

So how long does it take to break a habit?

Many addiction experts talk about the power of threes.

It takes three days for the toxins to leave your body.

It takes three weeks for the worst of the physical withdrawal symptoms to recede.

It takes three months (or around 100 days) for the worst of the mental cravings to go.

I would add that it can take over a year before you get to the point where it never even crosses your mind to go back there.

I'm sure that the reason a lot of people quit quitting is that they've done a few days, weeks or even months and it's still hard, and they can't believe that it should still be difficult, or that it's ever going to get any better.

I promise you, IT WILL.

100 days seems like a very long time when you're struggling. A year feels like an eternity. But it's nothing in the context of the rest of your life.

There are some tricks you can use to give your sub-conscious a kick up the arse.

If you're quitting alcohol, change all your passwords to ilovebeingsober, for example. Just typing that several times a day will help.

Make a vision board showing what life without booze/cigarettes/sugar will look like - happy, healthy and energetic. Put it by your bed so that your sub-conscious sees it every single morning.

Write a list of all the reasons you don't want to drink/smoke/eat rubbish and put it on the fridge door.

Don't give up giving up. Don't give up on yourself. Don't give up on life.

If you do find yourself constantly back at Day One, then read my post The Obstacle Course (click here). It's one of my most popular blog posts and many, many people have told me it's helped them.

To find out more about the ups and downs of the first few months sober you can read my book, The Sober Diaries, here (UK) and here (USA).

I also post daily information and inspiration on the SoberMummy Facebook page ('like' page to stay updated).

Love to you all,