Learn from my Motherfucking Mistakes (An Occasional Series)

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CW: Eating disorders/alcoholism

How do you work at undoing old destructive patterns that you’ve repeated for years, or even decades? I know there’s no quick fix, but curious to know how you grapple with the same old demons that want you to do the same old shit time and time again (and yes, “demons” is totally a reference to “Strange Glue” by Catatonia…)

I love that song. 🙂 (Given your phrasing, I am guessing you are a person who knows that.)

You’ve answered your own question, I am afraid. There is no quick fix. Slow, dedicated commitment to change is the only answer.

So, my own destructive patterns used to look a lot like me drinking a bottle of wine, having some kind of ill-advised flirtation (or sometimes more than just flirtation) with someone I was only superficially interested in, crashing asleep, waking up feeling awful, both from the alcohol and from the bad choices, and shuffling through my day hating myself.

Here’s another: spending money I couldn’t afford on something I didn’t need, and then feeling guilty about it, so proceeding to basically stop eating for a week. (In my last really bad depressive episode I lost 15kgs. I weighed about 53kg. My healthy weight is closer to 70. The not eating thing is really really bad and dangerous.)

Here’s another: starting a ton of projects when everything is great, and then when depression (inevitably) comes knocking, just giving up on everything because there is too much and it is too overwhelming, and just hiding from the consequences and flaking on everyone.

How did I stop these? Discipline. External scaffolds (I make a LOT of lists). And many, many screwups.

If you drink, my first piece of advice is to stop. Alcohol fucks with meds (if you’re on meds). But more than that, it makes it very difficult to make good choices. And you lose not just the time you’re drinking, but time afterwards while you recover. I tried a lot of things, but nothing really worked till I stopped drinking. I stopped (pretty much) completely for about a year. I spent that time getting my feet back under me and putting in place a bunch of coping mechanisms. Now, I will occasionally have a beer or a glass of wine, but I haven’t been anything close to drunk in…. I think last time was my last birthday, which is nearly a year ago. And even that wasn’t too out of hand.

It also means I don’t do the stupid shit I used to do when I was drunk, so I don’t have to deal with the fallout from that. It means I don’t lose time hating myself and feeling like shit as a result, so that time can be better used on other things. Productivity helps my brainmonkeys, so that helped.

I talk a lot about my many lists. Here’s the thing though. When I started making lists, they had things like meals on them. Shower. Eat breakfast. Drink some water. These were things I would do and tick off. It made me eat three meals a day. It made me hydrate. I had stuff on there I just like to do, because in the depths of my depression I had forgotten what I liked to do. Or even what it was like to like to do things. On the bad days, instead of hiding, I would just tackle the list, one thing at a time. Shower. Eat. Drink water. Go outside. Tick. Tick. Tick. It gave my body what it needed to help fight. And eventually, doing those basic things became easier.

I won’t lie, it was a slog. And for a long time it felt like it wasn’t making a difference and I was still just dragging myself through each day. But I no longer woke up hungover and full of self-hatred. I no longer lived with gnawing hunger in my belly as a broken sign of control. I could reliably take work and start things without being afraid that I was going to flake. (I still over commit; I’m working on that.)

It’s slow. But brains can be retrained, luckily. I learned to stop berating myself. I learned to talk to myself more kindly. I learned to look at myself in the mirror and say, “Come on you badass motherfucker. You got this. You’re a warrior.” I used to say, “Come on you stupid bitch. Stop being pathetic and get your shit together.” This is not a metaphor. This is literally the way I used to talk to myself. When I changed how I spoke to myself, I started to like myself a lot more. Funny how that works.

You’re going to screw up. Changing habits is hard work, and you will fuck it up. Accept that. But learn each time. Why did you fall? Is there a barrier you can remove? Is there something (or someone) in your life that is enabling the destructive behaviour? Can you remove it/them? Get back up. Try again.

Start small. Change one thing. Stop drinking. Eat properly. Set up a schedule. One thing that helps you towards health. Once that becomes easier (it may never be easy – sorry, that’s just how it is), add something else. Don’t try and do it all at once. Don’t set yourself up to fail.

Keep trying stuff till you find something that works. For me it’s lists and routine. That doesn’t work for everyone. Try things. If they don’t help, try something else.

You got this. You’re a badass motherfucking warrior. I love you.