This year is the 20th anniversary of me stopping gambling and drinking. I didn’t stop overnight. I tried and failed many times to cut these two destructive forces from my life. I knew I had a problem by the time I was twenty. It took another five years to make stopping a reality. That was five years of failed attempts. Five years of anger and upset. Five years of lying and deceit. Five years of self-punishment and recriminations.
Looking back over those destructive years leading up to me stopping, I realise I was making an impossible request of myself. I was trying to use will-power to change my behaviour. My drinking and gambling were out of control. I was out of control. I knew I needed to stop. So why didn’t I?
After each blackout or sickening loss in the casino, I would chastise myself and vow never to do it again. I would be determined to stop, to change, to become a good man, a trustworthy honest man. I willed myself to stop. I implored myself. I looked in the mirror dreaming of change, wanting to be stronger, wanting to be like everyone else, wanting to have their mental strength, their easy normality. I wanted the power to control myself; I felt disgusted self-pity and hatred looking in the mirror. My weakness burned like a knife.
Do you recognise these feelings? Are you in the darkness, searching for light, seeking to make a change in your life? Have you been relying on will power to come to your aid? Are you having any more luck than me?
The lesson I learnt through the dark days and the long journey of recovery that followed is that will power is never enough. It doesn’t matter how hard you fight, how much you try or how much your friends and family encourage you; the outcome is likely to be the same.
If you are using will power to make a change in your life, it will generally fail. Maybe you are strong, and you can hold onto the change for a week, a month maybe even a year. But in the end, life catches up with you, and your demons will come running back.
Change comes when you accept that the “bad” behaviour is a coping response to significant emotional feelings. The solution lies in changing the way you see yourself; you begin the process when the narrative in your mind changes; it starts to happen when you connect and understand your WHY.
Why do you want to change, why is life going to be better when you change, why is it important, why do you want to do it. Write down you’re why. Paint a very clear picture of it in your mind. You need to create a mental image of the kind of person you want to become.
Then make a commitment to become the kind of person who behaves with this purpose each day. Own the change. Then each day take tiny steps towards living life as the kind of person you want to be. Own your journey. Own your dreams and goals. Forget about will-power. Create small daily habits that you are proud of. Celebrate them each day. Mark each one of these successes as a good day. These good days will turn into weeks, then months and finally years. Long before others believe, you must believe it’s possible.
Remember, we climb the mountain, not in giant leaps but one small step at a time.