Sometimes it’s good to remember that bad habits creep back up like weeds through paving stones. And just as I spend Sunday afternoons pulling out little green shoots from the gravel in the garden, I have to make sure that I keep on top of me – that I tend to my own interruptions.
Two years ago, I spent 12 sessions with behaviour specialist Shahroo Izadi, talking about the way I drink. I don’t have a drinking problem, but my drinking, particularly then, was problematic. It wasn’t so much the quantity I was consuming – not unusual by any account – it was why I was drinking. And with the help of Izadi – who has gone on to write The Kindness Method – I was trying to figure out why I always wanted a drink. And what happened and who I am became once I had a glass of house white in front of me and a pub table for the evening ahead of me.
After our work together, my friends noticed the change. I felt on top of things. I felt in control. I moved in with my boyfriend, who has a very healthy relationship with booze. He often says no to a drink and simply enjoys one when the mood fancies, whereas I spend time wondering when I’ll have my next glass of wine. I feel my mood blossom like flowers after summer rain when I enter a pub or open a bottle or pour a G&T. But with him, my drinking was regulated, paced. I felt good. Until I wasn’t. Until I drank so much I was sick in the street or in the back of a taxi, or I drank so much before meeting friends for dinner that I was an hour late and arrived in tears. Oh, hang on a minute. Am I OK?
While tending to the weeds in the garden makes the garden look prettier, tending to me, taking a moment to examine why I’m doing what I’m doing, makes me stronger and more focused and a little bit lighter
As I have learned, changing unwanted habits isn’t a one-off task, a job done, a “dust down your hands, put in a drawer, move on to the next project”. Despite what I might have thought. In my head, to begin with at least, I’d done my time and now I had a better outlook on my life. I was finished, so let’s open the wine to celebrate. Yet, now, my head is thumping and I feel exhausted because I hadn’t meant to drink all that wine, but somehow time and thoughts and promises have disappeared with the bottle.
And so, over the following two years, I have had to remind myself of what Izadi has said to me; of how I felt before I worked with her and how I felt after; of how good I feel hungover-free on a Saturday morning even when I want to drink wine and follow it wherever it takes me on a Friday night; of how, when I’m worried or anguished, a run around Peckham Rye and a hot bath will make my shoulders drop and bring back perspective, perhaps not as quickly as a gulp of cold pinot but more substantially, more authentically.
And just as I go outside into the garden with my sliders and a radio and a cup of tea to pull out those pesky, neverending weeds, I have to make the time to remind myself about me and that pesky pull in my chest for a glass wine. Izadi told me about the complacency trap – that if you think you’re on top of something, your guard drops and you fall back into old ways. For me, the complacency trap is always round the corner – and not just with wine, but with the gym or a book I don’t want to but should read. Once I’ve done a bit of something I don’t really want to, I feel so pleased myself I reward myself with the exact opposite. I went to the gym yesterday, so I’ll eat mac and cheese today! I didn't drink last night, so who wants a 6pm G&T? I’ve read two chapters, so let’s watch Netflix for five days. Eroding bad habits and behaviours can’t happen on a surface level – you have to change what you do over and over and over and over to make a mark, to change the course of something. The waves have to crash on the rocks for centuries to alter the shape of the landscape.
“Working on ourselves” feels like a very modern concern, where the self is the centre of everything. I’m nervous and sceptical about the way our culture puts the self above all else. Yet tending to the bits of me that need a spot of weeding, that need a bit of rerouting, from time to time, just like the weeds in the garden, goes a long way. And while tending to the weeds in the garden makes the garden look prettier, tending to me, taking a moment to examine why I’m doing what I’m doing, makes me stronger and more focused and a little bit lighter.
Accepting that the bits of ourselves we don’t like can’t disappear overnight is strangely liberating. Like brushing my teeth or trying to keep in the same jeans size, the mundanity of keeping the everyday ticking along can be strangely empowering because, actually, every day is a series of tiny victories.