November 21, 2014

Breaking Habits

Human beings are creatures of habit. We like to think we have free will and that we consider each of our actions; but most of what we do we do from habit. We don't wake up in the morning and say, "Which beverage shall I have this morning?" We put on the coffee pot. We have a whole routine of "getting started" every day. Each move we make is choreographed, a part of a ritual; and if one part is omitted, we get flustered, we're out of step. We know that something in our appearance or our demeanor is different and we keep apologizing for its absence. "I didn't have my coffee this morning."

A friend of mine used to go to a bar every night after work. He didn't identify himself as an alcoholic - just a 'regular' social drinker. He'd leave his office parking lot, turn right, go two blocks and pull into the bar's parking lot "to have a drink to unwind". Lots of people in his company did. Some came once in a while; some came regularly. Of those who came regularly, some had a drink and went home. But others had to be pried off the barstools, 86'd before they'd leave. Those who still had families were in the process of losing them.

He wanted to quit. He didn't want to lose his family. He wanted to drive past that parking lot on his way to the freeway, to get home and sit down to dinner with his wife and kids, to see them and enjoy them while it was still daylight; but it was as if he was an iron robot and the bar, a great magnet. He asked how he could find the strength to not turn into the bar's parking lot. "When you leave your office parking lot," I said, "Turn left instead of right. Drive a few blocks down and pick up the freeway at another entrance. Why subject yourself to the lure of a bar two blocks on your right. Avoid it. Break your habit earlier.. before the routine can kick-in." He looked at me as if to say, "That's too easy."

I saw him a couple of months later. He hadn't been in the bar once in the interval. "Funny thing," he said. "Before when I would try to quit and somebody said, 'See ya' later at the Pub,' I'd have to explain that I was on the wagon.. and then I'd have to hear all kinds of comments. But now I just say, "Nah... Sorry. It's out of my way. I take another route now."

Q: What do you do when a relative resents the fact that you've stopped drinking and only stand there at family functions while everybody else gets drunk. I have an uncle who thinks it's a big joke to bring a bottle of whisky especially for me. When he arrives he hands me the bottle and yells, "Here! Got this just for you"cause I know how much you love the stuff!" and everybody laughs. I'm really tired of it. I've tried to tell him nicely to stop it, but he won't. Signed J.

A: Providing you're not standing on somebody's Persian rug, next time he does it, accept the bottle, and while you keep looking him right in the eye, drop the bottle and say, "Clumsy me." Your uncle will curse and call you a few names - but you've just made a fool out of him and he won't set himself up for that again.