We throw the term around quite a lot. Addiction.
Sometimes with the seriousness an unhealthy compulsion deserves, other times lightly to describe drawing pleasure repeatedly from the same source. As much as addiction can refer to an undesirable dependency on what's perceived or proven to be harmful, It can also simply point towards a feedback loop that is also very human to desire. When a person, an identity, an activity, a thing to be consumed or just a state of mind become pleasurable, It's only natural to want more of it. In some cases, we repeatedly do things we perceive as the only way to exist, even though they offer us no true pleasure in return.
There's no telling which spectrum of the term feels more familiar to you. Being a gym rat or having a few TV shows that glue you to your couch isn't what I am here to talk about. One thing is for sure, you are susceptible to compulsive habituations that my not necessarily be doing you justice, maybe even harming you. Cycles of thinking and behaving that really are unhealthy addictions waiting for you to someday take notice.
I had a few of those. After I figured out acknowledgment would have to be the every first step towards effecting change, I was en route to transforming my thinking, building my will power all the ways to breaking the cycle. Much of that took place in 2017.
Getting to know myself, I have started to recognize a few things about the ways I went on living. One being repetitive addictive impulses in desperate need of a shift. Another thing I realized about myself was that I don't give myself enough credit. Especially when it comes to achievements. One of the reasons being constant comparison of each achievement to what I have adopted from society, a tried and tested recipe to always falling short. This year has been one of those you may call a profound turning point. I dealt with areas in my life full of hurdles I never thought I had what it took to ever get over.
I figured I would share with you the cycles of addictions I managed to discontinue, with the hopes that It will help empower you to first recognize any in your life and go about the business of transforming yourself. My shift showed it's sprouts years ago, with every phase bringing setbacks, breakthroughs, most of all lessons of it's own. 2017 has been harvest season for many seeds that had not yet bore fruits. Here are the negative habituations that have become my triumphs in focus this year.
1. "For the love of money and title"
It's considered a luxury, in many senses a condition of stupidity caused by unrealistic ambitions, to pursue only that which brings you joy. Where I am from at least. I grew up as what one would call an 'well rounded pupil' excelling in my studies but also with an affinity towards community, art, language and expression. A teacher's pet with the magnitude of my potential prophesied by the folks I looked up to. A lot.
With a big condition attached to it. Academic excellence.
My loving Father always explained how the poems I wrote in the wee hours of the morning after he would wake me up to study my math and sciences, would never amount to much when it comes to surviving out in the real world. A gifted writer himself, he had to assimilate with the demands of life as he knew it, ignored his dreams so he could provide for his growing family, I knew he knew what he was talking about. But I never fully accepted the path that had be predetermined for me by well meaning people who couldn't visualize my true gift and the places it were to take me if nurtured.
I was expected to become the second physician in my family following in the footsteps of my sister who was and still is a big help, pride and joy to my parents. While I understood that, I was also shown enough examples of failed attempts at success through my siblings who could've turned out to be badass entrepreneurs and artists were they given a chance other than academia. My becoming a doctor was such a sure fact of life that even extended family members referred to me as that. "huletegnawa doctor" reminding me that the best I could do would be to simply repeat my sister's success story. I am already a grade A student, it made sense.
My late teens and adolescent years would clearly show I wasn't cut out for years on top of years of immersing oneself in medical school curricula. Although there were classes like Anatomy that I enjoyed, my view of being in the medical field always failed short of a meaningful passion but remained a promise to make tons of money and earn people's respects through initials that would follow my name.
I failed, failed again and failed some more.
The mistake wasn't failing, it was the fact that I took ME as a complete failure, each adamant attempt sunk me deeper into depression. I convinced myself that a 'more realistic' path with a doctorate degree in Pharmacy which seemed to promise just as much gratification in currencies of title-based pride and a comfortable life while it requited less dreadful college years. The closer that reality became, the unhappier I grew.
Then it stood out, my career path was merely an obsession for a degree, a life deemed worthy by the society that raised me, another addiction to image characterized by low self esteem and anxiety to please. All this when all I wanted to do was WRITE as I soaked myself with all that life is.
It wasn't as much 2017 has it's been the years leading up to it that I realized my addiction to the definitions of success that were not my own. I now call myself 'a writer' when asked what I do, confident in the purpose that brings me Joy. The opinions I allow influence me to a degree are now solely from friends and family who know well enough and respect my soul's yearning for expression and my burning desire to help those who share my struggles. Finally discovered the truth about success and how to go about seeking it through doing what one loves. It is the only way to live a full life. It pays loads in the currency of contentment.
1. "Validate me friend!"
The addiction to pleasing others has been one vivid personality trait since I was old enough to offer any human, well, anything. I grew up trained to work hard for love and be a certain way to earn acceptance. Needless to explain how I had no idea of another way of doing the adult thing. Well, until I got sick and tired of yearning approval from fellow humans. Let's face it, we are all going through life figuring out how to give ourselves the ultimate high-five about how we tackle this great mystery we call life.
If I liked you, dated you or fancied calling myself your friend, chances are that you embody qualities that I thought I could only wish I had. Looking back into personalities I repeatedly allowed to get close to me, I see a striking pattern of person after person who emanated self-assurance. Ding ding!! Knowing very well that I lacked confidence in myself and the path my life took, I see exactly why I immersed myself in relationships and friendships with characters who were in many ways my opposites; people who knew how to get their way, unapologetic about who they are and oh so confident in their choices. I had good intentions, I was aiming for the good to rub-off on me while I offered my loyalty and kindness so that these alpha personas would always find a reason to stay around or so I thought. What actually happened would prove to dangerously drain me and the fragile self confidence I was attempting to build while leaning on the beams of light offered by their egos. Little did I notice the boundaries I had allowed to be crossed through my habitual openness and genuine vulnerability, my increasing compulsion to say 'yes' when I wanted to say 'no' because I felt I had to prove my worth for all the greatness I was convinced they brought to my life. I watched as my sense of self diminished even smaller with every personal power I allowed to be lost in unhealthy attachments.
In 2017, I cut those cords. One agonizingly thick and fibrous than the one next to it.
I finally stood firm in my worth, which meant to no longer ask 'how high' whenever a person I put on a pedestal for any reason asked me to jump. Finally, I demanded respect and compassionate understanding from friendships some of which had stemmed almost throughout my life; with me being the usual suspect to give them out. I said 'no' to personalities whose toxicity I had instinctually felt for the longest but was powerless towards the suction hold their meticulously dispensed validation based on what was right and true for them. Some cords hurt more than others when snipped, as you would expect from any withdrawal, but I am grateful to report that I have never felt more empowered within the knowing of my worth without any other human putting their seal of approval on it.
3. "There go my woes, away with these smokes"
Through my struggle with depression and low-self esteem, I picked up yet another self-destructive habit in my mid-twenties. I was a waitress at a restaurant/bar where the glory of DC nightlife was dangled in front of me. Convinced I had missed out on my youth, I dived- in determined to fit-in lest people would not find me fun and hip. In my thinking habits back then, not being considered boring was as important as earning a living. One unassuming puff led to another, then came the whole cigarette that led to two and before I knew it, I was buying my own pack and smoking from the moment I opened my eyes until I closed them. It began with friends and co-workers who smoked heavily, then I graduated onto dating two heavy smokers back to back.
I could see the toll smoking was taking on my overall health and appearance and finances. It was becoming evident that I would relapse to it so easily, each time I attempted to quit. My relationship with alcohol was also far from a healthy balance. Consuming to numb myself rather than enjoying what I was ingesting.
Reading about how addictive chemicals change the chemistry of our brain led me to the underlying pain I was seeking to mask through the abuse of substances. Days spent meditating, learning about my naturally occurring feel-good hormones, reading article after article and watching enlightening shows that helped me tap into a strong sense of will finally paid off. Although it was a slow and painful process, It has been liberating on so many levels to stop poisoning my body.
I have come to find bottomless joy in fueling this machine the best way possible. I have some days and weeks that are better than others but the default has become simple and practical enough to always coma back to. Hydration, yoga, fruits and veggies in a consistent act of nurturing the only vessel that I get that will carry me all the way to the grave.
4. "Hey, hello! I'm the victim here!"
This has to be one of the hardest things i've ever had to do. To take responsibility for my life. There's a thin line to cross between acknowledging the damages inflicted upon us by others and being victims full time. From early childhood habituations whose real life consequences that I have always been aware of to what so and so did or failed to do that ended up causing me pain, It was so easy to bask in the glory of a wounded sense of self I explained through others and circumstances.
The truth is simple yet profound, my life is full of the choices I have made, as much as It is about things and people I have no control over. As a fully grown adult, I posses the ability to determine the reactions I deem fit for any stimulus. Blaming anyone or anything for unwanted results is the best way to keep oneself out of any plans involving a solution. Victimhood was an addictive identity I knew wasn't serving me well, keeping me chained to the idea that I am a person to whom things happened. I look back and remember what a helpless feeling that was.
Through an agonizing soul search, I have realized how powerfully my attitude, energy and simplest seeming thoughts shape my own reality. When it comes to the masterpiece that is my life,I am the artist and not the canvas.
5. God, will I ever find you?
Raised according to Ethiopian Orthodox customs and ideologies, faith and everything God were pre-defined and to be swallowed without question. That made up my basic outlook of spirituality, that one can only follow a path already travelled by someone whose experiences other people found worth mimicking until enough of them gathered with conviction and established it the only true way. From a household of culturally Orthodox views, I was sent to a Catholic school and had friends who were passionately pentecostal christians. This exposure to different ways of relating to the unseen gave me the audacity to compare, question, wonder and an undying yearning to keep exploring.
I did just that, but with a growing desperation to find the WAY and fit it to my soul like a glove. Church hopped and flip flopped until I realized it was yet another unhealthy addiction to get to an end, to find, to possess, to belong.
The harder I looked for God through a new set of beliefs, ideologies and rituals, the more it eluded me. I grew more and more frustrated as I was looking for this one Religion, book, philosophy only to find out that what I ended up achieving was openness to accept and fully respect ways that are different to my conditioning. This quality,I've come to notice, is exactly what the world needs in order to prevent another crusade and to end religious terrorism of all sorts. My addiction to the end result which was a sense of belonging to that one true way leading to God, instead led me to love myself, where I found God in abundance. I am the fullest expression of the love of God, it has always been within me, leading me to openness and acceptance of the universe and everything it occupies.
This year more than any other, I embraced and unapologetically represented the ever curious seeker in me. Now that I have already found God, I can now go about being open to finding the best language that expresses it for me.
It clearly has been a profound year for me, launched my website towards the end of it and I am so pleased with the progress. My path is still made up of each small decisions that ensures I do not go back to old and familiar habits but It gets easier the more I draw pleasure from embracing my true self and doing right by me. Sometimes I wish I had known all of this sooner, other times I clearly see how every setback had to be experienced in order to arrive at a point of no return with conviction to embrace who I uniquely am.
If you desire a life lived on your terms, without being bullied away from the joy you desire by negative inclinations, I know it can happen for you too!
I want to encourage you to go on a deep scan down a list of your tendencies. Reasons that may jump out at you as why whenever you notice yourself complaining, unhappy, in dread or simply convinced there is more to life. How you relate with others, your own physical body and your psyche. What patterns can you figure out you are better without? You have all the power you need to transform these habits into the wholesomeness you deserve to experience. Question is, are you ready?