mental health

Saying No to Yourself

Over here - No, this way
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Whether we admit it aloud (or even to ourselves), we all have vices. Big or small, we have our negative habits that we fall back on during our times of stress or depression to cope with the pain and darkness. They are our standbys and faithful friends, built up over years into a quasi-addiction (after all, we’re not exactly enamored with being depressed or wound-tight with anxiety).

Be honest: What are yours?

A particular food? (Chocolate doesn’t count – that’s a food group)

A game you only pick up when you want to disappear?

An album you never play except when things get bad?

Walking blindly out of the house and not paying attention where you’re going?

Tearing plants out of the ground?

Cleaning the entire house beyond normal levels? (Nope? Just me? Okay, moving on)

How about everything listed above? That’s right – I’ve had every one of those vices on my list at one point in time (we won’t discuss the fact that the last one is still on the list). Some of them are more harmless than others, and I won’t discuss the harmful vices I know exist out there – you know what they are, and you know you need to speak with someone about those. None of these are healthy coping mechanisms, though, for one simple fact:

They don’t SOLVE anything!

They’re AVOIDANCE maneuvers! They are designed to avoid reality, to avoid confronting whatever is going on at the time. So far as that goes, they’re brilliant. The problem is, they don’t actually help the depression fugue, they don’t ease anxiety (especially not the damn video game – it brings MORE anxiety…I really don’t know why I play it), and they don’t solve any of the problems I was ever trying to avoid. They gave me some space away, sure, but then I went right back to where I started – usually worse than I started.

It took me awhile to figure out that I wasn’t helping myself by turning to those “old reliable” standbys. I had to realize that I was constantly feeling worse every time to confront the reality that they were vices – with everything that word entails. Now, there is no Anonymous for crawling around your yard, pulling out dandelions (at least, I haven’t found one), but when you do it for several hours to avoid what’s swirling in your head, it’s STILL a problem! A vice doesn’t have to drain your bank account or shame your family members – it’s simply a negative habit you develop and come to rely on to avoid reality.

So how do you fix it?

Same way you do excessive drinking or smoking. First, you admit you have the problem. Then you start denying yourself that vice. Yup, that means learning to tell yourself, “NO!” That particular lesson is a bitch.

Trying to tell someone else, “No” is pure hell – I won’t deny that. It took me YEARS to figure that lesson out, and I STILL felt guilty each time. It didn’t matter that it was in my own best self-interest and for my own good, I agonized over uttering that single syllable. I still do, honestly, though I’d like to think I’m getting better at it (I’m really not, but I’m trying to make you feel better).

Now multiply that lesson times 5000 and you get an idea of how hard it is to deny yourself. Especially when you’re talking something you KNOW has “helped” in the past. It SUCKS. You can do it, though, with practice, and it gets easier over time. It also has the side benefit that you start to learn how to actually COPE with what you’re feeling (I know, that sounds like a terrible idea, but you’ll learn to appreciate it down the road).

We developed those vices for the wrong reason, and they aren’t doing us any favors. The sooner we recognize that – and admit that the vice is doing damage – the better off we’ll be.

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