Why Your Habit is Not the Problem (And What To Do About It)

“You know, I just don’t want people to know I tried to commit suicide because they’ll think I’m weak.”

She was a shy girl with a deep presence. I met her at the So What?! music festival, and her words stuck with me. I feel the same fear she does when I tell people, “I was addicted to porn.” I have friends who wear long sleeves to avoid the weird looks at their scars. And others who hide behind a convincing smile and say, “Everything’s fine.”

There’s a weight people associate with our habit of choice. Alcoholism is an encouraged social norm. It means you’re good at partying, meeting new people, and taking your shirt off when you dance. Attempting suicide means you’re fragile, breakable, and weak. Being addicted to porn means you’re a closet pervert. Self-harming means you’ve got overflowing buckets of angst. People see your habit as the “problem” you’re facing, and they insinuate character strengths and defects from there. But what they don’t realize is that your habit is actually your solution.

Take the girl I met at So What?! for instance. Her parents abandoned her before she was 4 years old. “Mom and Dad”, the two people who she was supposed to be able to permanently trust, left her. She tried again with each foster home over the next four years, but each time they took her somewhere else, her trust was ripped up once more. She found that people were less permanent than things, so she found it easier to attach herself to things that would last than people who wouldn’t. Eventually, she found an adoptive family when she was 8, but at this point she had already learned to be alone. She got bullied at school and listened to metal music, so she didn’t fit in easily with the other kids in her class. All the while, a deep sense of being unlovable eclipsed her self-worth because she was abandoned by the two people who were supposed to be there with her through it all. The stress at school, pain from teasing, and fractured sense-of-self started to fester because she had no one to share her feelings with. She was left to her own thoughts and experiences which all pointed to one conclusion: I am undeniably worthless. Day after day passed, and these thoughts began to consume her. Life seemed to be on a continual slope downward. Loneliness, depression, and pain seemed to be her forever-forecast, and no matter what she tried to do to fit in, to make friends, to hide from the ever-worsening negativity that seemed to plague her, she couldn’t shake it. Nothing was getting better, and she had no hope for things to ever get better. The thought of suicide started as a flippant option one day, but as time went on, life seemed to be the more unrealistic alternative. One day, she made the decision that there was nothing left for her here, and she took 58 pills and went to sleep, intending to never wake up. It was a bittersweet moment. She felt devastated to finally embrace the hopelessness of her life but relieved she wouldn’t be a burden to anyone else or to herself anymore. Fortunately, she woke up the next morning and had another opportunity to find meaning and purpose and love in her life, and she was doing much better since.

Nonetheless, when you hear her story, when you look at life through her eyes, when you understand the PAIN she was experiencing, you understand that suicide was not her problem. The same goes for the porn addict who uses to escape the pain, or the self-harmer who cuts to feel something different than the pain, or the drug addict who uses to numb the pain, or the gossiper who slights others to feel better comparatively, or the bully who insults to take the attention away from their own pain, or the workaholic who tries to distracts themselves from the pain, or the alcoholic who tries to drown the pain. Your habit is not your problem; your pain is. Your habit is simply your solution.

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Think of it like this: you experience pain; you do something to feel better (you cope). You experience pain again; you cope with it again. When that process continues to loop over and over, it’s then called a habit. Habits are simply a solution we repeat to a pain we feel.

And if you’re anything like my friend from So What?!, you probably feel some sense of shame around your habit. There are some people who tote their stories of epic highs as a badge of honor, but most of us—when we come to grips with what we’re doing to ourselves—we are sad because our habits eventually cause us other problems in our lives that we’re not too proud of. We realize our habits delay us from our goals of love, of success, of happiness. We realize our habits inevitably cause more emptiness than it does provide relief. We realize that our habits cause us to focus primarily on making sure we “feel good” than caring about anyone else. And we feel bad about what we’ve done.

But that shame, that guilt actually keeps us stuck. Think about it: you use your habits to solve pain. You incur pain on yourself through shame and guilt, and then you feel the need to use your habit to feel good again. It goes: feel shame/guilt (feel bad), use habit (feel better), over and over and over.

But if you begin to realize that you are not an “addict”, a “self-harmer”, a “suicide risk”, a whatever tag you’d label yourself with because of your habit, you might find that you’re actually just really creative. You’re just really good at solving problems. In fact, you’re quite brilliant and resourceful. You’ll find just about any way to resolve the pain you feel, and you’ll make it happen no matter what. When you realize that those abilities are the exact ones that you need to solve this new problem of being stuck in your habit, you’ll realize you’ve got everything it takes to overcome. And it’s not a shame thing of “Well, then, I should have been through with this by now”, it’s an empowerment. You were not destined to stay stuck in this place forever. You’ve been given everything you need to conquer anything you face, and this habit is no different. You’ve solved massive problems before; you can do it again. Convert that shame into creativity, and take heart, for you are destined for freedom and for abundant life.

On Thursday 3/24, we’ll be releasing a program called Restore that has ten artists from six bands, the HeartSupport staff, and a professional counselor that can be your guide through a six-step process to break these habits in your life. If you’d like to have the program sent to you first and receive an exclusive 20% discount when it launches, sign up below.

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