New Year, New YOU!

Jan 7, 2022


Or at least that’s what so many of us tell ourselves. We pick out that thing that has been bothering us and make a resolution- a vow- to change it come January first. Gyms everywhere vibrate with newcomer energy for the first two weeks of the year before slowly, but steadily, numbers drop and roughly the same core, committed folk show up on a regular schedule.

How is it, that we can mean something with every ounce of our being and even take steps toward creating positive change only to lose motivation and revert right back to our old ways?

Let me share a little secret about motivation to change... ambivalence, defined as “the state of having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone” is a normal part of the change process.

When a person struggles with a substance use disorder, the process is the same. They want to change- they think about changing. They swear up and down they’ll never use again, only to find themselves intoxicated by the end of the day.

Change is not a linear process, but rather it is an unkept, messy, zigzag of an ordeal. However, there are definite stages where a person is marked to have distinct behaviors and activities. It goes as follows:

Precontemplation: I have no idea I have a problem. This behavior has not caused me to consider the need to change.

Contemplation: I’m beginning to think this behavior might be problematic. People in my life seem to mention it to me, but I’m not ready to do anything about it.

Preparation: This is the research phase- seeing what resources are available and identifying budgeting options.

Action: In the case of the gym, we’re signed up and going. Maybe we even researched personal trainers. For a person with substance use, they might have attended a recovery meeting or engaged with a doctor.

Maintenance: When a person finally hits their stride and the new behavior feels like second nature, they have entered the maintenance stage. This is the space where new habits become ingrained and integrated into one’s being.

It takes at least three weeks to create a new habit, but it takes much longer than that for new patterns to become ingrained. We are constantly wiring our brains with the thoughts we think, the music we listen to, the route we drive to work, and the sources we gather our news from. When we create positive change, we are literally re-wiring our brains.

I compare this process to walking a path in nature. Bad habits are the path we’ve taken for so long, we don’t even think about it. It has become an automatic process and then we suddenly find ourselves in the same spot, the same reaction, or the same behavior, over and over. We wonder how we got there again. Creating healthy behaviors means forging a new path. At first, we’ll have to break branches and hack debris while we trudge. However, as time wears on we find that the new path becomes more open. It begins to feel familiar and more comfortable. The sun breaks through, and after a while, it becomes automatic as well. Occasionally we are reminded of the previous path as we pass opportunities to slide back into old behavior, but that path no longer feels comfortable. It has become overgrown from lack of use. The new path is now our second nature. We have learned to achieve and maintain long-term positive growth.

So, if you find you’ve somehow fallen off the New Year’s resolution path once again, don’t worry. Ambivalence is a normal part of the process. Recommit to starting over. Tell yourself: The opposite of success is not failure; failure is a steppingstone that leads us to achieving our goals. A lack of failure means you simply quit trying.

If you’re looking to let go of a substance that’s been dragging you down, Adventist Health has many options to help you achieve your resolution:

  • Redwood Wellness Recovery Program at Howard Memorial in Willits, 707-459-6115
  • Adventist Health Ukiah Valley, 707-463-7461
  • Adventist Health Lucerne Clinic, 707-274-9299

Peace be with you and Happy New Year!

Hailey Blair, Substance Use Counselor