Contact melt: Habits and confidence

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“I’m sad, sad… and I see you”

Yesterday it was bright, sunny and warm and the snow and ice that had covered everything completely melted. It promptly refroze around the time I was driving home in the evening. Once more I encountered the salt truck along the road, flinging salt pellets onto the glistening road surface and onto the car.

Otherwise it was a day of unexpected contact – hearing from people I don’t normally speak much with or write to. Some got in touch to comment on this blog; some got in touch to ask for a confidence boost; one even got in touch to subject himself to inspection (as though he were a race horse for purchase or I were a flight surgeon assessing his fitness for flight).

I was surprised about hearing from people regarding my blogging. Not because I think no one reads it but because I have no idea who is reading it. When you write a blog, you are mostly doing it for yourself. At least I am. If you are like me, it’s kind of an extension of your interactions with dead platforms like LiveJournal. Except that a standalone blog is not really part of a community and, being a disconnected ‘thing’ as it is, I am not hoping for or writing for an audience. Nevertheless I have had so much feedback from people about whom I had no inkling that they were “following along”.

A few weeks ago a friend recognized the slightest reference to her and wrote to me at length to explain and help me understand her better. A few days ago a friend commented, something about how much she related to what I had written. Yesterday, two friends (a longtime pen pal and an acquaintance from the LiveJournal days) wrote encouraging words about how they were helped by or even inspired by what they were reading. Well, one guy said it made him a bit jealous because I made it look easy but he knows from experience that it isn’t. I responded with something about just starting to do it – forcing yourself to do it. Ultimately it is about forming a habit. I have made this be a habit for me – arguing with myself about how I need to write something every single day, even if there is not something to write about – to keep the habit going. There are days that it won’t happen, but approaching with sincere intent is the point. I did not write a word after the mid-November death of my uncle. It was almost six weeks before I wrote again (sure, there was too much going on in the silent interim; also though, I felt tired and the loss depleted my ability to share). But even those long lulls/breaks have to be temporary – and I think we all know that this same thinking applies to anything that can be hard to stick to – writing, exercise, healthy eating, or any other promises we make to ourselves.

About forming habits, though, I come to another conversation I had yesterday. Someone I have known for more than half my life called me to get a boost of confidence before he went on a date. It’s been a long time since he dated, and he had all kinds of nerves and anxiety buzzing around in his head. His turning to me in his personal crises is a habit he formed as far back as 1990. Once we had covered his dating anxiety and how bad he is with small talk, he asked me something about my personal life and predicted that if I don’t have a relationship with someone who is obsessed with TV, it will end. Yes, scientific data. I argued that maybe there are other things to do than watch TV; he countered: “But what about when you are old? Like 60, 70, and like most older couples you will just want to sit and turn on the TV.” Perplexed, I said, “Well, maybe a couple could… take a walk? Or read?” He was incredulous, “Do you really think you will read when you are 60?!

WHAAAAAAAAAAT? Do people just stop reading, suddenly, when they hit a certain age? Why wouldn’t I read? Yet once again it’s about habits formed. Most people in my life are stubborn, lifelong readers. My grandmother was obsessed with reading until she lost her sight completely (by then she was well into her 80s) and even then others read for her. Not a single person I know (other than people who never formed reading habits) will ever sacrifice reading. I’ve always been a binge reader, inhaling a book every day for several weeks and then dropping reading for months, or in the case of recent times – even years. This year I am trying to be more methodical and balanced, folding the habit into my daily life consistently. (Especially because I did cut out my obsessive TV viewing and am only watching a couple of shows that are actually interesting to me now. I don’t miss the meaningless noise.)

As for habits, good and bad, another contact got in touch to get my opinion on whether I thought he could handle a social engagement that would be, at best, challenging. The guy is fairly freshly sober but for the first time in all his attempts at sobriety seems to take it seriously, understanding it as a life-or-death matter. A group of his old friends contacted him asking him to meet up at a pub. He has lamented for years that he has lost touch with this group of friends. He felt 100% sure he could handle this – the pub environment, the being surrounded by friends drinking excessively, the potential, “Come on, mate, one beer won’t hurt” pressures – and that he could control the situation/set boundaries, i.e. take a limited amount of money, visualize drinking Diet Coke, plan to attend an AA meeting that evening (meaning he would only stay with these friends for about an hour) and inform his contact at the meeting that he planned to attend, and then come home immediately after the meeting to call me on Skype so I could hear and see him (the aforementioned “inspection”) to prove that he had not succumbed to drinking. I expressed my doubts and reservations; he decided to go anyway. I felt particular doubt because he claimed he did not want these friends to know his business so did not want to tell them that he is an alcoholic.

In the end, he did meet the friends, and telling them about his struggles turned out to be a moot point. He had forgotten that he had run into one of the group over a year ago and had told that friend about his troubles with alcohol, and that friend had told the rest of the group, so there were no surprises, and they were all supportive. He stuck to the game plan and “presented himself for inspection” that evening after his meeting. Sober. Not that I think he should be “tempting fate” in this way, but he was rather elated that he did not feel any temptation and could interact with friends without feeling he had to drink.

In letting go of old, bad habits and adopting new, positive ones, we also build confidence – which in turn strengthens our resolve to deepen and stick with the new habits.

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