In this post I will describe two writing practices that I have found helpful in quitting addictions. I recommend them for working with any behavior that you have attachment to, that has major negative consequences, and that at least part of you would like to quit.
The first writing practice is to keep a “binge log”. The idea here is to keep a Word document or journal that lists the details of your most intense binges. I recommend, any time you feel like shit at the end of an addictive episode, go to your binge log and write down:
* The date(s) of the episode
* How many minutes or hours (or days?) were spent in the binge
* How much you indulged in the addiction – how much sugary food eaten, how much booze drank, how much money gambled, how many porn-fueled orgasms, how many cigarettes or bong hits smoked, how many self-mutilation scars, how much snorted up the nose, etc.
* Explore why you think you slipped, what was the trigger. Examples of this could include: feeling lonely, feeling exhausted and tired, in a low-blood sugar state, feeling overwhelmed with and hopeless about work, feeling upset with a mistake you made or something someone else said to you, feeling like you’ve worked hard and deserve a break, feeling happy and strong and like you could be handle it this time, or being around other people doing your addictive behavior and wanting to join in.
* How you felt during the binge, anything unusual you noticed during it – did you feel reluctant, or really into it? Did you feel calm, or anxious? Did it feel the same as it always does, or did it feel different in some way? Did you feel sad, angry, happy, or anything else that you noticed? What thoughts did you have during the binge, what were you telling yourself?
* How you felt after finishing the binge – ashamed, scared, alone, drained, hopeless, socially withdrawn, defiant, calm, pleased … anything.
* What impact (negative, and, where appropriate, positive) the binge had on the rest of life – the impact on your mood, on your productivity, on doing what you intended to be doing with your time, and on your relationships other people.
I recommend, every once in a while, look over your binge log and review the list of craziness. This reflection serves to decrease the denial-based near-sighted belief that says, “It’s OK just one more time.” And it helps our instinctual, animal self to comprehend the actual impact of the behavior.
Keeping a binge log is also helpful if we ever end up joining a twelve-step recovery program (like Alcoholics Anonymous). Part of working the twelve steps is writing out a list of crazy behavior done while under influence of the addiction, getting clear on the impact that it had on others, and setting things right as best we can. This is specifically done during Step Four (“Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves”) and Step Eight (“Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all”). Anyone beginning working the steps with a pre-existing binge log at hand has a head start on the process.
The second writing assignment that I recommend also helps to lessen denial about an addiction. The way it works is, keep a Word document or a journal page that is divided into two sections: “Why I think [addictive behavior] is a good idea”, and “Why I think [addictive behavior] is a bad idea”.
Over the weeks, months, or years, when you notice that you have a thought, feeling, experience, or piece of information that has you think that doing the addiction is OK or healthy for you, write that in the first section. Among the things that you might write in this section are:
* You notice the good times you have when engaging in the behavior, the enjoyment and the pleasure
* You notice that it helps you relax
* You think that you can handle it in moderation, if you could just develop a little more self-control
* Your friends do it, and don’t seem to have a problem with it
* You don’t want to be a moralistic prude
Also, any time you have a thought, feeling, experience, or piece of information that has you think that doing the addiction is not OK and not healthy for you, write that in the second section:
* The awful feeling at the end of a binge
* Noticing the impact on your physical health
* You want the time the addiction takes
* Noticing the feeling that the addiction seems to be eating away at your soul
* You read something in a magazine about someone who quit this addiction, and how much happier they are
* Wanting to have more dignity and pride in yourself
During the immediate moment when we have one of these positive or negative thoughts or feelings, they tends to feel total – we tend to completely think and feel that either the behavior is completely OK or the behavior is completely not OK. So, most people with an addiction tend to vacillated between diving headfirst into it during a binge, and then, a few hours later, vowing (yet again) to never ever never even think about doing it ever again. However, we clearly have mixed feelings about the addiction, and it helps to see that clearly.
There is a Tibetan Buddhist teaching that says, if you want to be free of something that is entangling you and seems to have you caught, it helps to get clear on both what keeps attracting you to it and also what is bad news about it – to be aware of both, simultaneously.
Eventually, looking over all the reasons why we want to continue and all the reasons why we want to stop, we can balance out all of our various opinions, experiences, and emotions about the habit. We may come to the conclusion that there are many negative impacts to the behavior, but that, overall, there are more positives, and we would like to continue doing it. Or, perhaps more likely, we may come to the conclusion that there are certainly positives to the behavior and reasons to continue with it, but that, over all, there are clearly stronger reasons to quit.