Transformational Change

Over the years, I have spent hours on long conversations with people in confusion, drunk, dazed, or halfway through a nod that left them almost dead. In some cases, death was inevitable. In other cases, changes occurred. I have listened to people talk at great lengths about their desire to change and yet, their changes were never met. I have met with people who lost everything. They lost wives, husbands, houses and family. I have met with  people who were unemployed and who, by their own standards, had nothing going for them and nothing to look forward to or live for. And yet, when offered a branch or offered help, they refused.

In the early parts of these conversations, I ask about their confidence level on wanting to change. I ask, “On a scale from 1 – 5 with one being the least and five being the most, what number would you say matches your desire to change?”
Most people say 5.
My next question is on a scale from 1 – 5 with one being the least and five being the most, what number would you say matches your confidence to make those changes?
Most people say 1. Some people say 2. And many people say 0.

There is an interesting dynamic that takes place here. It’s not the change that is so unthinkable or unrealistic, it’s the work that it takes to achieve these changes that cause intimidation. Not to mention, this impacts the inherent laziness of the mind that sees no other way to find comfort. I can say that although some of my old habits were deadly, at minimum, at least I felt their effects right away. We are a species of instant gratification. We want what we want. And when do we want it?

We want to look good. We want to feel good. We want to be attractive to be seen as desirable. We want to be wanted, invited and included. Nobody asks to look their worst. Nobody wants to face the demons of obesity, and yet, each year obesity kills more than 300,000 in our country. Smoking related deaths kill over 400,000 people. And according to the numbers I’ve read over the last year, drugs and alcohol related deaths kill an estimated 175,000 people. Oh, and wait; let’s not forget that someone dies by suicide every 40 seconds worldwide.

No one asked to be in this column. But yet, the statistic is real. No one starts out and expects their life to become problematic. Call it stress. Call it trauma-based. Say that these numbers are anxiety related or culturally stimulated. Say what you will about the statistics and although I always question these numbers, still, there is a growing problem in our world and the fear of change is one of them.

Years back, I was sitting in a little office on the upstairs of what used to be an old hotel in the Catskill Mountains. At the time of my arrival, I weighed no more than 80lbs. I was emaciated to say the least. My skin was a pale shade of green and there were dark rings beneath my eyes. I did not feel well by any means. I had to sweat through an uncomfortable cure without medication or the assistance thereof. I was frightened to say the least. I had no idea how to be, think, learn or live in any way other than what I was used to. My belief system was skewed to say the least. I had thought about death and dying and the end of it all. I had a collar around my neck, which means that I had changes on me and that the future of my terms were left in the hands of a judge with a gavel. I was about to face my first stint in rehab . . .

I did not have the willingness to change nor did I have the confidence to do so. And thus, in fact, the two items of willingness and confidence were certainly interconnected. It was here that I began an unwilling journey that later changed to a willing transformation. However, this did not come easy nor did my transformation come without work. And that’s the tough part. Work is a bitch!

I was given this workbook with a series of questions. I was told to take a fearless and searching moral inventory of myself. But first, it is important to note that I was not brave enough to be fearless. I was not ready to be honest or searching and lastly, my moral code was flawed and yes, God forbid anyone knew or saw my truths. What would I be, other than exposed or vulnerable?

No one likes the work. No one wants to face their demons. In fact, there is a verse that I had heard from a man trying to teach me how to find Christ. I had no room for this. At the time, I was dangling on a fence next to a basketball court at a park in my town. The opiate gods had flooded my bloodstream, which left me like a zombie. My eyes half-shut, like the window shades to an abandoned house with nobody home. I remember the man telling me that I had to find God. And I had to find Him right away. I could not pick this man from a lineup. I hardly remember what he looked like, other than he was a young man, kind-faced, hair parted from one side to the other and blue-eyed. Perhaps he was one of the priests from the nearby church. Who knew? He told me about the demons. He told me how the demons were afraid of the light because the light exposed the darkness of their deeds. According to this man, the light was the truth and the demons ran from the truth.
This is why people stall to change.
I remember him asking me if I believed in God.
I answered, “Yes” which was not altogether honest but yet, this was not an altogether lie either.
The last thing I remember the young man telling me is “The devil knows that God exists. And still he trembles.”
I suppose this was him telling me that like it or not, the truth will always be there. And so will the light.

I never thought I would ever remember this, let alone, record this memory for public viewing. But there is truth here. I remember the workbook that I was given. I was told to write my answers honestly, which, of course, I lied and embellished and used this for a call of attention.
I think herein lies the problem.
The problem is not the desire to change; it’s the work that it takes. It’s the truth that we have to face. It’s the truthfulness, which stings because after all, isn’t it true when they say the truth hurts?
Plus, how can we deny ourselves once we are honest. If we prepare a place for ourselves; if we put the work in and face the truth as well as the consequences of the truth, then where is the reward?
Where is the instant gratification?
This is long-term but what about short term satisfaction? What do we do when we need a quick fix because the day sucks?
Where is the satisfaction of a donut in common dieting plans? Where is the instant gratification that comes with a drag from a cigarette? Where are the coping mechanisms we have been trained to use when anxiety is high? What do we do when stress is on the mount, and lastly, what do we do when life is turning in a direction that we hoped would be better? Where’s the reward here?

Intellectually, most have the answer. Intellectually, there are people who say it’s not if you win or lose but how you play the game. I’ve seldom heard this at places like the line outside a methadone clinic or at the unemployment office.

Why is it that self-help models and personal transformation programs work for some and not others? Is it the God thing? Or is it the science and the pathology of our habits? Or, is it so that what they say is true; there are those unfortunates who cannot turn their life over. And who is to say if this is true or not. There is work though. There will always be work. Even being lazy takes work.

I have spent hours on the phone with people, listening to drunken harangues and slurred voices declaring, “That’s it!” They tell me, “I can’t live this way anymore.”
“I need help!”

The amount of work it takes to keep their habit is often deadly. The path of least resistance is change, but yet, where’s the reward? What do we do with our old routines and social cues that kept us sane? (or so we thought)
There is a saying that I remember well. The only way to it is through it.
Now, in fairness, I have to be honest. I never liked catchy little slogans. In fact, I hated them. I still do to this day but the one above is true. The only way to change is to put in the work. 

I remember when they gave me the workbook. I remember telling them that I don’t read or write very well. I told them I can’t do the work.
The counselor asked me, “Did you ever have to work to get high?”
I argued with this.
She asked me, “Did you ever have to work to get laid?”
I laughed in agreement.
The reason you work for something is because it rates on a priority scale.
“If you were sick, you would break into a place to score dope, right?”
I answered, “Yes?”
“That’s work,” she told me.
Either way, life takes work.
Work takes energy and energy is neither positive or negative; it’s just energy in need of direction.

Transformation begins once we choose the direction of our energy. I can say that I was afraid. I can say that the light exposed the darkness of my deeds and additionally, I can say that although the truth hurt, the light taught me what to see and what to look for. I had to learn how to map my change and understand my cues and triggers. This way, I could understand myself and endure the steps I needed to take to change my life.

In fairness, there are multiple ways of recovery but the old saying is true.

It works if you work it.

You’re worth it.

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