Doctor's Corner: Breaking the Cycle - find JOY (and lot's of other worthwhile things too)
I’d had a hard week. The holidays were over. Lot’s of stress and demands on my creative powers. I was feeling isolated, tragically unhappy and frankly kind of miffed that life kept serving me curve balls.
That’s when I ate the cookie.
It was a simple chocolate chip number from a grocery store - nothing remarkable or terribly tempting. My husband bought cookies periodically and stashed them in the freezer as a late night treat after our kids were in bed and the day was done. What made this cookie particularly dangerous was that it was made with wheat and I’m what I would call a “Celiac disease sufferer in remission”. I mean, I hadn’t even had an interest in breaking my gluten-free clean streak of 10+ years ever, not even once. After the many years of feeling on death’s door it just wasn’t worth it. So why now? How could I have let myself!?
If I’m being honest, I did it to see - just to see and because I was feeling tired, alone and sad.
Habituation is a strange human phenomenon. Our neurologic wiring can often lead us to recreate comfortable (not necessarily healthy) life experiences almost like an emotional homeostasis gone wrong. My husband the hypnotherapist calls the unconscious choices that we make habitually in our lives that lead us to the same experience over and over again “blind spots” - like that little patch in your side mirror where a whole car can hide and you won’t have any idea that its there. Do you ever ask yourself “how am I doing this again? Or “why do I keep ending up in relationships with the same kind of person” … his answer is that you are programmed through habituation to recreate echoes of past experiences over and over until … you learn to break the cycle.
So, back to the poison cookie. Why, I had to ask myself, would I treat myself so badly?
I had to recognize that it was my own version of habituating the experience of being beaten up by life. It was an attempt on some level to keep the sad emotions party bus in motion. It made me start to think about my internal narrative that tells me who I am. It also made me think about the many patients in my practice that are striving for light and love and peace in their lives and sometimes feel far from finding it. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, as a matter of fact I became a doctor because I love to search and discover and learn and the scientific explorations of medicine and healing are boundless. But I can say that there are ways to start to define the borders of your experience and understanding of yourself that can go a long way towards making life feel joyous and free.
1. Find a professional to help you discover those 'blind spots': Adam Moore, my husband and sought-after cognitive behavioralist and hypnotist helps people start to understand how they as an individual are wired and develop a personal tool box for how to change behaviors and thought patterns that have them stuck in a habit rut. For those of us that have a habit of perpetuating feelings or situations after they should be well and done, this specialized branch of talk therapy might be the right fit for you.
2. Define your wellness: I often listen to patients lament about who they used to be and are not any more. Perhaps they were an athlete and now pain has limited their capacity to simply walk, perhaps they used to be able to eat anything and now they have such a sensitive stomach they can only eat a few foods or they'll feel sick all the time. Whatever the issue, spending some time with your physician re-defining wellness and help you to set attainable goals on the road the full recovery.
3. Get honest: one question that I try and ask all new patients in my practice is 'what is the level of commitment to healing are you able to make currently?' If we can be really honest with ourselves then it gives us control.
Defining our wellness goals, getting honest about our capacities and finding specialized support are fantastic and effective ways to break the cycles of discomfort in our lives, both mentally and physically and perhaps even find little wells of joy bubbling up to take the place of your version of the poison cookie.