I hear the words, “I have fallen off the wagon” at least once a week in my line of work.
In fact, I have heard it so much recently that I was curious where the roots of this idiom came from and why the wagon is synonymous with being sober. So, I did a little research and found the saying, which dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, it means to be on the water-wagon, implying that the speaker was drinking water rather than alcohol and so was an abstainer, at least for the time being.
The saying originally referred only to drinking alcohol, but nowadays it is used in reference to all sorts of things when one resumes an addictive/compulsive behavior that they are trying to control.
I have experienced ‘falling off the wagon’ time and time again in my life, and being an “all or nothing” kind of personality; my switch was either “On” or “Off,” no in-between, no balance.
I had periods where I was being super healthy with my diet, had a great exercise routine, daily meditation and yoga practice and was feeling, well, pretty awesome most of the time. However, when I was exposed to stress or going through any type of trauma or a personal divine storm, all those practices would go out the window and be replaced with sugar, caffeine, booze and all kinds of unhealthy behaviors (some much worse than others) leaving me feeling like crap.
You know what I mean, right?!? This is nothing new and something we all experience from time to time in our lives. Because I am a curious observer of human behavior, especially my own, and also after seeing this pattern repeated time and time again in my clients, I decided to delve in a little deeper in the search for balance, stability and healthy boundaries.
What I uncovered was this; we only fall off the wagon when our own inner core needs and desires are not being met.
Let’s dive into this a deeper.
When you are exposed to stress you go into what’s called “fight or flight” nervous system response and you become more reactive than usual and easily triggered. It is a biochemical reaction that is experienced in a very emotional way. It becomes more challenging to commit to “healthy” behaviors and we usually reach for stimulants and uppers (varying from coffee to cocaine) because we are being depleted of our natural energy reserves. Once this cycle begins it forms a negative feedback loop in our behavioral system, which can become a hard rut to get out of.
“I’ll start tomorrow,” “I don’t have time,” “I’m too tired” are all typical self-talk examples in this situation, and you may become completely unmotivated and desensitized to the actual needs of your mind and body. Avoidance, resistance and apathy often rear their ugly heads and create walls around your consciousness that appear too hard to break down—so you don’t.
You settle for “off the wagon” and run this story until you are jolted again by something to make a change and clean up your act. This could be weight gain (a very common one), health problems, a breakup, a job loss or worse.
I realized within myself that whenever I was “falling off the wagon” my own core needs and desires were not being met. This was happening on a very deep intimate level. When I really tuned into it, I discovered that true balance lies in my ability to give myself what I needed at that time.
When I started giving myself what I needed at the time, everything started to shift for me and now I don’t even partake in wagon dancing; I simply prefer to stand in the middle of the see-saw, always finding my balance. I don’t push through when I am tired with stimulants like I used too, instead, I give myself permission to rest. I allow myself to have a glass of wine when I need it, because let’s be honest some days call for it and red wine gives me an experience that green juice cannot.
I don’t have a super strict exercise routine, I move my body every single day in one way or another—dance class, yoga, walking or whatever it desires on that day. I won’t punish myself like I used to for eating bread or chocolate, I eat it and savor every mouthful, as I know it is not an everyday occurrence, it’s a special “once in a while” treat.
I become present to every emotion that I experience, especially the difficult ones and I don’t try to run away from or avoid them, just let them be without attaching any stories. And most importantly I become innately aware when I feel myself slipping into behaviors that don’t serve me and I change up my routine pronto, I will do something different every day to shake myself out of a rut.
So here are some of my insights into navigating the wagon dance:
1. Assess your core needs and desires. What is it that you really need?
2. Source out social support. Let your friends know that you don’t want to be peer pressured. If you constantly have to justify why you are choosing healthier options in your life, you probably need to be spending more time with people that support and encourage your best interests.
3. Change up your routine. The quickest way out of resistance is to make a change. So change your schedule, add in a new class in the middle of the week, drive a different route to work, eat some new foods, turn off the TV and read a book. One little change can make all the difference and when you change your everyday routine, it is easy to form new habits
4. Identify what it is that usually sends you into falling off the wagon and become aware of your own personal behaviors, so you know what you are likely to revert back to in certain situations.
5. Make yourself accountable—hire a trainer, a life coach, nudge a buddy or enlist someone to keep you on track. Whatever you need to stay accountable in your commitment for developing new healthy habits—do it.
6. Don’t see it as “off” and “on.” Don’t deny yourself. Everything in moderation, especially moderation!
7. Realize the only thing standing in your way is you. You have the power to create whatever life you desire, so get clear on what you want, how you want to feel and what you want to look like and chase after it like there is no tomorrow.
8. Change up your dominant hand. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand, cross your legs in the opposite way, step off from your opposite foot when you walk, even do some writing with your opposite hand. Mixing It up helps to re-wire new behaviors into the brain and break old circuits. Plus it’s challenging and very fun to do.
9. Get Inspired. Read something that will uplift your spirits, follow someone’s story, watch an inspirational movie or seek out some cracking quotes that pull on your heart strings.
So, let’s get over the whole wagon dance, take life one day at a time and give yourself what you need (at your core) in every moment because you deserve it. There is no one else like you on the planet so take extra special care of yourself and fill yourself up with TLC.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Cami Krueger / Editor: Travis May
Image: Flickr Commons, Pixoto/Caras Ionut