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September 18, 2019

To Ditch our Addictions, we’ve got to Start with Unlearning.

The moment was long and daunting.

I had just realised I had to unlearn before I could learn.

My usual bulldozer mentality wasn’t going to work. This one was tricky.

I hadn’t looked at things like this before. I always believed that to grow, you learned new things. I could feel it in my gut; there was something I needed to let go of. I just needed to put my finger on it.

I felt trapped in old ways that weren’t serving me anymore. I had mistakenly forgotten we don’t get to keep our old ways if we are going to really transform. It was staring me in the eye for the first time.

I love cafe culture. I grew up celebrating everything with tea or coffee. You shopped, you took a coffee break; catching up with a friend, you did it over coffee; studying or working, you did it with coffee. In my advertising years, I walked around with a big coffee mug all the time, and, yes, I drank too much and had the jitters. I never imagined a day would come when that would change.

I’ve been doing so much learning, unlearning, and changing this year. I’m fascinated by the process.

The day came when I needed to change. It tested my attachment (and addiction) to coffee. Coffee isn’t good for hypothyroidism, and I had to cut out everything harmful from my diet. Then there was my bad habit of needing a good cup of coffee first thing in the morning while on holiday in places that didn’t embrace the coffee culture. And there were cafes. I do all my musing in cafes.

I had a moment of inspiration and gave it up cold turkey. I wanted to look after my health. I couldn’t believe it was an addiction until I went through the withdrawal symptoms. I had insomnia in my 30s and could drink coffee and sleep immediately after. So, I refused to believe it was coffee.

The week I gave it up, I replaced it with a hazelnut-flavoured herbal tea to trick my taste buds. It worked, and I started sleeping much better. I managed to change a habit I never thought I’d even be interested in changing. I learned to give up excessive coffee drinking without sacrificing the cafe culture I enjoyed.

I still enjoy one good cup of coffee in the afternoon when I feel I’ve earned it and drink water and tea the rest of the time at all my favourite cafes. I realised I could keep the culture and ditch the substance addiction. It wasn’t a black-and-white decision. My rigid mentality was challenged and relearned.

Fast-forward into my 40s, when I abruptly gave up alcohol for a while to snap out of the binge-drinking culture most people in my generation are stuck in. It’s what you did to be social. It has taken trial and error to learn that moderation goes well with socialising. Another instance where its not black or white.

Unlearning has become a theme in my life lately. I’ve got this urge to unlearn bad, old habits. I want to be rid of the tendency to isolate myself when I’m down or withdraw from the world. I always thought it was my introverted side coming to life and let it be.

I can see that this tendency is more toxic and certainly more ingrained.

For whatever reason, it’s how I’ve learned to cope with an overactive world. But now, I want to undo it, to unlearn it, and I don’t know where to start. Isolation and withdrawal are not serving me anymore. I have a new need, and it requires connectedness. The person I’m growing into wants to share.

I’ve always thought we change when “the need for what is new” is greater than “the attachment to what is old.” We change when we need to, and it always seems to come with courage and conviction.

To connect and grow, we need to come out of hibernation. Unlearning the urge to hide feels like a vulnerable path to walk. I’m taking one step at a time, and along the way I’m reaching out and sharing with you.

Choosing to unlearn before I load up on new habits is lightening my load and helping me move forward.

There must be some wisdom in taking a step back before taking the next step forward.

~

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