No more excuses. You’ve heard that one before. Maybe you even uttered it this morning.
Why is it so hard to change?
A few years back, I had begun interviewing friends with the same three questions to try to get at the crux of what brings about change and makes it stick. It’s nearing that time of the year when people in mass droves will resolve to not eat this, cut out that. A friend jokingly said that during the month of January a lot of regular gym-goers take a month-long hiatus, knowing it will be overcrowded with the well intentioned. Did you know that the month of March is when people actually begin to tackle in earnest losing weight? I guess it’s not that surprising given that swimsuit season is marching up.
When I started the interview process, my rationale and need for proof that people can change was founded in a Friday night activity called the Living Room. Back when Mary Nan and I volunteered, and then for a spell, ran this Friday night coffeehouse drop-in for homeless street youth, I found we slipped into very specific roles. We moved the furniture into place without saying a word, she’d fill up the large clunky coffee percolator with water and plug it in. I would assemble the day-before-freshly baked goods onto large trays that we’d gathered from our neighborhood Buck of the Star. Like busy mice, we would scurry and fall into the hum of rhythm. We would be in sync. Once the hand struck 8 p.m., we would unlock the back and front doors to allow a stream or trickle of street kids into this warm respite from the outside dark for a few hours. I’ve written about the Living Room before, but when you give so much of yourself to something, it gnaws at you well beyond the open hours. Long into the night drive home to Marin, we would talk about interactions or snippets of conversations as the headlights cast their long beams into the pitch of evening. Some nights we drove in silence.
You remember later the moment that makes the world capsize.
These details are not easily forgotten.
And so it was that one Friday evening, just like any other, we closed the doors to the center where the Friday night drop-in was held. By this point in time, Mary Nan lived on the other side of the world, and I had scaled back my efforts to merely assist and hang out. I had volunteered to take bathroom duty and headed over to the bathroom with a rag and squirt bottle filled with sanitizer. I wasn’t ready for what was behind the door. The light emanating down from the single bulb overhead cast everything in a dull shade of green. We would change out the bulbs to give a festive light to the evening, but this time it cast out a sickly pallor. The mirror was spattered with blood. Immediately below the mirror, in the sink, lay a rubber cord. Upon further inspection of the back of the door, I found more blood spatter and along the floor a syringe. It was a little after midnight and we all had our jobs to do. I sank to the ground and began sobbing.
During a night full of conversation, food and hot drinks, a movie and the ensuing ushering back out into the cold, none of us had an idea that someone was shooting up in the bathroom. The dark night had found its way into our respite.
And I called in the next week to let the drop-in leader know that I was pulling out.
At first, I thought I might just take a small break of several weeks. This quickly developed into several months and a year had gone by before I knew it. I dropped in one evening unannounced and found myself in the same negative space of envisioning someone in the bathroom, door locked, shooting up. I couldn’t stomach it anymore.
It is difficult to see people you care about and know they need to change. It is even more difficult to embrace the reality that you cannot change them or take responsibility for their choices. I began polling friends after “the incident” to try and begin to dig my way into understanding change. I wanted to believe that even people deeply mired in behaviors that can kill them can change.
Now I can hear you say, how is addiction tied to the inevitable New Year’s resolutions? I would gently nudge that instead of tackling the same behaviors that show up on repeat like a tape that’s broken and resolving to address them again, change your position. Instead of resolving to “Give up all white sugar” (which is not a bad thing to do), consider repositioning it to “Eat more whole fruits and raw honey.” Do you see how that second statement addresses the issue of resolution in a way that is positively sweet? Not convinced yet? Consider making up your usual list of resolutions (or new ones that have gotten tacked on for a new year) and then in a second column, write down the opposite of the resolution to the left.
Just like photographing this salad below, changing position allows the light to fall differently on the subject at hand. It helps us see the object for what it is and moving illuminates new corners and crevices unseen to the eye at a different angle. Change your stance and maybe change your life.
While you’re at it, make room for a serving of the Shaved Brussels Sprouts Salad with Warm Cranberry Dressing. It resolves to bring some more green onto your plate in a fresh way during the cold latter months. It resolves to perk up dour outlooks and those doldrums for something that resembles spring in the middle of winter.