By David Joel Miller.
Late Action – The change accelerates.
Last time we talked about how I might be full of enthusiasm as my self-improvement program gets going. In the weight loss example, I begin to exercise and maybe even get interested in nutrition and diet. Are deep-fried Twinkies a healthy diet? The diet guru says no. I eat low-fat and lots of greens. I hate greens but I eat them anyway. My efforts at change are taking shape and encouraged by my own persistence I may even expand my efforts.
On days when I can’t get to the gym, work days, I start walking on my lunch hour. It is a mile around the park. If I walk fast I can make two trips and eat during my lunch period. I discover that if I bring a healthy lunch, a sandwich, and some low-fat yogurt, and I walk around the park fast, some days I lose weight. Even if I don’t actually lose weight, at least those days I do not gain any more. At this point, the intensity of my workouts is increasing. I am really getting into this.
In substance abuse recovery terms, the person involved may not only be attending meetings, they have a regular home group they go to every week, maybe even a fellowship they attend every night. Some people “get into service” meaning they make coffee, take out the trash and so on. We get trainers, sponsors, and a support system. At this point, my change is beginning to be something I tell people about.
For people who have an emotional problem, like depression or anxiety, their recovery action might be seeing their therapist on a regular basis, improving self-care or journaling. There is a huge connection between emotional issues and eating problems. One of the key issues a professional looks for in making a mental health diagnosis is changes in eating and sleep. Binge eating, overeating or not being able to eat, as well as sleeping too much or too little are all symptoms of problems. They can also be causes. More about that mind-body connection and the relationship between sleep, eating and other life problems in a future blog.
So in late action, I am getting somewhere on my self-change program. Losing a few pounds, not drinking or drugging and I am no longer so depressed I don’t want to get out of bed. Everything should be going fine. Right?
Then what happens? Why do so many people successfully make a change only to return to the place they were before? Why do most weight loss programs, diet, and exercise, end in putting on more pounds than we lost? Why do so many people get a thirty-day sober chip only to drink again? And how is it that depression and anxiety return after a period of time?
I start wondering, am I fixed? Do I have to give up those quadruple thick burgers with the pound of fries? How long will I need to take these psych meds? Can’t I just have a donut or a glass of wine? What kind of wine goes best with donuts? My mind starts looking for ways out of the change process.
For substance abuse, we call this relapse. For depression or anxiety, we are starting to think in those terms also. For weight loss programs the part that we don’t like to talk about is why after losing twenty pounds, do I put it all back on and then some. Every time I have been on a diet I have needed to get new larger clothes.
This is the point where people start talking to us about maintenance plans. You mean I can’t just crash diet off ten pounds and then I will be able to eat like other people? Can’t you AA folks just teach me to control my drinking? So my depression is gone. I will never feel that way again. Time to get back to the way things were before my self-improvement program. So next time let’s talk about putting the weight back on, the relapse and the return of emotional problems.
Other posts on this topic can be found at: Pre-contemplation, Contemplation, Preparation, Early Action, Late Action, Maintenance, relapse, recovery, triggers, support system, more on support systems, Resiliency