When I’m home, one of my favorite Sunday routines is attending ******* Anonymous meetings in support of a loved one. (There are a variety of anonymous support groups: Overeaters Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, etc., but to keep the identity of the person and nature of their meetings anonymous, I’m only going to refer to the meetings as “****** Anonymous”.) It’s an honor to be a guest in a space that was instrumental in their recovery, and it always sets the tone for a mindful end to my week. If you aren’t familiar with anonymous recovery groups, these meetings extend far past the “Hi, my name is _______, and I’m a ___________” / “Hi, ________” narrative we often see on television. They are a time of reflection, cups of coffee, spirituality and, my personal favorite, storytelling. Each week, a different member “chairs” a meeting, meaning they sit at the front, discuss their journey to recovery, and moderate a discussion where other members contribute comments and similar experiences.
I leave every meeting I attend astonished by people’s ability to overcome their lowest lows, confront their pain, and go on to build lives of joy and abundance. Although many stories have touched my heart, one particular piece of advice has always stayed with me. After recounting their experience, a person chairing one week began to go into what steps helped them reach recovery. They said one of the most important things they did was completely transform their days and routines, rather than focusing only on the thing they were recovering from. They began taking a different route to work, found new spots to replace their old haunts and tried new activities.
This advice might seem like a no-brainer upon first inspection, but when faced with abandoning our own habits and toxic cycles, how often do we look at the bigger picture and not just the glaring issue in front of us? Subtracting something bad from our lives is a step in the right direction, but it can be a challenging decision to maintain when the absence of it leaves a gaping hole in the schedules we’ve grown attached to. Sometimes, the best thing we can do is create days and routines the old versions of ourselves, still weighed down by personal demons, wouldn’t recognize.
Take a breakup, for example. Us college women seem to love swinging between the coping extremes of doing nothing but wallowing and cutting 10 inches off of our hair. I think the latter comes from a desire to feel like a moved-on, 2.0 version of ourselves, detached and unrecognizable from the dumping we just experienced. While there’s nothing wrong with mixing up beauty looks, baby steps and small changes over time can accumulate to something more effective and meaningful. This can be going to restaurants you didn’t visit on dates, watching a new show instead of the one you binged with your ex, reading during that hour previously designated for calling them or finding new music to manifest a new mindset. Each of these can help you create a lifestyle that honors a new chapter in your life, your growth and your individuality.
If you feel like you aren’t living the life you wish you were, do what self-help books advise: start making decisions the way the person you want to be would. If you want to be more fit, ask yourself how a person who leads a healthy lifestyle spends their weekends or what food they grab in the dining hall. If you want to make new friends, ask yourself how an outgoing person interacts with others, where they eat (in their room or in a space with others?) and how they participate in events/clubs. If you want to be a better student, ask yourself how much a good student studies, how they take notes and how in advance they start assignments. You get the idea. It sounds corny and out-there, but you really can build habits and become the employee/friend/person you want to be by altering the way you spend your time and what you focus on.
If you’re coming back home from college and everything seems to have changed since you left, the best thing you can do is change with it rather than being upset that things aren’t how they once were. Work with your friends to adjust to each other’s new schedules/priorities/boundaries (now that everyone has jobs and internships you each aren’t free to just sit around together every day!), plan new trips and experiences, and don’t force the same old habits, relationships or activities that worked for the older version of you but not for the person you are today. Redefine what you like to do and what works best for you.
Many changes we face will never be as heavy or challenging as recovering from a disorder or addiction, but the tactics for navigating them with grace remain the same. If you are facing a big change, adjustment or pursuit of a goal right now, I wish you the best of luck! And as always, feel free to comment with your thoughts.