(warning – this is a long post with lots of links!)

one model which is highly relevant to what we are trying to achieve in stopping drinking, or changing any other behaviour, is the Transtheoretical Model of Behaviour Change, or TTM. I’ve read about this in various guises in the last couple of years. if you’re not familiar with it, I’ve recently found this website which cogently explains the stages of behaviour change and their implications, and this one, which says:

Prochaska’s Transtheoretical Model (TTM) acknowledges that lasting change generally proceeds through six key stages: from Precontemplation, to Contemplation, then to Preparation and Action. But that’s only the beginning, and we can easily coast right back into preparation or contemplation if we lose our nerve, focus or steam. For our behavior change to prove sustainable, it must enter a Maintenance phase (generally, six months or more of consistent action) until it finally becomes ingrained as a stable habit. This final, ongoing phase is known as Termination, which implies that the change is now a permanent part of our lifestyle.

what was new to me in both these articles was the mention of a typical timeframe for how long maintenance can last – from about six months to five years. which I find both encouraging and consistent with my experience of how I felt at six months sober, at which point I had got past the majority of the ‘unbearable’ stage and was moving into the merely ‘uncomfortable’. how do we move through these stages, though? both these articles can appear somewhat negative about the process, implying that there is no way to accelerate through the earlier stages of behaviour change. but the first article says:

‘As individuals progress through the Stages of Change, decisional balance shifts in critical ways. When an individual is in the Precontemplation stage, the pros in favor of behavior change are outweighed by the relative cons for change and in favor of maintaining the existing behavior. In the Contemplation stage, the pros and cons tend to carry equal weight, leaving the individual ambivalent toward change. If the decisional balance is tipped however, such that the pros in favor of changing outweigh the cons for maintaining the unhealthy behavior, many individuals move to the Preparation or even Action stage. As individuals enter the Maintenance stage, the pros in favor of maintaining the behavior change should outweigh the cons of maintaining the change in order to decrease the risk of relapse.’

and now we have arrived at belief. which I think can sometimes be thought of purely in its definition as an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof, such as in religious belief. but beliefs are more than that. they are the stories that we tell ourselves to make sense of the world. I was interested by this article about a study which showed that the same parts of our mind light up when we think about our religious beliefs and empirically verifiable facts – because our brains process beliefs and facts in the same way.

beliefs are based upon what others and society have told us, and upon our own experiences. and we have a vast array of beliefs, all making up our own personal, subjective belief systems. here’s another neon sign to brighten up the blog post – because I believe that’s important 😉

Neon by Kendall Geers

in a recent post on the excellent blog inotherswords, Laura quoted Shannon Alder’s words:

‘Sometimes your belief system is really your fears attached to rules.’ 

what rules do you make for yourself to cope with your fears?

I’ve blogged almost exactly a year ago about the beliefs that underlaid my drinking, in my post about my own addiction story. re-reading that post is so evocative for me – I remember how writing it helped me get right down to the beliefs that felt like bones in my own body. and a year on I can see more bones in that old skeleton, many of them beliefs that I absorbed unwittingly from others and from society. some such beliefs were:

  • I should be able to consume an addictive substance without becoming addicted (if you haven’t already, go and read Holly’s fabulous post here about why no-one is an alcoholic)
  • therefore, I should be able to moderate
  • if I cannot, then I should keep it to myself, because asking for help makes me vulnerable and is to be avoided at all costs
  • I am incapable of change.

phew. did/do you believe those things? what beliefs around alcohol still have the power to sting you? I have a whole swarm of others I could name of why alcohol was essential to my life. (hint – it wasn’t.)

Sara Mapelli, bee dancer. just. wow.

the thing about having a belief system is that we are capable of simultaneously holding contradictory beliefs. and it is when those beliefs clash that our minds experience what Festinger called cognitive dissonance – feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance. 

I know these feelings can be intensely painful, especially in early sobriety. but I believe that they can be immensely valuable, too, acting as a rumble strip, warning us where we are about to leave the road of our own true natures.

one example from when I was trying to moderate was the clash between my own belief that my children’s welfare is critically important to me, and my belief that I was unable to change my behaviour in drinking to excess, so that, for example, I would be incapable of reading a bedtime story. (ouch ouch ouch.)

so is one of those things not true? do I not love my children? or do I not need to drink? yes, one of those things was not true, but it took the rumble strip to show me which.

one way of looking at our beliefs is categorising them into limiting and enabling beliefs, and making the effort to overcome the limiting beliefs which the rumble strip shows us.

for me a course of therapy was hugely valuable in unearthing many of these beliefs and gently turning them over in the sun to expose their vulnerable underbellies, so that I could leave them behind on the sand and walk away.

I am always interested in noticing ‘new’ limiting beliefs and discovering ways to disrupt and change them. here are some great articles by Andy Hunt, an EFT therapist:

I think the belief that we are incapable of change can be one of the most insidious, because the early stages of any change are so painful they can appear to reinforce that belief. so when my old beliefs call to me, I will think of them as that fish-hook.

it can be an enormous struggle to free ourselves from their barbs and swim free, but it is possible, and it is worth all the pain. 

let’s all go swimming this weekend! bathing caps on, ladies 🙂 Prim xx

60 People Swim The Thames in The Culture of Rowing and Swimming with The Outdoor Swimming Society