Going into December, I was on a roll. I was writing a couple of hours each day, I was exercising, meditating, eating well, not drinking much. I felt awesome. Life was easy.
Then, I fell off the wagon.
Have you ever fallen off the wagon? Have you ever had a great thing going that suddenly blew up in your face, leaving you dazed and confused?
Doesn’t it suck? I mean, you put all this effort into doing something good for yourself, and then bam! it’s gone like it never even existed. What the hell are we supposed to do in times like these?
How do we get back on that wagon?
This whole mess started with me getting sick. I missed three consecutive days of work, which I’ve never done. And then my illness refused to go away. I was clearing my throat at my desk every damn minute. I was that guy.
Naturally, this happened while I was trying to make decisions on a condo renovation that was (and still is) ongoing. That in-and-of-itself would have driven me nuts. Even today, I’m barely staying above water. I was out choosing faucets today. Faucets! Seriously, why are there so many kinds? And why are they so expensive?!
Anyway, I also started seeing an ex of mine. I had reached out to her a couple of weeks earlier and we decided to have dinner. We hit it off and bam! my love-life (and mind) was sent into a tailspin.
Then, there was work. I was stressing about a big project that’s coming to an end in a couple of months. I have more work ahead of me than I can reasonably expect to get done. That’s a concerning thought now, but it was terrifying back then.
Suffice it to say, I wasn’t in a good state.
While I was sick for those three days, I didn’t leave my couch. I needed to fill my time with something, so I downloaded the cocaine-infused app Clash of Clans to keep me occupied. Let’s just say it quickly took over my life.
But, that wasn’t my first rodeo with CoC. I’d become obsessed with it before and I’d deleted it before, too. When I started reorganizing my life around when my buildings and units would finish upgrading I knew it was, once again, time to get rid of it. Fortunately, I didn’t put up much of a fight.
Unfortunately, I immediately picked up another bad habit: Netflix. I binged The Witcher in record time, and when I was done I watched the last season of Brooklyn 99. Then, I decided to start the whole series from scratch. Eighty-six episodes later and here we are…
What did I do while watching all these shows? Why, I ate crap, of course. I mean, what else do you do when your anxiety levels are through the roof, you feel tired and lazy, and you’re lying on the couch in your jammies?
Yes, I stress eat.
Let’s just say I went through several bags of Twizzlers, piles of Rockets, all my Christmas chocolate (there was a lot), and so many bags of chips I was embarrassed of my garbage.
My drink of choice at the time? Tea. Go figure.
Anyway, I started writing less. I started going to the gym less. I stopped meditating entirely. I stopped eating healthfully, obviously.
It felt like every good habit I’d spent the entire year cultivating was imploding. I saw it happening before my eyes and I felt helpless to stop it.
There’s no doubt about it, I fell off the wagon face first.
And when I came to, I was dazed, confused, and ravenous as hell.
Picking Myself Up
For weeks, I was asking myself the same questions.
What are you doing?
Why are you avoiding all the things you love to do?
You’re not hungry, why can’t you stop eating crap?
Seriously, why are there crumbs everywhere?!
But, no matter what I said to myself, I couldn’t break out of the slump.
I realize now that my stress and anxiety, and my resulting fall from the wagon, was caused by procrastination. I was feeling the pressure of needing to make decisions about my condo renovations and to start moving my work project forward. But, I didn’t have any previous experience with either.
I’ve learned this lesson before, but it really sunk in this time: when something is standing in my way that I don’t know how to resolve, I tend to shut down. Then, I avoid thinking about it by seeking temporary comfort in distractions like food, shows, and video games.
My anxiety slowly started to decrease when I stopped procrastinating. With the renovations, I began reaching out to friends and family for advice. I also sought input from a professional. This helped me to decide on a final vision.
With the work project, I gave myself the smallest possible goal and completed it. This small act gave me the confidence to set another small goal, and then another. Finally, I felt my work moving forward.
This might all seem obvious, but it wasn’t to me. At least, not at the time. I felt like my life was spiraling out of control and I didn’t have the perspective to see that I just had to start doing something.
We fall off the wagon often because something has changed in our lives, whether it’s a new work project, renovations, a new relationship, an illness, whatever. But, what keeps us stuck in the mud rather than chasing after the wagon is our stress and anxiety about the change. These are powerful emotional states that can prevent us from seeing the obvious.
I’ve learned two things from this experience. One, life is never going to stand still. Things are going to change, regularly, throughout my life. My routines and habits are going to get interrupted by life, and I’m going to have to deal with the consequences. There is nothing I can do to prevent life from rolling on. Accepting this reality, rather than wishing it wasn’t so, is an important key to getting back on the wagon.
Two, there is nothing useful about beating myself up for falling off the wagon. This isn’t the first time I’ve eaten dirt and, frankly, it’s been much, much worse in the past. I’ve seen firsthand the destructiveness of getting down on myself when things don’t go the way I want them to and I’ve decided that beating myself up for it is an indulgence.
There’s a sick satisfaction we get out of putting ourselves down, which can easily spiral out of control. This is why I didn’t hate myself for overeating. This is why I wasn’t angry with myself for writing and exercising less. This is why I wasn’t disappointed in myself for ceasing to meditate. I knew that directing these negative emotions toward myself would only increase my stress and anxiety and make it even harder to pull myself out of the mud.
So, if you’ve fallen off the wagon, my advice to you is this: have compassion for yourself. You’ve fallen off for a reason, and chances are it’s a pretty good one. Life can be downright vicious. So recognize that sometimes we need to escape from reality (temporarily) to properly deal with it.
When we recognize and accept that falling is inevitable, it hurts less when we do. Ultimately, I know that life is going to get the better of me again and there’s nothing I can do about it, except remember it’s not permanent and I’ve gotten through it before.
In the words of the Baroness Orczy:
Even the worst moments and the weariest journeys must come to an end.
Am I back on the wagon? No, I have some ways to go before my routine feels “normal” again. But I’m not going to stress about this. I know that I’ll get back onto that wagon and I also know the spot I find is only temporary.
It’s just a matter of time before I’m once again eating dirt. Until then, I’ll continue to remind myself that the goal is not to prevent myself from falling but to keep moving forward in spite of it.