By Dylan Roebuck
Dylan Roebuck works at Veterans United as a member of the People Development Team. Prior to coming to VU, Dylan worked in the Substance Abuse Counseling field for 6 years, and is passionate about helping others find purpose and direction. He is a son, brother, boyfriend, and taco enthusiast.
I’m a pretty firm believer that we all get stuck in our ways, for better or worse. From the food or music we like, to the things we believe about reality, and the ways we think. I have actually ordered the same thing from Taco Bell since I was 9 or 10. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” I believe that’s how the saying goes. Of course, sometimes, it IS broken. A lot of the loops we all get stuck in at some point no longer serve us, but these loops, patterns, ways of thinking, ways of living, etc., can be incredibly hard to change.
Addiction, for example, is one of the more self-destructive patterns that an individual may face. But for a while, whether that was for a day, a few weeks, or years and years, the substances provided relief. Just like an old worn out leather belt, it served its purpose until it no longer could. I doubt anybody tries alcohol for the first time with the intent of becoming an alcoholic, but we likely all know somebody who could fit the description. Is this really any different than any of the destructive patterns we all find ourselves stuck in? Sure, maybe the consequences aren’t as obvious, but what if they cause us misery just the same? What about stress? Self-doubt? Anger issues? Over-eating, under-eating, gambling, spending too much, spending too little, or staring at our phones for hours?
Let’s take a look at stress. Even as I type the word, I pay attention to my heart rate and try to re-examine my caffeine intake for the day. Just like the alcoholic, nobody intends to be a ball of stress, yet here we are. According to a survey from April 2021, 78% of Americans feel stress weekly, and almost half of us say that the pandemic has been the most stressful time of our life. It’s important to remember here that stress has quite literally evolved right along with us. The fight or flight mode kicks in when our nervous system senses danger, the difference now being that most of us are no longer facing life or death situations every day. Bears, tigers, and sharp teeth have become jobs, bills, and family. But still, the almost instantaneous physiological response to even perceived danger is something that all of us have felt before. Spending too much time in this state, with your cortisol and epinephrine levels boosted, causes numerous health issues as well as just plain old misery. That all sounds pretty terrible, but stress is just one of the many challenging things we get stuck with.
Now that I’ve hit the cap on the amount of data points I can include in this, let’s talk about a solution. Disclaimer here; I’m not an expert. I have patterns that I am trying to break free from that no longer serve me. I experience stress often. Sometimes I am crippled by self-doubt (I was asked to write for the blog 2 months ago and it took me this long). My intent often does not match my impact. I am imperfect. But I also really, really care about this stuff. There is nothing more rewarding to me than seeing people change when they had felt complete hopelessness. Ask any sober alcoholic and they will tell you that getting any amount of days sober felt impossible, but now they are recovered from a seemingly hopeless state of mind and body. Pretty incredible stuff. That hopelessness and resignation to “always being this way” is a terrible trap to fall into, yet I think it’s one that a lot of us are familiar with.
So what’s the first step? Admitting there’s a problem, no doubt. But then what? Admitting to ourselves and others that ways we cope with life cause problems is pretty unnerving, to say the least. Like it says in Alcoholics Anonymous literature, “Who cares to admit complete defeat?” For some of us, that moment only comes when we are completely defeated. We’ve all heard of “hitting rock bottom”, but what if it didn’t have to take the proverbial s*** hitting the fan for us to finally be ready for change?
I think hope is the first step. I absolutely did not ever believe that I would be able to maintain sobriety for more than a couple of days at most, until I saw a friend, one who I knew had used substances as I had, who had several years sober. This friend’s life was full when it had been empty, this friend now had joy where there had been complete despair, and relationships with loved ones who previously wanted absolutely nothing to do with them were being repaired. It was incredible! And for the first time, I knew that there was a path ahead for me that wasn’t hopeless. All I had to do was let go of the notion that this was how things were meant to be, and suddenly there was hope.
The lesson here for me is that the stories we write for ourselves are never written in stone. We can change the things that no longer serve us whenever we decide to do so, but it is a lot easier to do with a little bit of hope. Imagine your ideal life. What does it look like? What does it feel like? Sound like? What would it take for you to get there? What are you doing to make that happen? What are you doing to not make that happen? What is the first thing you can do to get started along the path of change? Whether it’s an addiction, chronic stress, or any pattern that no longer serves us, hope is the key that opens the door to change.
Hope comes from many different places. Therapy is an incredibly powerful tool. For some, belief in a Higher Power is a source of hope. For others, it’s having a fellowship of people who have “been there and done that”. Or, all of the above. Regardless of its source, hope is our best option for eliminating our self-destructive tendencies. It is how we can shift our consciousness, and begin to perceive a new version of reality that was previously unrealized. It is the stuff of miracles. Maybe next time, I’ll change my Taco Bell order.