Habits. We rely on them to steer us through the daily routines, years of academics, dining and worship, and a lifetime of living. What are habits, and why are habits so vital for healthy, peaceful, sober, and connected life? Some habits become customs from childhood, introduced into our homes around holidays. Others habits evolve over time as traditions handed down from generation to generation. Habits create needed routines for living and patterns for loving. Good habits keep us connected to self, others and God; bad habits divorce and isolate us from the world. Some habits become tendencies toward self-serving ends, and other habits develop into addictions.
When bad habits become an addiction, then we live in dependence, obsession and compulsion, none of which are healthy for us. Experts in the treatment of addictions advise that disturbances in ‘brain function’ cause irritation of the brain center effecting emotions. They tell us the recovering alcoholic experiences stronger emotional states than most people, and their disturbances and emotional states occur with particular strength for as long as 2 years after the last drinking episode. Moreover, if there is permanent brain damage, then intense unpleasant, uncontrollable emotions endure a lifetime – or bad, diseased habits.
Some people innocently ask the alcoholic or addict, “Why can’t you or won’t you just stop drinking or using? The question implies will-power and freedom to make a moral choice, when in fact, medicine confirms addiction is a brain disease. It can and does diminish a person’s freedom to choose; why? addiction- an uncontrollable dependence on alcohol or drugs! Given this lifestyle or these bad habits, addicts become spectators and sleepwalkers through life; they are unable to appreciate or assure their own life and to control their ‘habits’. The disease of addiction sucks out breath, life, and joy from relationships and daily life; the addict wrestles with life as if it was an unidentified, un-welcomed enemy, and sees himself as a victim rather than a celebrator of life.
The lyrics of two famous musicals reflect this somber view of such a sojourner: “I’m tired of living and scared of dying (from Show Boat), or “Life has killed the dream I dreamed (from Les Miserables).” Each day becomes more unfocused, distorted, and burdensome, and life feels like endless stress, monotony, and entrapment. Then the addict who is mismanaging life, ultimately copes by drinking or using more. The daily routine or habit of problem-solving becomes an unending series of more complicated, life-threatening problems. Alcohol and drugs become the anesthesia, if only temporarily, to deaden the pain, disappointment, and isolation.
So this weekend, let us foster good habits to remain connected to self, others, and life. Pray for people who struggle with addictive behaviors. Encourage addicted loved ones to seek help. Trust that good treatment can make a difference, and habitual recovery programs do nurture good sober habits for healthy living and loving relationships.
In loving Memory of Father Ron Beshara