I noticed it has been a month since I posted on my blog…. and I’ve noticed that if I go a few days without writing, a few days become a few weeks before I know it. And that make me think of the Abstinence Violation Effect, a phenomenon that addiction researchers have studied which explains how alcoholics (and other addicts) tend to “fall off the wagon” in dramatic fashion.
What happens is that an individual who has come to realize that he has a drinking (or drugging, or pornography, or binging, or gambling, or… ) problem resolves to become abstinent. After a successful period of abstinence, the (almost) inevitable “slip” occurs, because most of us simply don’t change deeply ingrained habits all at once, permanently and perfectly. Hence the saying “relapse is part of recovery”. It’s what occurs next that is very interesting. Despite a period of sobriety in which the addict has learned new behaviors, acquired new skills, and successfully avoided addictive behavior, the one “slip” leads to a full-blown relapse. Logically, the addict should be able to regroup, remobilize these skills and get back on track. But instead, the addict spins out of control into full blown addictive behavior, matching or exceeding the prior severity of his addiction. This is so common that it has become known as the “abstinence violation effect”.
Well, I think that when it comes to blogging (and sometimes returning emails…), I exhibit the “abstinence violation effect”. I plan to blog regularly, and have a myriad of interesting ideas to write about. I begin to get on track and write regularly… and then, a few days go by that I don’t write, because I’m busy, distracted or uninspired. And just like in the case of addiction, all sorts of distorted thinking set in. And then, a few days become a month… I’m off the writing wagon and can’t work up the motivation to get back on it.
You know the kind of thoughts:
- “I don’t really have anything interesting to say”. That’s a distortion because the truth is one should write about what is on one’s heart, what one is interested in and not be preoccupied with being uniquely insightful, witty, or original. I learned that from one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. Our culture worships originality; but in truth it’s merely an illusion. There really is nothing new under the sun
- “No one is reading this stupid blog anyway”. That’s a distortion, because a few of my friends regularly comment on things they’ve read. But in a society where we think bigger is better, where we worship celebrity, we have a hard time being content with small and quaint. In fact, we devalue the beauty of intimacy, of the small closed-knit community. We want empire. But what our soul really needs is genuine friendship and connectedness. I don’t need 1000′s reading my blog. I can be content with communicating with a few friends.
- “I should be writing everyday; that’s the only way to make a blog worthwhile”. That’s a distortion (1) because not writing for a few days really is different than not writing for a few months (just like having a slip and drinking one night really is different from going on a 9 month drinking binge); all-or-none thinking is pretty maladaptive. And (2) because who makes these rules, anyway? Is there some fairy godmother of blogging that sets the standard? What is a worthwhile blog anyway? In fact, there are a number of blogs I read that inspire me or interest me or simply make me laugh that only get updated sporadically. And yet, I still enjoy them.
So what’s the point of this post? Maybe you identify with the “abstinence violation effect” in some area of your life where you keep “falling off the wagon”. Think about the distortions that creep in and make a temporary set-back in your pursuit of a goal (abstinence, studying more, working on your music or art, going to church, reading, writing…..) turn in to a prolonged abandonment of that goal. Maybe it’s guilt, or perfectionism, or feelings of failure, or… So, bag the distortions and simply get back on track, “one day at a time”. AA popularized the saying but didn’t really invent the idea… where was it I heard things like “today is the day of salvation”, “each day has enough trouble of it’s own”, “today, if you hear His voice”, “so long as it is called today”….?