I hear the words “I have fallen off the wagon” at least once a week in my line of work. In fact I have heard it so much recently that I was curious of the roots of where this idiom came from and why the wagon is synonymous with being sober. So I did a little research and found the saying, which dates back to the early years of the twentieth century, means to be on the water-wagon, implying that the speaker was drinking water rather than alcohol and so was an abstainer, at least for the time being. The saying originally referred only to drinking alcohol, but nowadays it is used in reference to all sorts of things when one resumes an addictive/compulsive behavior that they are trying to control.
I have experienced ‘falling off the wagon’ time and time again in my life and being an ‘all or nothing’ kind of personality my switch was either ‘ON’ of ‘OFF’, no in-between, no balance.
I would experience periods of being super healthy with my diet, following a great exercise routine, daily meditation and yoga practice and feeling, well, pretty much awesome most of the time. However when I was exposed to stress or going through any type of trauma or a personal storm all those practices would fly out the window and be replaced with sugar, caffeine, booze, laziness and all kinds of unhealthy behaviors (some much worse then others) leaving me in an exhausted out of a balanced state of being.
You know what I mean, right?!?
This is nothing new and something we all experience from time to time in our lives and because I am a curious observer of human behavior, especially my own, and also after seeing this pattern repeated in my clients I decided to delve into the search for balance, stability and healthy boundaries.
What I uncovered was this;
[Tweet “we only fall off the wagon when our own inner core needs and desires are not being met.”]
Let’s dive into this a little deeper…
When you are exposed to stress you go into what’s called “flight or fight” nervous system response and you become more reactive then usual and easily triggered. It is a biochemical reaction that is experienced in a very emotional way. It becomes more challenging to commit to ‘healthy’ behaviors and we usually reach for stimulants and uppers (varying from coffee to cocaine) because we are being depleted of our natural energy reserves.
Once this cycle begins it forms a negative feedback loop in our behavioral system, which is a hard rut to get out of.
“I’ll start tomorrow”
“I don’t have time”
and “I’m too tired” is an example of the typical self talk in this situation and you can become completely unmotivated and desensitized to the actual needs of your mind and body.
Avoidance, resistance and apathy often rear their ugly heads and create walls around your consciousness that appear too hard to break down…so you don’t.
You settle for ‘off the wagon’ and run this story until you are jolted again by something to make a change and clean up your act. This could be weight gain (a very common one), health problems, a breakup, or a job loss or worse.
I realized within myself that whenever I was ‘falling off the wagon’ my own core needs and desires where not being met. This was happening on a very deep intimate level.
When I really tuned into it I discovered that true balance lies in my ability to give myself what I needed at that time.
When I started giving myself what I needed at the time everything started to shift for me and now I don’t even partake in wagon dancing, I simply prefer to stand in the middle of the see-saw always finding somehow my balance, even amongst the storms and chaos.
My behaviour has changed…
…I don’t push through when I am tired with stimulants like I used too, I give myself permission to rest.
…I allow myself to have a glass of wine when I need it because lets be honest some day’s call for it and red wine gives me an experience that green juice cannot (big smile)
…I don’t have a specific ‘exercise routine’ I move my body every single day in one way or another – dance class, yoga, walking or whatever it desires on that day. I am commited to moving my body in a super loving way instead of punishing it with exercise like I used to.
…I wont punish myself like I used to for eating bread or cheese, I eat it and savour every mouthful as I know its not an everyday occurrence, it’s a special “once in a while” treat.
…I become present to every emotion that I experience, especially the harder ones (like anger, jealously, guilt and shame) and don’t try to run away from or avoid them, just let them be with attaching any stories.
And most importantly I become innately aware when I feel myself slipping into behaviors that don’t serve me and I change up my routine pronto!! I will do something different everyday so shake myself out of a rut.
Here are some of my insights into navigating the wagon dance;
- Assess your core needs and desires. What is it that you really need? Ask yourself this when your reaching for that 8th Tim Tam or 4th glass of wine.
- Source out social support. Let your friends know that you don’t want to be peer pressured. If you constantly have to justify why you are choosing healthier options in your life you probably need to be spending more time people that support and encourage your best interests.
- Change up your routine. The quickest way out of resistance is to make a change. So change your schedule, add in a new class in the middle of the week, drive a different route to work, eat some new foods, turn off the TV and read a book. One little change can make all the difference and when you change your everyday routine it is easy to form new habits
- Identify what it is that usually sends you into falling off the wagon and become aware of your own personal behaviors so you know what you are likely to revert back to in certain situations.
- Make yourself accountable – get a trainer, hire a life coach, nudge an accountability buddy or enlist someone to keep you on track. Whatever you need to stay accountable in your commitment for developing new healthy habits do it.
- Don’t see it as “off” and “on”. Don’t deny yourself. Everything in moderation, especially moderation!
- Realize the only thing standing in your way is you. You have the power to create whatever life you desire so get clear on what you want, how you want to feel and what you want to look like and chase after it like there is no tomorrow.
- Change up your dominant hand. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand, cross your legs in the opposite way, step off from your opposite foot when you walk, even do some writing with your opposite hand. Mixing it up helps to re-wire new behaviors into the brain and break old circuits. Plus it’s challenging and very fun to do.
- Get Inspired. Read something that will uplift your spirits, follow someone’s story, watch an inspirational movie or seek out some cracking quotes that pull on your heart strings and reach so deeply into your core that you want to take on the world again. Some of my ‘go to’ sources for inspiration are The Daily Love, Ted Talks, Tiny Buddah and The Good Life Project.
So my friends lets get over the whole wagon dance. Take life one day at a time and give yourself what you need (at your deepest core) in every moment because quite simply, you deserve it. There is no one else like you on the planet so take extra special care of yourself and fill yourself up with TLC.
Let me know in the comments what motivates you when you ‘fall off the wagon’ so we can all help, learn and grow from each other.
And if you really need extra help check out my Detox Retreats in Bali and Australia. They are designed specifically to give your mind, body and spirit a good kickstart into health and wellness again.
In massive Love