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  • Heather Vest

Undertow

We’ve talked about self- destructive habit and rewiring neurons at length lately but now we must confront the elephant in the room- the idea of what Richard O’Connor calls “the undertow”. This, folks, is the lovely tendency to fall back into old habit, self- destructive behavior, after having had so much success in ridding ourselves of it and moving forward. It’s like the little mucus character on the Mucinex commercials… always back with the mountain cedar pollen. The reason for the tendency is that the self- destructive behavior acted as a coping skill at one point in your life and your lovely brain never forgot about the momentary gratification or comfort it provided you. Let’s say, for instance, the circumstance was the loneliest time in your life. You were away at college and you broke up with the only friend you believed you had. You ruminated on thoughts of “Why am I even here? My grades are horrible” and “No one around here even understands me”, so you go to the local liquor store and purchase a bottle. With this, your brain understands “Wow, I felt bad before and now I don’t feel anything. This is nice”. Afterwards, however, you wake with a headache and lack the ambition to attend class for the day. You see where this is headed?

Then, there is the combat veteran who spent 3 tours in Iraq trying his best to transition to civilian life with little resources. He has 2 kids and a wife that are dependent on him finding a job and getting them settled all in a matter of 2 months due to the start of school. His stressors are numerous and he feels as though no one truly “gets it”. He turns to his old comrades and begins alienating the family. This behavior is fills a void of support; therefore, he places his efforts there and fails to meet the emotional needs of his family.

Whether the self- destructive behavior be an addiction, avoidance, seeking attention from an unhealthy source, etc. they will continue to be attractive if the individual does not identify the key cause for your undertow. What is leading to your feelings of emotional distress currently? The danger in allowing the undertow to give way is that you send a message to your brain of “Well, I messed up again…I might as well stay here for a while” or “I know what will make me feel better…if only for a day”, but you know as well as I do that much damage can be accomplished in that time. After this, your confidences are wounded, and you’ll be less apt to jump back on that horse of recovery…even though that is exactly what should occur. While you are living a more righteous and fruitful life, fear might seep in. You may feel as though you are walking the tight rope, and something is bound to give…this is where you turn to your support system. You speak very genuinely about those fears. Your failure is not inevitable, and you were born to thrive. Reach out….we want to hear how it’s going.

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