Destructive Patterns: Why Is Our Own Behavior Our Biggest Enemy?

The human brain is phenomenal at recognizing patterns and anticipating outcomes. In fact, our ability to do this, is arguably what puts us at the top of the food chain. That being said, why can it be increasingly difficult to recognize and change our own self-destructive behavior?

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When you are a small child, in the earliest years of school, people are taught to recognize patterns; a repeated design. We learn this skill so young because it is a very fundamental tool for the rest of our lives and not just in math or science.

As adults, this skill helps us in countless ways, so much so you might often forget that you use it.

Every morning you drive to work, you happen to get caught in the early morning school zone drop-off right by your house making you late for work. This is a pattern after it happens often enough, and you realize that you can't continue this pattern of being late for work.

You resolve yourself to leave ten minutes earlier every day. Yes, this alters the pattern, but you need different results.

(hmm...I am guessing you have found a similar quote somewhere like this in your recovery; maybe there is some weight to it.)

So the next morning, and every morning after, you leave earlier, miss the school zone chaos, arrive to work on time, and thus, change the pattern to achieve the desired results.

It's always easier said than done when it comes to breaking a habit of any kind, but lucky for you, when you see the pattern, it's easier to counter it in the future and act accordingly.

Although, what does that mean for our decisions, even after we see a pattern of behavior?

As a recovering alcoholic, I know sometimes we still struggle with the inability to make even the simplest decisions that others would have no second thought to:

  • pizza or tacos is turmoil
  • chocolate or vanilla is torture
  • horror or comedy is a toss-up
  • pepsi or coke; still not difficult for anyone  ;-}

The struggle is real!!

It's not just you, I promise. Seriously, not only do all serious alcoholics face this, but there is a very real, very scientific reason behind this.

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The part of your brain that problem-solves and makes decisions is the same part of the brain that is influenced by alcohol.

Go figure!!

Now, can you see a pattern, there?


So what is the answer? Why all this information about patterns and what does it have to do with recovery? Well, I'm happy to tell you, the answer is more beautiful than you have been led to think.

I have found the answer in mosaics. Not unlike a classic mosaic on a basilica wall, we too can lose sight of the bigger picture when we narrowly focus on our life with a magnifying glass.

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You have to be open to taking a step back to really see what our patterns are and how to break the ones that are no longer serving us in a way that is beneficial.

When we are in recovery, we sometimes get the itch to drink, simply because of habit, or the purposes of this blog, out of a pattern. Needless to say, drinking definitely hasn't served us well in a long time.

If you think of it in that context we all had our own patterns of drinking. Mine was very heavy, very reclusive because eventually, it became impossible to disguise, and very, very, VERY consistantly. I used alcohol to reward myself for doing things that were scary or sad and after a while one night wasn't enough of a reward.


My 21st birthday and martini no.WHO KNOWS?! So glad I left this person behind, I never really liked her anyway.


I just wanted more.

Before I knew it, I was taking shots of straight vodka in the morning just to chase away a potential hangover, and buying a half gallon of liquor every other day. You can't imagine how difficult of a pattern that was to break.

Especially because when your coping mechanism is gone, for some reason it seems like THAT is the time when the world is crashing down on you. How many times have you thought;

  • "Really, now, of all the times this could happen?! Are you f***ing kidding me?!"
  • "This couldn't have happened at a better time!" (insert sarcasm)
  • "It's like the world knows I'm trying to quit or something!"

Although, when you are in recovery, sometimes these triggers arise, and it's like a roadblock!! But guess what, that's mostly in your head to. The truth is bad stuff is going to happen in your life; it's a fact. Just as adversely though, good things will happen.

When you take away your pattern of coping, your brain actually kinda freaks out. Turns out that all that drinking we have been doing has really messed with our brain and for whatever reason sends our anxiety into overdrive. You have trained your brain to function on alcohol and you, being the survivor you are, adapted to that self-abuse.

It's just a matter of rewiring like an aux outlet on your TV; unplugging yourself from addiction and plugging yourself into an outlet that is not alcohol.

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So, here is my go-to when it comes to any triggers pop up. A NEW "pattern" that anyone can adapt to combat stress, in recovery or otherwise.

This actually requires a disposable object you can easily move in your hands. (Heavy on the disposable part) Since I have a million Bic pens I have used those, I have even once used a ragged old unmatched sock, but you can use almost anything. It should be small, the easier to move the better, though not entirely weightless;

  • toothpick
  • wad of paper
  • a rock

(If it's an item that IS disposable do this exercise over a trash can, if you choose a rock, make sure it is a rock that you might not encounter on a daily basis -not one on any of your typical walking routes)

Pick up your object and imagine that your anxiety and stress begin to flow like water from you into that item. Fill the item with all of that negativity.

Imagine the object nearly about to burst, heavy with the weight of that anxiety and stress and desire to drink that you shoved into it. Imagine every last drop of those emotions draining from you to the object until there is none of it left in you, when it is all inside the item that is still in your hand and heavy with weight.

Move it around in your hands, play with it. YOU are in control!

Look at that pitiful object, now at your mercy bouncing between your palms as if it was a toy....and just....let it go.

Literally, drop your item. Drop all the emotion that it had in it, and simply let go.

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I say it's better to do this over a trash can because I find it to be more cleansing to take the trash out without touching that item again once you have let go.

It's a very powerful ritual that I happened to learn around the age of twelve and it's never steered me wrong.

If you look for the pattern and are willing to new options, you can only find your way through. Remember, you are a survivor, that is what you are made for, so stop stunting your own growth by repeating the same destructive behavior

I hope you have come away with a little more knowledge about yourself, your recovery and the control you have over it.

Step by step we will get through this #lifeonthesoberside 



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