When I was working in a detox, I spent a lot of time talking about change. Namely, a person’s capacity for it. It was a common theme, and understandably so. Everyone in that building was (at least on paper) there to try to change their life in a radical way.

Admitting you want to change your life is easy. Admitting that in order to change your life you have to change yourself is…. less easy.

I saw so much doubt in those rooms. From patients who didn’t have faith that they would be able to make substantial changes after months, years, or even decades engaging in the same kinds of behavior. From family and loved ones who had been promised over and over again that things would be different. I was asked, fairly frequently, if people can really change.

The easy answer is: if they want to. The more practical (and true) answer is: if they have to.

Change is hard, in any form. There’s a lot that goes into it. Acknowledging that something needs to change, identifying the steps that need to be taken and what’s standing in your way, actually enacting the change, and then putting the work in to maintain it…

Very rarely is someone willing or able to go through all of that unless there’s an absolute need to. People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of the process. And that’s a really rough fucking place to find yourself.

Seeing that need is almost impossible sometimes, especially if you’re as entrenched in your own shit as I am most of the time. I’ve only really recently begun to see some of the more problematic and damaging aspects of who I am and what I do, and vocalizing those is not something I could do without struggle.

It’s easy to blame your behavior on others. It’s the easiest thing in the fucking world. When you see the things you do as merely responses to the actions of others, you never really have to feel bad about it. My last relationship crashed and burned (partially) because I allowed my feelings of justification, of “but this is why!” to overshadow that nagging feeling in the pit of my stomach that what I was doing was Not Ok.

Seeing your behavior as alright in light of may help you sleep at night, for a while, but you’re blinding yourself to your own patterns. How many times do you have to do the same fucked up shit before you realize that the only common denominator is you?

That same limiting mentality works in reverse though. When you’ve done something right, or good, how quick are some (most?) of us to deflect? Taking responsibility for yourself and the person that you are is tough, because it means that you are to blame for the shitty things you do, but you are also to blame for the positive.

If you’ve helped someone, let that in. Take it, absorb it, internalize it, allow the warmth that person is trying to give you actually warm you. Admit that you are a person that has the capacity to help. That you, twisty little fucked-up you, impacted someone in a meaningful way that they appreciate. It might be hard to really accept and feel that, but if someone feels helped or reached or less isolated and alone because of something you’ve said or done, who the fuck are you to tell them that they’re wrong?

On the flip side, if you’ve harmed someone, let that in too. Examine the actions you took and the thought processes that led you there. Be fair and critical regarding those actions, those thoughts. Make amends, as best you can. Admit that you are a person who has the capacity to harm, but also admit that you are a person who is capable of growth and change.

Looking in mirrors is a risky enterprise. There’s almost always something that could do with a little work. But that’s ok. There’s no shame in shortcomings, but you’ll never know if you aren’t willing to see.

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