Dear Hope Nation,
I am not a psychologist, sociologist, phrenologist or any other -ogist. I’m a formerly homeless drunk who observes life and jots down some of what I see and what I think about it. When it comes to the explanation of how things work or what it all means, you’ll need to look to theology, biology or scatology. All I’ve got is a pair of eyes and some paper.
That said, I’ve noticed the importance and power of habits in my own life and, I think, in others. As an example, I’ll use prayer. Although I am not particularly a praying man, last week in this space, I made a public vow about prayer. I said I would, until Hope reopens, every morning and every night:
- Pray for the institutionalized mentally ill.
- Pray for the actively addicted who are jonesing this very minute.
- Pray for the homeless, whether sleeping outside or in a shelter.
- Pray for those in early recovery, who began this journey within the past few months.
In the interest of full disclosure and transparency, let me grade myself on this effort: B-. Have I prayed twice a day on average for these things? Yes. Then why not an A? Because morning prayer upon waking has not become my custom or practice, Instead, at some point before lunch I’m hit by an “Oh shit” moment, and start praying then. It’s better than ignoring my vow, but my goal is not accomplished. Yet.
Once I’ve made this prayer part of my routine, it’s likely to stick as a habit. Habits become identity become character, and that’s why they are so important to me. As a man in recovery, I can look back on many habits I’ve had to give up, most obviously the “habit” of shooting dope into my veins. (As a side note, the word habit regarding addiction is ironic at best. I mean, to someone in active addiction, purchasing and using that favorite substance is no more habit than breathing or eating. But, as usual, I digress.) In recovery, I’ve practiced a lot of habits that, little by slowly, have moved through identity and, on good days at least, into my character. Some current habits
- Paying bills. To normal people, this may seem obvious, but when I was using drugs or alcohol, I viewed utility bills as being due when the service was shut off. If my lights didn’t work, it was time to call the electric company and tell them a series of lies, then pay the least amount I could to turn the lights on.
- Paying rent/mortgage.As above, paying rent was always voluntary and based more on the likelihood of being evicted than on any sense of obligation. In any case, not matter the situation, once I knew I’d be moving out in a few months, paying rent from then on was a sucker’s ploy.
- Keeping trash in the car. There is no logical connection between addiction and littterbuggery, but I used to view my car’s window as vent for trash. Drive away and my litter was gone. Since recovery, I can’t throw things out. Go figure.
These are habits I’m happy with. A future, much longer letter I’m sure, will describe some habits I’d like to remove. For now, though, I’m working to improve my B- to at least a B+, and trying to be useful to the world at large. If my goal is to be of service, I can develop habits to make that a reality. And so can you.
You matter. I matter. We matter.