Disappointment, Detox and Woodchips

Leaving my house yesterday, I noticed that my landlord had thrown his Christmas tree into the backyard. There it sat. Staring at me with its big, bushy green eyes; dazed from decoration filled days of glory. I pondered if it was wondering how it all ended - face down in the snow - and who had poured that last glass of almond milk eggnog.


This tree and I had a moment together. His name was Charles, aka Chuck, and he was befuddled as to how the end of 2017 involved inclement weather and naked boughs. He had trusted people he shouldn’t (“The axe should have been a dead give away.”); bought more than he could afford (“Lights ain’t cheap”); sought approval from ungrateful children ("She was a pint-sized Legally Blonde with climbing spikes for feet”) and used food as a crutch. (“I knew it wouldn’t work. I was starting to lose needles right away.”)


I told Chuck he wasn’t alone. We all end up in a snowbank from time-to-time. For some reason the “holidays” bring the crazy out in us. The inability to say no to excess and a ballooned family schedule. It is everyday life on crack - if sugar was crack. After the tsunami of tinsel, wrapping paper and goodwill have subsided, we take a look around and view the wreckage. The pants/trunk are tighter, our brains fuzzier and the only thing thinner is our wallets and belief in our ability to judge quality when we see it. 


What is a tree to do on the threshold of another year? Get up and do it all over again? Tumble down the same rabbit hole of mini narcissists, bottles or booze and self-loathing or try a new route? And if there is another road less traveled, how does one find it? How do small steps turn into large journeys?


I told Chuck that I was planning a detox. A small change that would last only a couple weeks but, I believed, that change would turn into better routines/a more solid life. Using the concepts from Charles Duhigg’s, The Power of Habit, I was going to take baby steps that would enable me to see changes before I decided to just drop the mic on my dreams. 


Keystone habits needed a shift - above all, more exercise, better food and more sleep. This detox would start with food and I would do it surrounded by people since better outcomes are achieved when we do things in groups. (Hard for an introvert like me to accept. Can I get an amen Chuck?”) Thrive Integrative Medicine and I are going on a clean eating, sauna taking, better sleep and daily pull-up journey together. 


I was also going to stop looking at things as “complete” failures for these two weeks.

Recently my husband, Cory, told me that he was “soooooo proud of me” for believing in someone who had disappointed me deeply. He watched me overcome preconceived notions and reach out where, in the past, I would have thrown a “not worth my time” price tag on it and walked away. This surprised and heartened me - for starters, a man who I have been with for almost thirteen years still likes me and who knew I could be unpredictable? (Shazam, Chuck Shazam.)


Chuck broke into my pontification at this point and said, “All well and great but what can two weeks give you? Other than a false sense of security at the end of this endless diatribe.” I told him, “Well cantankerous conifer, it can give me hope and the start at a new keystone habit. Exercise is key in how we see ourselves and how we treat others. It helps us build up willpower which is more like a muscle than an emotion. I am going to take out the "routine and keep the cue and reward” to borrow a bit from Duhigg. To bum a phrase from a downhill skiing instructor I once knew, “Look at the space between the trees, not at the trees. Keep your eye on where you want to go.”

(Finally my last bit of advice - you can take that tree over to a Carrs/Safeway and it can start over again. Woodchips for trails around the Anchorage area. Support for the change that so many want to make. And for more information about habit reform read The Power of Habit. It really can change your life.)


- Dr. O'Connell


Abby Laing