Changing Course

Condi writes in:

Six months ago, I almost had my children taken away from me because I didn’t have enough money to pay any of the bills and keep food on the table for my children. It was the worst time of my life and since then, I’ve cleaned up my act. I’ve stopped drinking and smoking. Rather than just getting food on the way home each night, I’m making food at home for my kids. I spend time with them and I now see that they aren’t babies any more and they’re turning into wonderful young kids. I’ve been reading a lot about money too and I’ve started paying off my credit card debt.

The problem is that now I see that everyone in my life besides my kids acts the way I acted for most of my adult life. They all drink and most of them smoke and they all eat out or grab fast food for every meal. They’re all in credit card debt. A lot of them basically ignore their wonderful children.

I’m scared of losing all of my friends. I’m also scared of changing back into the person I was, too. I don’t know what to do.

I felt more sympathy for Condi’s email than I have for almost anyone who has ever written to me. The huge amount of personal fortitude and willpower she has shown over the past six months really is impressive. Anyone who can change that much of their life in a positive way that quickly earns my respect.

Still, Condi’s journey isn’t over. She’s still in an environment that is almost begging her to relapse into her old patterns.

Condi, I strongly suggest that you consider doing five things.

Get a complete fresh start
Move to another area where the routines of daily life are different than what you have right now. Move far enough away so that you don’t interact with the same people every day and aren’t surrounded by the old social circle and environments.

This might seem incredibly daunting, but it’s often not as daunting as you think. If you work for a large chain business, for example, they will often help employees relocate to other branches. Since you currently have employment, you can take your time with regards to finding a new job. I would start preparing now, however, so that when you do find one, you can easily move. You might also want to consider moving in the summer if your children are of school age so you don’t interrupt their school work.

You don’t necessarily have to move across the country – two hours of driving distance will do. What you’re seeking is a new normalcy – a new set of routines that don’t involve many of the influences that would pull you back into bad habits.

Don’t be ashamed to seek help
I’m not sure what your actual income situation is, and I’m also not sure if you have an adult partner at home to help you right now, but in either case, there are many programs out there that exist for the sole purpose of helping people in situations like yourself. Don’t be afraid to use them, and don’t fall into a mindset that other people need the help more than you do. Some examples: WIC offers assistance to low-income women and young children who may need some additional nutritional support; your local food pantry; job training programs; and energy bill assistance.

Again, I don’t know the specifics of your financial situation, but I do know that it sounds like it might be tight to make ends meet all the time and that, in the past, you’ve been unable to do that. Don’t be afraid to seek out services that can help you as you continue to right your financial ship.

Engage in new activities
Instead of filling your time hanging out with old friends or doing the things you used to do (which can lead to temptations you don’t need), try seeking out new things to fill your time.

What have you always wanted to learn more about? What skill have you always wanted to learn (like knitting or basic home repair, for example)? Go get a library card, take your kids there with you, and check out some books.

Are you in the shape you’d like to be in? Start taking walks in the evening. Get a portable radio with earphones (that’ll only cost you a few dollars) for something to listen to as you walk.

Are there any big projects in your home or your life that you’ve wanted to take on, like cleaning out and repainting a room? Start doing those kinds of things in bits and pieces in the evening.

If you’re in a large city, look for groups that are involved in these things you’d like to explore and join those groups. Sure, the people you meet might be different than what you’re used to, but that’s a good thing. Go in there feet first and just open up and introduce yourself to everyone there. Good things almost always follow.

One thing I almost always encourage people to do in situations like yours is to try out a volunteer group. Take your kids with you to a Habitat for Humanity house some Saturday or to a soup kitchen. Get to know the people there and learn how to pound a nail – and maybe teach your kids to do it, too. Meet some people who are trying to do positive things in their life, too.

While these seem like hard things to adopt, once you do so, you’ll begin to feel really good about how you’re spending your time. You’ll grow as a person – and the people in your life will see that, too.

Be proud of your successes
You have accomplised an amazing amount already. Yes, in the future, there will be difficult moments where you don’t feel as happy with the changes you’ve made and old routines will seem very appealing.

No matter how much others want you to feel bad about the changes you’ve made, don’t. They’re awesome changes.

That doesn’t mean you have to go tell everyone how great you are. Being proud doesn’t mean being boastful. Keep it inside yourself, but know that there are people out there who are absolutely impressed with your accomplishments – and know that you’re in a better place because of what you’ve accomplished, too.

Remember that true friends will stick
One challenge that remains whenever you make a serious life change is losing the relationships you already have, which (of course) you value. It’s an extremely painful proposition: on the one hand, you’re improving your own life, but to get there you have to lose relationships you’ve built and valued over time.

It’s important to remember that the relationships that really matter will stick with you. If these people do not genuinely care about you, they’ll stop being involved with your life once they realize your interests have shifted. That’s an extremely superficial friendship. It is very easy to build those kinds of acquaintances in whatever area of interest or course of life we spend.

The valuable ones will stick with us for years and years and years. I’ve known my closest friends in the world for more than half of my life, and they’ve seen me change (and I’ve watched them change) many many times over those years. We stick together because we matter to each other.

The rest? Well, a person can always find more people to hang out with.

Good luck, Condi!

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