Updated on 02.18.11

Changing Course

Trent Hamm

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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  1. Lindsay says:

    Great response Trent! My cousin went through something very similar and is trying to get back on track. I plan on sending this to her.

    Condi keep up the great work! Life changes are hard but worth it for you and your children!

  2. Maureen says:

    Congratulations Condi, on making so many positive changes in your life! I really don’t think it is necessary for you to uproot your family. You have been through a lot and come out much wiser for it. The fact that you can see your past behaviours in your friends shows that you are more discerning now. You are not the same person you were six months ago. Have faith in yourself!!

    You may wish to find one or two new friends that can support you in your new habits but I don’t think you need to totally avoid your old friends. Perhaps you can cut back on your interaction with them without cutting them out entirely. Focus on their positive traits. As they witness your success they may be inspired to make positive changes too.

    I wish you every success.

  3. Michele says:

    Condi- I think you should take Trent’s advice and move away from the former ‘friends and family’ that have the bad habits you’ve realized are bad. I’m thinking that ‘smoking’ and drinking aren’t just cigarettes and booze.
    Your children deserve a sober mom who is working for a better life- and it’s too tempting to fall back into bad behavior and bad habits in the same environment than a different environment. Best wishes to you!

  4. mary m says:

    sometimes a move across town is just as effective, just get out of the neighborhood rather than a whole new life somewhere else. course, that’s easier if you are renting instead of owning a home.

  5. Holly says:

    Thanks for sharing your struggles…you are wise to find new habits and routines that will strengthen your relationship with your children. They will have a lot of respect for you for taking the time to unravel the tangled ties to your current group. Best of luck. Hug the kids — they will need you and you them; GOOD LUCK!

  6. donna says:

    Those who do not want to change, will speak abusively of you, because they do not understand. Seek out some “real” christian fellowship (and follow Gods plan)and he will give you the fellowship that you do need to stick to your goals. We do not leave family, friends or others behind for God and not be rewarded with so many more. It is hard to change, when the world doesn’t want you to. You need to take a “spiritual stand” for what is right, and your love for your children shines through in the efforts you have made to change. I have often felt very vulnerable, (the world is so big and i am so small). BUT, i understand and this system just doesn’t really hold people accountable until they are caught, but the whole doesn’t understand that your creator knows right from the start. You can run but you can’t hide, we can hide many things from ourselves and from others, but not from the one who created us. Sorry, didn’t want to expound so much on religious beliefs, but it is what has saved my life and my sanity in this system. My integrity and my life are in my creators hands, he is the only one who can take my life and restore it. Mankind can only take it. IF the move away is what is necessary then by all means if you can afford it, do so, BUT, be sure not to fall into the same circle of destruction as you are leaving behind. Wisdom and knowledge are for a protection. I pray for wisdom and knowledge and calm, the calm coming with the wisdom & knowledge)

  7. deRuiter says:

    Change your “friends” Condi, or they will drag you back down into the sink hole. Moving across town (if you live in a decent sized town) is probably enough. Trent’s given you a lot of excellent ideas. Find better quality of friends. “If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.” is so true. Take your children to the library for a reading group if they’re small. Join a church and attend the social functions. Go to Parent Teacher meetings. Sign your children up for a few school team sports and go to the games. All these are places where you can meet a better class of people. I admire you for giving up smoking and drinking, it must be hard. You are now a positive role model for your children, they are happier, and you and the children will be healthier without second hand smoke. Think second hand smoke when you consider sticking with your existing social circle, it’s not healthy.

  8. eaufraiche says:

    Condi, congratulations on figuring out how to save your life – and your kids, too!

    Trent, excellent advice!

    Isn’t it amazing the wealth of wisdom here? You simply can’t help but continue on your good path if you follow through on this!

    Just a few additional ideas – meetup.com is an excellent place to find groups of folks who share interests – it might be a great place in your area to meet new friends.

    When my kids were young (we don’t know how old yours are!) I tried to keep each one involved in 2 kinds of activities – one physical; one artsy.

    If you pursue some of your interests and make sure your kids are participating in active or artsy things, you’ll surround yourself w/ different kinds of people.

    We are all proud of you, Condi. We admire your efforts, and feel you are gritty enough to continue to succeed! You GO, girl!

  9. Another Dave says:

    Def a good post. Alot of my comments have already been covered. #1 is the friends… you need to find Positive Friends. It may seem tough now to give up those friendships, but I guarantee you will understand once you have turned the corner from Negative friends to Positive. Just as Negative friends create a downward spiral… Positive friends create an UPWARD spiral. I know a young man who did this with his OWN PARENTS (negatives) and his has hauled his life out of the dregs and is now in the Army and excelling fantastically all becuase he chose to leave the negative situation and go live with my parents who were a positive force in his life.

  10. Carole says:

    I agree that Condi needs new friends and possibly she should shift her family to the back burner of her life if they are a bad influence. I also suggest she find a church or other place of worship near her home. Enroll in the adult Sunday School program and put the children in the childrens’ program. Don’t try to hide your background and people will go out of their way to help and mentor you and your children. You will also find new friends.

  11. kristine says:

    Good luck, Condi. You have been through the worst thing possible, and survived. If you can do that, you can do anything.

    Carole, good suggestion, but a sizable portion of the population does not believe in god or gods. So many people mistakenly assume that each person must be affiliated with SOME kind of religion.

    I know that being a single mom making ends meet, time is hard to come by. Even an online group can make you feel less alone in the struggle. Just stay connect and continue reaching out to people already traveling the path you want to be on. Your library will have lists of most local organizations.

  12. littlepitcher says:

    Attagirl, Condi! People who have broken other or similar bad habits call it “changing your playmates and play places” to permanently break bad habits. Often, your coworkers share a certain habit set, so retraining for better employment is something you should consider and plan for.
    Revisiting interests acquired before “smoking, drinking, and running around” should make you a new set of friends. If your old friends (and family!) try to sabotage you, they weren’t friends anyway, so find others whose interests and entertainment exclude the redneck art of backstabbing.

  13. MichelleO says:

    When I used to work for a probation and parole department, I witnessed that people who were most effective in changing negative patterns and making positive changes were those individuals who separated themselves from past friends and family members who were engaged in the same negative behaviors. Also, relocation to a completely new area was often essential in making this break from old patterns. It’s not easy, but the rewards can be great.

  14. LC says:

    Great advice, Trent. I’ve read that one reason people on public assistance for years/generations often can’t escape is because when they do get jobs, they are drained by their current family and friends, so they are really no better off. Moving and a fresh start is the only choice. Speaking as one who has moved often, I hope people will embrace her. Some communities are not easy to break in to, even if they are nice to people they already know. It takes time.

  15. Angel says:

    Congratulations on a fresh start, Condi! You are giving your children the greatest gift you could ever give them: a good mother. All of the advice given here is excellent. You definitely need to find new friends! How about your local YMCA? They offer reduced or free membership rates based on income. You and your children could spend time there enjoying the pool or working out and getting in shape. You might even meet a few new friends if you take a class or two there. Best of luck to you!

  16. Rockledge says:

    We used to live in a neighborhood that was lower income and had no community spirit. Our best friends in the neighborhood decided to move when they noticed that none of the local kids there were going to college. At first, I thought that was a stupid reason for moving, but when we moved to a new, better neighborhood I saw she was right. People here encourage kids to go to college or technical training and there’s a real sense of community and support. It’s made is so much easier to keep our kids on the right track.

  17. Kai says:

    What’s up with all the church suggestions? Did I miss the part in the letter where she mentioned she was religious?
    Looking for support in a church is a great idea if you share a faith and want people around with similar ideas, but it’s absurd to send someone to church for benefits if they don’t believe in (or at least are interested in listening to) the basic beliefs of the church.

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