How Vice Can Lead to Growth

Frida Kahlo and Pet Hawk

“My experience has taught me that a man who has no vices has damned few virtues”.  – Lincoln

 

The other day I was talking to my best friend about habits in general and bad habits in particular.

We all have habits that we think about rectifying into something more positive; but when, if ever, does a bad habit turn into a vice? Is a bad habit equal to a vice? Can something that seems positive on the outside turn out to be a vice in disguise?

These are the questions we were asking, and I’d be lying if I wrote that we discovered the answers to appease the masses.

One of the habits I wrote about last week focused on my love/hate relationship with mornings, including a fresh outlook on how getting up earlier has led me to become more appreciative and grateful as soon as I roll out of bed.

So, that’s one bad, albeit not terrible or soul crushing, habit. However, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

If you ask someone what their bad habit or vice is, most of the time they’ll sigh, shrug, and call out any of the following categories:

Smoking

Drugs

Alcohol

Sex

Food

But does the conversation really end there? Or, can living with these vices lead to some major personal growth?

 

While I have never been a heavy smoker, I did moonlight as one while I was living in Central America. Cigarettes were unbelievably cheap and there was just something (don’t ask what because even I don’t know) about traveling around, sometimes for hours or days at a time, and ending a leg of a trip with a night cap in one hand and a cigarette in the other.

As I made my way around Central America, more often than not, there was a local bar or restaurant on the same street as whatever hostel or work stay I arrived at on any particular day.

I would pop in and ask whoever was in charge, “Una Imperial, por favor…” and that would be that, or so I would think.

That one beer would turn into several and the next thing I knew I was talking to another backpacker or local. We would hit the basics of who, what, where:

Who are you?

What are you doing here?

Where are you from?

And out it would come: a box of cigarettes and a lighter to match.

A lazy gesture would usually be more than enough for me to think, “Why the hell not?” and again, that would be that.

Was smoking my vice? Well, it’s tough to say. I never craved them; I didn’t need them, but you know what I did crave and need? Human interaction. And that interaction was bound to be extended if I accepted a cigarette.

Was it gross behavior? Sure. Do I regret it? Nope.

Going down my list, I make a screeching halt at ‘Food’ because the origins of my habits all stem from this, and only this. It’s a shameful thing, food habits, even when they’re “healthy”. Someone always has an opinion.

Case in point: my mom’s obsession with sardines. Growing up I remember my mom eating sardines straight out of the can. This habit wasn’t hurting me in any way; in fact, it was helping her.

Did that stop me from making a disgusted face every time she ate them, bought them, or even mentioned them? No.

 

So what, pray tell, is my secret and shameful food habit?

Chips. Chips of all shapes and sizes, but of course I did have a favorite.

The spicy, red finger staining, Chester Cheetah product which has haunted me most of my life.

This chip so devious, so naughty in my mind, that I would resort to sneaking them into my bedroom and eating them late at night after my parents fell asleep.

Unfortunately, I was almost always found, quite literally, red handed come morning. The chips leaving evidence of their whereabouts all over my fingers.

This behavior is concerning (thank you therapy) and it’s something that I’m only now realizing.

Self-awareness is key, but what I have learned is even more important, is self-compassion.

I had zero self-compassion for myself as a little girl experiencing growing pains and hormones and puberty. Who of us knew how important self-compassion is for actually making change happen in your life? I sure as hell didn’t.

Today however, I sure as hell do.

I realize now, at the wise age of 31, that beating myself up over bad habits or vices is one way to not change a damn thing. The thing is, though, I’m impatient. I want change and I want it now. I am hard on myself. I am hard on others. I am learning. I am changing.

So, what’s a bad habit you want to change? Okay, now onto the more important question: Are you ready to change? Good. No, not just good- this is a huge step. It’s a step bigger than most people give themselves credit for.

I’m talking about a real step towards change. This step looks different for everyone, but if you have truly left the ambivalent stage, I congratulate you.

This may seem like nothing, but I promise you that it is everything. Have compassion and optimism while on your journey, flow into and with the ups and downs, and accept that you will slip up. And when you do, heed my advice:

  1. Hold onto that compassion that you so effortlessly give to everyone else;
  2. Harness that optimism when things get dicey; and
  3. Flow through the bullshit that comes your way instead of getting sucked into it.

You’ll be happy you did and fairly soon your vices will be little pebbles in your shoe where they once were rocks. Never forgotten, but a hell of a lot smaller.

 —

AC

 

 

 

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