Throw Me an Inner tube

Back to the penguins on my shower curtain...one of the most curious of the bunch was floating in an inner-tube. Sure, it was cute, but what was it doing in an inner tube? Now, me in an inner tube would make a lot of sense...I might sink (I know they say fat floats, but for some reason I am quite capable of sinking). But a penguin can swim like ... well, a penguin.

That made me think about how we are sometimes like this penguin -- we tell ourselves we need something artificial, something additional, to survive, when we really have the ability to do so already within us.

Ever think about how many times a typical person tells himself/herself daily that he/she needs something artificial in order to make it? Listen around you for a while and you'll hear it everywhere:

1) I need a cup of coffee to wake me up and help me focus
2) I need some tylenol to take away my headache
3) I need an anti-anxiety pill to calm my nerves
4) I need a cigarette to help me cope with stress
5) I need a Pepsi for an energy boost
6) I need some alcohol to help me loosen up (or celebrate, or help me sleep, or help me get through the night)
7) I need some study snacks to help me get my homework done tonight (one of my favorite lines while I was in school...which means doughnuts, icecream, cookies, etc.)
8) I need a sleeping pill to help me fall asleep/stay asleep
9) I need a diet pill to help me lose weight
10) I need some chocolate to ... (just about anything can fill in this blank)

Now, I am certainly not against using medicine to help treat diseases. But, it really is fascinating how many times we send ourselves messages in a single day that we cannot do something without the artifical help of something we eat, drink, inhale or swallow.

"I can't do this myself...I need to take/eat/drink ___________ in order to _________________"

For some of us, this involves consuming a steady stream of stimulants, depressants, other drugs and junk food from sunrise to sunset all based on a schedule of needs we feel we cannot meet any other way. I worry about what all of this does physically to our bodies. But, I worry even more about the message we send ourselves by doing this:

"I cannot do this without..."

You can't wake up without coffee? Yes, you can. Millions of people do it everyday. Debate all you want about whether coffee helps or hurts the human body, but I believe that convincing yourself that you can't wake up, be alert or be nice to others without a morning cup is a dangerous road emotionally. Yes, you can wake up...your body and your mind have the power to do it and you don't need coffee to do it for you.

You can't calm your nerves without a cigarette? Yes, you can. You did it before you started smoking. Millions of people around you do it every day. You've fallen into the mental trap of telling yourself that, long-term harmful effects aside, you need a cigarette in order to get through the day. But, you don't. And don't tell me that you smoke becuase you like it and you choose to do it. You may tell yourself or others this on the surface, but you know deep down, when you face the real you, that you do it because you believe you need it...it is scary to face the world without it. You don't know if you really can stop it. Afterall, if you really believe yourself when you say you smoke out of choice, then why have you tried to stop before? It may be nice to tell yourself that you smoke today because you want to. But, when no one is looking, you have to admit that you don't believe you can live without it today. The amazing truth, however, is that you don't need it -- you are strong enough to make it without cigarettes. YOU can calm your nerves and be just fine. YOU can deal with the stress life presents. Many people with weaker wills than you have done it. You have the power within you to do it too.

Can't quit eating ice cream when you are stressed? Yes, you can. While nothing may help make it through a difficult finals-preparation study night (or fight with a significant other) like an entire carton of Ben & Jerry's, you can do just as well tonight without it. There are people all around the world who make it thorugh stressful nights without downing a carton of B&J--it is just the "innertube" you've convinced yourself you need because you won't let yourself believe you can do it on your own. Allow yourself to really look at what you are thinking and believing, and you'll see that it likely goes something like this:

"Something bad is happening, and it is really stressful."
"This is scary/sad/terrible, and I can't deal with it."
"What can I do to deal with this?"
"I need Ben and Jerry's"
"But, I probably shouldn't...it's got 200% of the daily value of saturated fat in one carton...and I always eat a whole carton. Plus I had a cheeseburger for lunch, so I definately don't need any more saturated fat."
"But, what is more important to me right now-- fighting off heart disease that could come 20 years from now, or getting through tonight?"
"That is a hard call...I mean, I could develop cancer or get in an accident 5 years from now, in which case the heart disease won't have mattered all that much, and I could definately use the escape into Ben and Jerry's tonight. And, how much plaque can one carton cause?"
"I can't handle all of this decision making and gloom and doom"
"Where is the Ben and Jerry's...maybe I'll just eat 1 serving's worth."
"(One serving later) How can anyone say that 1 serving of Ben and Jerry's is 1/4 of this carton...it must be mislabeled, and I'm feeling better already, so I better keep going."
"I probably shouldn't have eaten the whole carton, but I'll resist the temptation next time..tonight it helped me get through the stress."

So, here is a call to ditch the innertubes, whatever shape or form they may take in your life. You don't need them. They don't really help you, in fact they hurt you more than just physically. For, every day you pull out the innertube and float on the surface while the other penguins swim, you further convince yourself that you are not strong enough to make it without artifical help. You believe that if you swallow some "liquid courage" (or pill-shaped, or smoked-courage, or ice-cream courage) for just another day, maybe you will be strong enough tomorrow.

But the truth is that most people who eat becuase of stress today will do it again tomorrow. Most who smoke their "last cigarette" today, smoke their next one tomorrow.

How do you ditch the innertube? No one knows but you, and it comes one decision at a time. I've seen people get off of terribly-addictive drugs in a day without ever having a relapse. I've seen others fight it for years before making it clean for a whole year. But the strength is in the battle. And it all begins in the mind, one decision at a time.

The next time you reach for your own personal innertube, saying "I need _________ to do _____________", think about the penguin on my shower curtain. Toss it aside with a vow to do it yourself. Tell yourself, "If this is the best life can throw at me, then I've already won." We can wake up, we can be alert, we can manage stress, we can relax, we can fall asleep, we can face confrontation and discouragement ... all of our own power. Don't give that power away for another day.

Toss the innertube, and swim.