By Anne Garboczi Evans
Healthy for a New Year, didn’t we all make some kind of resolution about that? You’d think we’d all be the healthiest people that ever lived with all the resolutions we make. But we’re not . . . Why?
My husband and I are finishing up our certification as foster parents. (I’m actually releasing a picture book about Foster Care in May, if you want to check it out.) As foster parents, you meet a lot of very unhealthy people. Moms addicted to drugs, dads murdering other gang members. Women who have had a dozen protection orders put out against their sex offender baby daddy, but still are “in love,” so choose the man over keeping their kids (from three different baby daddies) safe. Physically, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, any way you look at it, these people just aren’t healthy.
I used to counsel incarcerated teen parents from similar backgrounds of drugs, domestic violence, and gang activity. I couldn’t help but like the kids. They were smart, funny, charming even, and they had big dreams. They wanted to become a professional singer, get an internship as a welder, go to school for engineering. I’d think, “You can get out of this jail and poverty cycle. You can do it. You’re so close.”
Then I’d turn my back and, boom they’re back on meth, robbed a drugstore for a gang, started dating a gangbanger with murder on his rap sheet, and gave birth to baby #3.
There was a part of the kids I counseled that really wanted to be healthy. But the immediate lure of self-destructive behavior overpowered that urge.
And at night as I pondered all the stories the kids had told me in counseling that day, I saw a scary amount of myself in those kids. I don’t do drugs, or break the law, or date gangbangers. But I think we all have some self-destructive tendencies. You see that part of your life that’s not healthy, and you want it to be healthy. But somehow, year after year, things don’t change. And while it may be because the world’s out to get you, it may not.
I see people befriend the same horrible type of person over and over again, and then wonder why all their friendships fail. I see people overtax themselves year after year, and then wonder why they keep having mental breakdowns. I see people be rude and mean, and then wonder why nobody likes them. I see people fill an emotional need with an addiction to all sorts of things, and then wonder why they aren’t able to break the addiction.
The more years I counsel, the more I’m convinced people are creatures of habit. No matter how much we want to be healthy, we go and make the exact same mistakes this year that we made last year. Old mistakes feel familiar, and kind of “right.” Health, on the other hand, can feel like an elusive goal too far on the horizon to realistically grasp.
So like the incarcerated kids I counseled, it’s always next time. Next time, my kids said, they wouldn’t use that heroin needle. Next time, they’d say no when the gang asked them to steal. Next time, they’d date a nice guy, not someone they met in jail with a rap sheet ten pages long.
But life isn’t lived in next times. Life is lived today. Our choices today define who we are “next time.”
Which reminds me of a funny story about a pack of Ramen noodles I opened at age 24. I loved eating Ramen noodles throughout college. I didn’t really approve of Ramen noodles nutrition wise, but I was a college student. So hey, rite of passage.
At 24, as I peeled open the wrapper to a pack of Ramen noodles, I suddenly realized I could no longer say I just ate Ramen noodles in college. If I kept eating Ramen noodles, then I would be a Ramen-noodle-eater person who thinks Ramen noodles are an appropriately nutritious lunch. Ramen noodles would define my idea of nutrition. Did I want to be a Ramen-noodle-eating person for my whole life?
Don’t be a Ramen-noodle-eater person this year just because it’s comfortable. Look at the life choices that haven’t been working for you the last two years, five years, ten years and change something. After all, even my juvenile delinquent teen parents could say, “I want to be healthy.” The proof that you’re pursuing health is in the changes you make.
Anne Garboczi Evans is a mental health counselor, military spouse, and mama to a 3 year old little boy, “Joe-Joe.” Find out more about her on her Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/annegarboczievans