mouse

Painting this one was difficult because I got hungry looking at cupcakes the whole time. I felt like the mouse in the center, wanting to resist something that looks so enticing. My intention was to paint temptation.

I painted a mouse because he’s small, with his object of affection looming large. And mice have mousetraps. Every successful mousetrap is evidence of the power of temptation. As for the cupcakes, my gallery/studio is right next to a cupcake store, so I see the prettiest, sweetest-smelling treats everyday, and had access to easily paint them. But my use of them here is only for symbolic and visual effect. They are not my treat of choice.

Temptations don’t start out being so irresistible. They can be a comforting way of managing or softening the effects of difficulties. It’s when I use them repeatedly as a coping mechanism that they get harder to resist. Eventually, if the same coping tool is reached for repeatedly, there comes the time when the object of attraction becomes an automatic habit so ingrained I barely recognize it. I make excuses for doing it. I don’t realize how important I’ve made it. It becomes a drug of sorts.

How, then, am I to stand up to temptation when the ingrained habit is so set in? Just Say No, the saying goes. (Well, if it were so easy, we wouldn’t need the saying!) We would Just Do It. Even when my intentions are good, and my resolve is seemingly strong I can find myself at the mercy of the habit. The sayings that amount to, “Just Be Good Because It’s Easy,” encourage me to put up a fight that I should win with no trouble. So when I inevitably succumb to the temptation I Just Feel Inadequate.

There is a saying, “That which we resist, persists.” When I am in the mode of fighting against a tendency, I make it stronger. I toughen my resolve, therefore admitting on some level that my “adversary” is very solid and potent. By putting up a contest, I give energy to the idea of battle, and to an opponent that is mighty. I give it power.

It seems contradictory, but giving up the battle is the beginning of seeing temptation in a different way. I step back from the struggle and open my eyes. I may still eat cupcakes, but I become open to looking at why they entice me so. I become willing to examine my motives. (I need the help of others with this part.) If I stay open and persistent and curious, I will be able to forgo temptation long enough to feel what it’s like without my “drug.” Granted, there might be withdrawals from a physical addiction that must be tolerated at first to get to any sense of observation.

Habits and addictions get an enormous amount of attention in today’s world because they are so prevalent. I won’t get into the mix of strong opinions about them. Compulsions can perhaps be placed on a wide spectrum of how much dominance they have over each person, and I only know about my own. In my experience, an inability to stop doing something that harms me is one of the most humbling experiences I can have. Being humbled puts me in a position of wanting help, and if I’m lucky I’ll have the guts to ask for it. There are all sorts of places, groups, individuals, and books where I can enlist the help of others to lead me to feel validated, supported, and not so out of control.

My journey to recovery, as some call it, is best done with the help of others who give me options for new skills. The skills are not what one would expect, because they are always qualified with the assumption that I have given up the fight. So they especially include not beating up on myself, and being willing to heal from wounds that made me need my “drug” in the first place. Learning to trust in something bigger than myself has worked for me.

Self-reliance is a lonely place. Without others to share perspectives, I see everything from one angle. That angle is limited and usually skewed. There are people who are willing to share my burdens and see me overcome and succeed. They can help me put less emphasis on the enticements that taunt me, and more on what might take its place. Nature, art, movement, silence, and faith help fill the spaces, and without the cold-turkey, white-knuckle, buckle-down Just Do It mentality, I end up passing on those temptations that used to haunt me. Without knowing how or when it happened, I know that Grace made a change in me. I played a part, and it started with asking for some help and taking it.