Life is a Matter of Habit

Life is often a matter of habit. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” Actually, the whole quote is “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” But this is an article about habits, not excellence.

Most of our lives are repetitive. We do the same things in the same way, eat the same foods, go to the same restaurants, see the same people, watch the same shows. It’s easy to create a habit. If we do the same thing — good or bad — often enough, the synaptic pathways in our brains get rutted, and it’s almost impossible to completely eradicate the ruts if we want to change our habits.

Recently It was easy for me to fall into the habit of playing computer solitaire for hours on end, but now it’s almost impossible to break the habit, though I did it once, so I can do it again. (After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I mindlessly played game after game just to get through another minute, another hour of grief. A couple of years ago I broke the habit of playing games, but in a fit of restlessness a few months ago, I started in again, and now I have to rebreak myself of the habit.) The secret is to do what I need to do on the computer and then get off. Oddly, some habits are easy to break. I’m in the habit of writing a blog every day, and I keep doing it because I know if I skip a day, I’ll skip another and another, until I lose the habit of writing habitually and will only post sporadically.

Sometimes a change of circumstances, such as a move,  forces us to change our habits. When people tell me they have a hard time getting used to a new town, I suggest they go to the same place or do the same thing everyday to help themselves get acclimated. One woman who took this advice went to the same coffee shop every day, another took a walk ever day. And gradually, new comfortable ruts were built into their brains.

One of the collateral problems with grief is the instant loss of habits. In my case, we (my life mate/soul mate and I) had done most things together for decades — watched the same movies, ate the same foods, ran errands, watered the hundred or so trees we planted. As he got sicker, we put one foot in front of the other and kept on going the best we could out of habit. His death catapulted me out of the habits of my life. I still had the ruts of togetherness in my brain without someone to be together with. I also had to move from our home where we’d lived for decades to come look after my now 96-year-old father, so I didn’t even have the habits of living in the same house.

I felt as if the ground had been yanked from beneath me. When I tried to put one foot in front of the other, I became disoriented, as if I were falling into nothingness. I felt like such a baby, since all I could do was crawl in my alien world of no mate, no habits, nothing to connect me to the past but painful memories.

During the ensuing years of grief (in approximately two weeks, it will be three and a half years since he died) people who have been through the same sorrow have told me that grief makes a change around the four-year anniversary. That’s when many people find some sort of renewal, such as a new commitment to life.

I call this four-year mark the half-life of grief. Our cells are continuously dying and being renewed. If it takes seven years for all the cells in one’s body to be renewed, then by four years, less than half our cells will bear the imprint of our mates. And so our physical grief fades. (By physical grief, I mean the physical pain and symptoms of grief as opposed to the emotional pain.) At the same time, the ruts from the habits of our old life have evened out, and we have developed new patterns of living, new habits, new ruts. And as we repeatedly do new things alone, we become persons who can survive — and even thrive — without our mates because in the end, despite love and grief, learning and yearning, life is a matter of habit.

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Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Promoting Other Authors

Author, blogger, reviewer Sheila Deeth, interviewed me for her blog, and here is one of the questions she asked, followed by my response:

You are always such an encouragement to other writers, posting excerpts, interviews, character interviews, offering advice, sharing experiences. . . . What do you think drives your generosity?

I don’t consider such online activities as generosity, just part of the internet experience. I never quite knew what to do on Facebook, for example — I don’t like games or sharing cute animal photos or any of the other things that clog the news feed — so I built up a couple of discussion groups. It gave me a way of interacting with people and besides, I love talking about the whole writing process. As for the interviews and such. Well, that was a fluke. My personal blog is blue, but I figured out how to change the color, so just for fun, I did an orange blog, a green one, a red one, a purple one, and then I had to figure out what to do with all of them. A book blog and an interview blog seemed the obvious use for two of them since I came in contact with so many authors. The interview blog especially has a fairly good rating, and it seems a waste if I don’t have an interview to post, so I keep promoting it.

In the back of my mind, I hoped that all the author karma I’m building up would somehow help catapult my books to stardom, but so far, it hasn’t happened. But that was never the point of promoting authors on my blogs. As I said, that was mostly a fluke.

(You can find the rest of the interview here: My thanks to author Pat Bertram)

That is only part of why I promote other authors on my blogs. The truth is even less altruistic than I made it sound. I’ve had those two author blogs for several years and just posted sporadically until a couple of years ago. After the death of my life mate/soul mate, I got addicted to a few of the games on my computer — Spider Solitaire, Mahjong Titans, and FreeCell. I so desperately needed for something to work out, I kept playing the games over and over until I won. I couldn’t redo my life, so there was some sort of comfort in redoing something — anything — until it came out right. And the games were a way of taking a vacation from the pain that all but consumed me at times.

When I realized how obsessed I had become, I decided to go cold turkey and give up the games, but I still needed something to do to break the hold of grief when it got too much for me to handle, so I substituted blogging — posting excerpts and author interviews to promote other authors in addition to daily blogging here on Bertram’s Blog. I figured that at least I would be doing some good with my online activities, which is something that cannot be said about computer games.

As for why I keep up with promoting other authors now that my grief is dissipating . . . well, it’s the right thing to do. If you want me to interview you, you can find the questions and instructions here: Author Questionnaire

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Pat Bertram is the author of the conspiracy novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+