As a psychology major I have been loving research papers of studies done by others. For a while now, before I even entered into Research Methods & Statistics courses I have had a favorite study that has been of great interest for me: Stages of Change and Decisional Balance for 12 Problem Behaviors. I found this study after being suggested I read it by the person who is in charge of the IOP program I was in; it came about because I wrote a research paper on the differences of outcomes between residential treatment & an Intensive Outpatient Program for my English 105 course when I first went back to school last year.
Mainly because I have so much respect for the woman I interviewed and because it was so relevant to what the paper would be discussing, I took to the interwebs & found said research article. Reading the work of Prochaska made so much sense to me and was so relevant at that time in my life, and still is today.
Basically Prochaska says that when one is stopping an addictive behavior they go about it through stages (which isn’t all that shocking as a lot of psychologists have theories of stages in their works); yet with Prochaska those stages are more concrete instead of abstract. His seem to be (in my opinion) more measurable or observable.
Over the past year or so I have heard those stages be discussed numerous times in psychotherapy group and I always struggled with pin pointing where exactly I was at that time. It was until recently that it really became clear to me that recovery & the motivation to do so really does “ebb & flow”. What does that mean? Think of a wave in the ocean as motivation. When you’re riding high on motivation it’s incredible, yet something can happen & you lose the motivation, thus crashing down into the ocean at the bottom of the wave you were once on top of. But rest assured, there will always be a new wave & your motivation will come back.
Since starting outpatient I don’t know if I ever was in precontemplation. I feel like I entered into the program in the preparation stage (seriously considering choosing recovery in a short time), but as we said time & time again in that program, “life happened” and I would find myself back in contemplation (considering making a change, but still holding off on said change). Prochaska’s 2nd & 3rd stages were the main ones I stuck to for the first 6 months or so I was in the program. It’s easy to dream of change, but when push comes to shove, I wasn’t all too open to experiencing that discomfort & anxiety.
I think the 4th stage, the action stage, tends to scare the shit out of a ton of people. It’s then where you actually have to do the terrifying, uncomfortable, anxiety inducing work that is mandatory if a real & valid change is going to occur. It’s in the action stage where a lot of us with eating disorders struggle with the voices telling us we can’t do it. I know personally, the action stage has sent my motivation for change in my eating disorder in a fucking tailspin so many times I lost count. I always seemed to get to a certain point & I would give a big middle finger to the treatment team & recovery process & quit. Where did that get me? Abso-fucking-lutely nowhere my friends. In fact, weaving back & forth between action & contemplation only made my stay in the program months longer than it had to be.
The maintenance stage is something I find hard to identify if I am in or not. For Prochaska, maintenance was defined as a period of 6 months or so after action is 1st taken & requires a continuation of change. Maybe it’s just because I am harder on myself than need be, but I’m not perfect & recently I’ve been slipping a lot. So does that negate all of the work I am doing & thus as a result places me back into the action stage? I don’t know.
But I do know that the very idea of being in the stage Prochaska would consider to be maintenance scares the ever living life out of me. I can’t imagine at this point in time being 100% symptom free for longer than 6 months. That’s a lot of skeletons in my closet I’d have to let go of, a lot of lying I’d need to come clean about and the biggest variable holding me back: a lot of fluctuation in weight that I am proving I cannot handle.
So yeah, maintenance stage is fucking terrifying. But taking this back to Prochaska, his theory makes so much sense. I have witnessed it time & time again, this ebb & flow of these stages, in not only myself but in the lives of my friends I am going through recovery with.