Light in my Shadow

Strengthen Impulse Control and Change Your Life

Learning to strengthen impulse control doesn’t just apply to food, drugs, booze or any other addiction. It applies to big things – like self-harm and anger.
Think about how many violent incidents (domestic and other) could be prevented if the offender found a gap between stimulus (their trigger), and chose a different response. Or how many suicides wouldn’t happen if the person in pain didn’t act on impulse.
That’s how huge this benefit is.
I’ve got personal experience with how life messy life can get when impulse control is missing. I wear the reminders as scars on my body, the evidence is written in my criminal records and it led to great loss of things I cared about in my life.
Believe it or not, this dangerous, self-sabotaging program can be deleted, and a new program installed that works to strengthen impulse control.

First I'll talk about how lack of impulse control affected three areas of my life, then I'll tell you how mindful drawing helped me to strengthen impulse control.

If you know my story you’ll know I had some whopping addictions going on – to alcohol, gambling and drugs (methamphetamines and weed). Ergh part of me wants to cringe, but the bigger part of me doesn’t, because that person isn’t me anymore.
I had a massive battle quitting. I’ve had well over a hundred relapses (especially with gambling and alcohol). For more than two decades I had NO discernible space between my triggers and my response. I had no impulse control.

How mindful drawing helped me to strengthen impulse control.

Mindful drawing gradually helped me identify an ever-so tiny space between my impulse and my response. Not immediately. But if you put in the work, it happens.
I still felt my triggers – I had plenty – like feeling low and sad. That big guy grief. Being stressed, bored or lonely triggered me. I still had all my old PTSD triggers which were caused by trauma and repressed emotions.
This behaviour was neurally carved into my brain from 20 years of repetition – but ever-so-gradually I began to relapse less.

Slowly I began to create different actions.

I sat with my pain for the first time in my life. It hurts like hell, but it MOVES THROUGH YOU instead of staying stuck inside you, eternally prodding you like the demon from hell.
I wrote in a journal like my life depended on it. I came to develop a strong urge to mindfully draw during emotional angst, because through repetition I’d wired into my neural pathways a recognition that it centres and calms me. It began to anchor me.
And the benefits kept rolling in. My self-love was growing, and I learned what boundaries were and I began to use them. My insight was growing – and in a huge shift, I detached from several of my childhood traumas – the root cause of my addiction.
Over the next two years my relapses grew less. The gap between stimulus and response grew roomier. This is the powerful space where you get to CHOOSE to create your reality – instead of being jerked around like a puppet, sabotaging yourself and hurting others around you.

It's coming up to three years since I learned to strengthen my impulse control.

My old impulsive behaviour no longer has power over me and I’m never tempted. These days I’m disgusted by the control of addiction because I’ve seen what it does. To me and others I care about. It destroys lives.
My Mum sent me some money not long ago, for my birthday in March. When I opened the envelope, I had a flash of old me. Old me would’ve spent this money on my addictions within hours. Not only did I spend my own birthday money, I spent rent money, bills money and money that wasn’t even mine. That’s how bad I was. I cried a little with gratitude and pride at how far I’ve come.
The remainder of this post may require a trigger warning as there is a description of self-harm and domestic violence.
Self-Harm (unintentional, but damaging nonetheless….)
The old version of me had a weird habit where my more dysfunctional relationships resulted in unintentional self-harm, due to lack of impulse control.
People with serious drug and alcohol addictions often have unhealthy relationships where you just fight a lot. Much of the time you don’t even know what the hell you’re fighting about. It’s sad and it’s just awful.

Severe arguing used to cause me excruciating emotional pain. Off-the-charts kind of abnormal.
I’m also highly sensitive which is a bloody fabulous trait to have when your emotional health is clear. It’s the worst trait to have when your existence is one of pain and suffering. In both cases, everything is amplified.
If my past arguments were bad enough – something inside would snap, and I would impulsively act out and do something really dumb – with absolutely no control over my actions.
Once mid-argument, I snapped and kicked a solid wooden door so hard that the entire front half of my foot turned purple and I couldn’t walk for a week. I can still feel this injury occasionally, 15 years later.

Another time I headbutted a door with full force – as hard as I could. A bit higher up the concern scale, I once deliberately swallowed a lethal amount of GHB mid-argument. I was aware of what I was doing, but I couldn’t stop. I had no control over my actions.
When the emotional pain became too great, I'd snap, and automatically move (like a PUPPET), and I'd create an even more serious scenario to stop the arguing, and to stop my pain.
As soon as I drank it, I knew what I’d done was serious. I told my partner what I’d done, and crawled upstairs to my bedroom before I passed out. Yes it stopped the argument. Yes I’m ashamed of it now. I fell unconscious and my breathing was so shallow, he said my lips were blue all night. I scared the crap out of him. He watched over me all night ready to call an ambulance if my breathing stopped.
Another time mid-screaming match, I was in so much emotional pain, I mentally snapped. In one move, with NO control to stop myself, I picked up my cat’s bowl, smashed it, grabbed the shard of porcelain and sliced right through my wrist. All in one automatic uncontrollable moment of SCREAMING INSANITY. (I cry for this version of me writing this now).
I had to go to the emergency room where I had seven stitches in my wrist, and I got treated like a hospital-resource-wasting, suicidal drug addict. I wear this scar (and others) for the rest of my life to remind me of past me.

I don't recognise this person anymore. The pain of being 'her' was often unbearable.

It’s hard to tell my stories because it brings up sadness and shame. But I tell my story because my website is all about healing these seriously damaged parts of me. I tell my story so it may help others who are in this situation right now.
I’ve never been a physically angry person, only verbally towards my partners when I was triggered. But I write this section on anger because I have direct experience with it, and it’s absolutely imperative we tackle this growing issue in our society because it’s a killer.
I had an ex who I was with for 4 years. At his core, he was a sensitive soul – so gentle to our cats. But he carried very deep childhood wounds. He was also an alcoholic with gasket-blowing boiling anger issues against the world. His life was constantly wrecked by it. Our was relationship wrecked by it.

Once during a nuclear-level argument, he destroyed our entire house.

He smashed every piece of furniture, put holes in the walls, and proceeded to strangle me on the floor of our destroyed house. It’s the only time I have been physically assaulted by a partner.
strengthen impulse control
A stroke of ‘fate’ intervened for me that day. A friend of ours turned up to our house at the right time (our house was always open), dragged him off me and quite possibly saved my life.
I am a fighter, but I couldn’t get him off me. Rage is so strong. The neighbours called the police and they took an AVO out on him that day. It was one of the scariest situations I’ve been in and it shook me, because I know I had a close call that day.
I am also aware that some women do not live to tell these tales.

Impulse control with anger is a huge issue in our world.

Every day the news is FULL of articles, where if only someone had more impulse control, there would BE NO articles. No statistics. There would be less people in jail and less families mourning loved ones that shouldn’t have died. There’d be less road rage and domestic violence. There would be less animal cruelty and less suicide from one impulsive decision.
This is why I tell my stories. Because is very possible to strengthen impulse control by rewiring your brain to create a life-saving pause between stimulus and response.

This is what saves lives and changes the future.

On a less serious note, after my rock bottom I ate everything to distract me from the fact that I was sitting in pits of hell. Due to my lack of impulse control I put on 13 kilos in six months.
Impulse control is different from willpower. You require willpower to NOT do things sure, but also to DO things – like stick to a new healthy food plan, or get your butt out for a walk in nature when you don’t feel like it.

Impulse control is only about NOT doing things. Having the power to resist your impulses.
Strengthening impulse control applies to so many areas in life. Some are small, and some are bloody massive. But they all affect your life, and they all lead to a different outcomes. And this leads to creating a different version of reality.