Life begins at the end of your comfort zone: recovery from addictive behaviours

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone—so true.

I love this saying, and wish I could take credit for thinking it up. In my humble opinion, whoever came up with it is a genius—and when I saw it on a fridge magnet many years ago, I bought several of them to give as gifts to people I recognized as being entrenched in their comfort zones. (Sometimes it really does take one to know one.) Having given most of them away, I am now down to just the one that lives in its special place on the side of my fridge, where I can see it every day.

For those of you who follow my Loving an Addict, Loving Yourself page on Facebook (see link at the end), you recently saw a post with a photo of an awesome purple cake adorned with that exact saying: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” A client of mine, upon seeing my fridge magnet, took this sentiment to heart in a big way—and when it was finally time to celebrate a truly terrific and hard-won milestone in her life, she decided to reward herself with that very cake. After some hard inner work, she was able to embrace a vitally important understanding: in order to become emotionally free, she needed to make the conscious choice to move past what was comfortable for her and actually start living.

I’m so happy for her—and for all of us who eventually arrive at this place within ourselves.

What is a ‘Comfort Zone’?

Although this expression has become a catch phrase in self-help psychology, the term can be misleading. A comfort zone is really anything but comfortable. Neither is it an emotionally healthy place to be, and a lot of people unwittingly become stuck in them for long periods of time.

A comfort zone most often stems from family-of-origin dynamics. Over many years, we grow to know those well and easily fall into them. Sometimes a comfort zone can be the result of a negative feeling we’ve developed about ourselves, and we can hold onto that defective—and untrue—self-image well into our adulthood.

For example, one of my favorite comfort zones when I was growing up was to be a ‘good girl’ at all costs and to never make any waves, because I understood at a very early age that there would be difficult consequences awaiting me when I tried to speak my truth or act in a way that my parents didn’t appreciate. That particular comfort zone tenaciously had its roots in my faulty core beliefs about myself. Built up over a lot of years, those beliefs informed me that my opinions didn’t matter and that I somehow didn’t deserve to be treated as a valuable member of my own family. And, in the short run, it became more ‘comfortable’ for me to believe that and act as if it were true, than it would have been to challenge those beliefs and face the potentially uncomfortable consequences. With my wiser adult self-awareness, I see now that this was the perfect environment for many of my long-lingering comfort zones to develop and hold me hostage—until I learned about the pain that accompanies us when we make the choice to stay trapped in unhealthy behaviors.

The Two Kinds of Pain

What really happens in a comfort zone?

Comfort zones provide us with what is referred to in 12-Step literature as the ‘easier, softer way out’—until it no longer feels like that for us anymore, which is when change can happen. When we get stuck in a comfort zone, it’s like getting used to clothes that are just too small for us—until that magnificent moment when we realize we’ve outgrown them. But until that time, we continue to practice our learned behaviors in order to protect ourselves from the perceived potential pain of evolving and growing.

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