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A summer nearly 20 years ago I drove Highway One between San Francisco and Los Angeles. I started out in Lake Tahoe, crossed the Sierras at Echo Pass, drove down the mountains, across the San Joaquin Valley, through Oakland, across the bay to San Francisco, and turned south on to Highway One. By the time I caught sight of the Pacific, the day was getting old and the sun was low in the western sky. Highway One runs just along the sea. It is a two lane road that rises and falls and weaves its way along, skirting the cliffs and the beach on the west and the hills of the Coastal Range on the East. It's the sort of curvy road that requires close attention when you don't know it well, especially with the light fading and the sun low on the western horizon.
Somewhere between Daly City and Half Moon Bay, I came to a particularly twisty, turny, part of the road. The road came over a hill and then took a steep decline and a sharp, looping curve inland and then back toward the sea, all just along a sheer cliff down to the beach. Headed south, with the cliff where the shoulder of the road ought to be, this was a spooky bit of road. Just as I topped the little hill I passed a yellow rectangular road sign, shaped like a yield sign, that said, "Road Changes". I laughed out loud and made a mental note. I had never seen a "Road Changes" sign before.
When I got the home of a friend where I planned on staying the night, I asked about the sign. She laughed and told me that it was new and widely discussed in her little seaside town. The previous winter had brought with it heavy rains that had washed a section of road into the sea. When the road was repaired, the only solution was to take the abrupt curve east and around the section that had been washed out. For as long as anyone driving the road could recall, that little hill had led to a straight section of highway along the bluff. But now, there was a sudden curve and a dip down. The state highway planners reasoned that drivers familiar with the road might be at significant risk of driving off the cliff because driving on autopilot, they might miss the change in the road. They settled on the simple and direct warning, "Road Changes."
That's how it is with habits. They take over concentrated work for us and make our lives easier. Imagine how annoying it would be if you had to deliberately remember how to brush your teeth, tie your shoes, or drive your car every morning. But, when we are changing behavior - especially when the risks of old habits are great - we need clear and consistent reminders. Road Changes. Part of recovery is about changing habits and remembering when the road changes. We have all heard recovering addicts tell stories about how they somehow "found" themselves in the parking lot of a bookstore or "tittie bar", logged onto a sexual web site, or cruising their old cruising grounds. The habits had fallen into the service of the addiction. There were no signs announcing, "Road Changes."
I don't know if that sign is still there. It's been years since I've been along that road. If it is then it is a lovely curiosity. It not, it probably doesn't matter. Twenty years is plenty of time to change a habit.
The lesson is clear. Pepper your life with clear and unavoidable reminders that you are on a new road.
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