By Francis Ewherido
Habits are things we do regularly until they consciously or unconsciously become part of us. Our habits are dots which connect to make up our character. There are good habits, bad habits and ruinous habits. Our focus today are bad habits. I hate to be a slave to bad habits and I have fought to free myself from such slavery all my life. I remember one of my bad habits in my younger days.
Once I am alone, I would twist and pull off my hair. It was in the days of afro, so there was plenty of hair to twist and pull off. Before long, the whole floor would be filled with “fallen” hair like a barber shop. In embarrassment, I would pack the “victims” and throw them away. Then afro became outmoded and in came “skin cut” and that was how that fetish died a natural death. Simple solution: take away the source and a bad habit dies a natural death.
The next major bad habit was excessive consumption of beer. It started when I gained admission into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, and in the process gained my “freedom” from full parental control. But I lacked self-control and always got drunk at social gatherings and outings. This continued till my third year when I went for the Ofala Festival of Mbanefo Hall.
Every hostel used to hold Ofala Festivals yearly. I drank combinations of Premier Beer, Golden Guinea Beer, Harp Beer, Star Beer and capped it with bottled palm wine. When they brought another bottle of beer, there was still “small sense” left, the last bit of self-control, and I declined, knowing that one more bottle and I would tip over. Time to go to my Eni Njoku Hall; I got to the railing in front of my friend’s room on the fourth floor. I put the left leg on the railing preparatory to climb down and go to my room.
Then the “small sense” left screamed “nooooo, that is not how you came o, you came via the staircase.” I was unsteady, so I held on to the railings from the fourth floor and traced my way to the staircase, then ground floor and staggered to my room. The next morning when I became sober, the enormity of the fate that would have befallen me hit me. UNN is built on hills and the ground in many places, including Mbanefo Hall, is as hard as concrete. Had I fallen from the fourth floor, I would have stood no chance.
That day, my slavery to beer ended. I have not tasted beer in the last 32 years. You might argue that the problem was not beer, but drunkenness. Yes, but in the process, I also kicked out drunkenness. Here the problem was lack of self-control. Somehow I found the inner strength to control myself. You have to find the strength to strike first what will kill you before it strikes you dead.
I cannot remember when the habit of drinking very cold water started, but it was really bad in the 90s. I would drink cold water from the freezer with ice floating on the water and it gave me a kick. Then I fell ill and one of the lifestyle changes my doctor decreed was that I should stop drinking cold water. I stretched forward and offered him my head. “What,” he asked me. “Shoot me,” I retorted. “Why,” he asked confused.
I told him that was the only way to stop me from drinking cold water. A bout of laughter followed before we had a truce: moderation. It remained so until ageing told me to stay with “room temperature” water as much as possible. As you grow older, your body begins to tell you what is detrimental to your health. Only the health-conscious hear and obey this voice.
At that time too, I also developed the habit of excessive consumption of yoghurt. You remember the 90s when struggling young men bought cars without factory-fitted air conditioners and manual gears. Then, if you lived in Lagos, you went to Ladipo or Clegg Lane to an AC specialist to fix one for you. Those ACs never worked well and disappointed when you needed them most.
They were useless on Lagos traffic jams. That was how I started buying yoghurt on the road to cool off. Soon it became an addiction; most times, I took between eight and 10 tetra paks a day. Then one day, I said enough and stopped. My addiction to yoghurt was a mystery to me. I had never been a milk person. My mother told me that I graduated from breast milk to solid food. In my younger days, I hated milk and never touched it until age 11, when I got into the boarding house and was forced to take tea. Before then, when my siblings were taking tea and bread, my mother would serve me bread and stew.
Other bad habits came and evaporated down the line: frozen fried meat and chicken, attachment to Champagne and red wine, etc. That of red wine was health induced. I read that red wine was good for the heart and that was it. Drinking red wine became habitual. I have since learnt that red wine does not hold the monopoly to a healthy heart. So the habit is gone.
Now, I only take it occasionally. That of champagne was different. I had been taking it every now and then when it’s available. Then I got close to a good-natured man of style. We used to literally take our bath with champagne in his home. I was close to him for a brief but memorable period. Then he died suddenly. His death shook me and each time I saw champagne thereafter, I remembered him and the fleeting nature of life. I still enjoy the sweet-sour taste of Champagne, but it no longer has a hold on me.
The problem with habits is that good, bad or ruinous; too much of every habit is bad. Even good habits require moderation. As for bad habits, you have to find the inner strength to kick them out of your life before they lead to fundamental character flaws. Finally, do not even give a space to ruinous habits. We all make mistakes, but let them remain there: one-off mistakes. If you allow ruinous habits in your life, they can easily ruin you. If you need help, get it from the right source(s). Here the end result is all that matters.