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Distraction: The Addict’s Enemy

Posted in Alcohol Abuse

The founders of the Big Book would probably be appalled at the pace of modern life. In less than 100 years, our world has completely reinvented itself. Our technology-driven lifestyles cram our lives full of new information, opportunities, and diversions – all clamoring for our time and attention. Though it is hard to gauge whether we are actually more productive, we certainly do feel busier.

Our modern life and our technological advancements aren’t inherently villainous, threatening, or morally wrong. But they present an overwhelming number of distractions that can hamper recovery – especially among people who will do anything for a temporary fix or means of escape. Technology itself is not the problem – our desire to ‘check out’ of life is. Technology and modern distractions simply provide the vehicle.

Though the ways in which we distract ourselves have changed (early 12-steppers weren’t eating up their time with video games or Facebook) the fundamental craving has not. People are people, no matter what the time period. It is a natural human inclination to want to escape the less comfortable aspects of life. It is instinctual to try to evade a challenge rather than go at it head on. While the early A.A. members weren’t escaping through hours on the Internet, it’s likely that they too found ways to avoid dealing with life.

When we were drinking, we had the perfect distraction for all occasions and circumstances. Alcohol was such an imbedded part of our life response system that we hardly realized we were self-medicating in order to escape, evade, or procrastinate life.

When we stopped drinking, we were thrown back into the stream of life, unaided by any sort of crutch. Life came flying at us from all directions. It was exhausting and overwhelming. We wanted to escape, and if we couldn’t have alcohol, we’d seek some other means of sanding down the rough edges of daily living. In a culture that thrives on distraction, we had plenty of options.

And at first it didn’t seem like such a bad trade-off. Anything was better than getting drunk, right? But then we started to see that once again we weren’t facing or engaging in life. We were constantly looking for release. We felt unsettled, jittery, and anxious. We pursued anything that would lift us away from the present moment and let us veg out somewhere else. Computer games, Internet surfing, movies, TV shows, Facebook, iPod, iPad – any were viable options.

The transfer of addiction is not an uncommon thing among alcoholics, but giving up alcohol for some other fix or distraction, is not sobriety. While we may tell ourselves it is better than getting drunk, we are still failing to actually recover. And if we do not recover and learn the meaning of sobriety in all aspects of life, a return to the bottle is inevitable.

How do you know if you have an unhealthy relationship with distraction? What are the signs of addiction to a new drug? Think about what you desire to do in order to relax and escape the cares of the world. How much time are you giving to that non-alcoholic fix each week? Do you avoid making plans with others so that you can be left to your escape? Would you be reluctant to speak to others about your activity? In recovery, we are only as sick as our secrets. That which you do not want to confess is the very thing that has the power to take you down.

The 12-step program provides an antidote to distraction; it is called serenity. Though the concept is not frequently mentioned in our modern society, it is something we all long for. Rather than escaping your problems, trying to evade the challenges of life, or fighting to overcome, the program suggests stillness instead. We are to be quiet, to meditate, and have the courage to look at and deal with real life. In many cases there will be a proper course of action to take, but action steps are always born out of periods of time in silence, stillness, meditation, and prayer. As we take this time away from distraction, we come to know ourselves and what we really need. We learn the beauty and peace of sobriety and serenity. It is the genuine, abiding calm we could never achieve through a “fix.”