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Ever since the measure of time, moving through the Industrial Age and beyond, we have quantified life by the clock. We have burgeoned into a culture that has become obsessed with filling up time with endless busyness. In his book, Space, Time and Medicine, Larry Dossey coined the term “time sickness” to describe the obsessive belief that time is getting away, there is not enough of it, and you must pedal faster and faster in order to keep up with it. It has germinated the disease of “more”, which rivets the mind with incessant thoughts that we have to do more to keep from being less.
In our culture, there is a race to be the best. The rush to be the best lessens quality control. Accidents all over the world like Chernobyl and the space shuttle Challenger demonstrate that driven rush and fatigue negatively affect quality control. Yet, our culture remains obsessed with doing more and more in less time. At some point, this frenzy demands a sedative for all. The human condition is not capable of living with a tightening scrutiny that squeezes more productivity from every waking second. We’re now seeing an uptick in stress-related diseases such as insomnia, hypertension, asthma, and gastrointestinal diseases.
Job stress contributes to untold numbers of Americans missing work. City life increases the pace by ramping up pressure to perform. All this pressure causes people to mistakenly believe that somehow doing more means being more. It is no wonder there is an uptick in zoning out from all the turmoil and stress. Zoning out while driving is a real problem. One out of every four car accidents in the United States is caused by texting and driving, mounting to 1.6 million crashes each year, and nearly 390,000 injuries according to the National Safety Council. Online porn during working hours is another zone out that threatens productivity during working hours. Some surveys suggest that more than 60% of men have looked at porn during work hours in the past 3 months at the risk of it being career-ending.
To survive this rush of activity, booster drugs have become popular, even necessary for some. Through the years, I have seen a growing number of professionals who rely upon uppers and downers to get through their fast-paced day. Nursing and pharmaceutical students often fall prey to amphetamines such as Adderall, Ritalin, or Concerta in order to ignore the fatigue and get through their day. Then, they rely upon benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium or alcohol to come down from the high. Opioid use in our country is even more widespread.
This perfect rendezvous fits most addicts like a glove. You can never do enough to keep from being less. This crazed thought pattern becomes the necessary fuel to numb out with the various cocktail of addictions that our mind creates . . . and we create many! Addicts who do not pay attention to hits and situations that trigger fantasy are vulnerable to engaging in their drug of choice. Relapse prevention requires conscious awareness in situations that trigger the temptation to zone out. Here are a few suggestions to manage destructive hits and zone outs every addict faces.
#1: Become aware of your mistaken beliefs that activate your zone out. Mistaken belief will trigger your desire to zone out in a destructive way. Addicts must know their mistaken beliefs like the back of their hand. Not if, but when triggered they must recognize what is happening around them that triggers the hit. Financial pressure, shame engaged because of relationship problems, loneliness, etc. are examples of issues that activate mistaken beliefs that lead to zoning out through addictive behavior. You will need to practice addressing those triggers with life-affirming positive beliefs that propel you toward connection and intimacy-abling behaviors.
#2: Pay attention to the way in which you mask anticipating rejection and victim posturing. It is easy to mask unwanted feelings and thoughts with compensating behaviors. You may be a great parent, professional, and person in a hundred different ways. This is great! That said, it is important that you don’t use these strengths to avoid addressing ways that you are dominated by mistaken beliefs that fuel anticipation of rejection from those you want approval from and times when you are stuck with “woe is me, I feel damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” Victim posture is a dynamic that ultimately leads to zoning out in destructive ways. Avoid your victim stance by reframing your experience so that you empower yourself with possibility rather than remaining stuck without power and with vulnerability to addictive urge.
#3: Be alert to ways that you isolate and fantasize. It can be a good thing to step back and think of something pleasant after a particularly demanding and exhausting day. However, addicts must be on the alert to cravings and urges to escape discomfort and desires to medicate. Telling on yourself to another addict is a way to avoid isolation. Utilizing a 3-second rule, that requires interruption of addictive fantasy after 3 seconds, is a pattern interrupt that will help you ground yourself into reality in the moment.
#4: Be accountable and live in consultation toward your tendency to cruise and groom your thinking toward acting out. Cruising is putting yourself in harm’s way with your addiction. People, places, and mind-states trigger hits toward acting out. If you are sitting in the middle of a busy intersection and a bus is barreling toward you, first get your ass out of the road! No time to review How did I get here, and other questions. The same is true for managing an urge to addictively act out. Engage whatever pattern interrupt you must do to remove yourself from harm’s way. Have a list of support people you can call. Consult with another addict in recovery. Once done, you can trace back to ways in which you groomed yourself with addictive rationale to place yourself in harm’s way.
Addicts must be alert to what disconnects them from feelings and relationship to self and others. Zoning out can be helpful but often is harmful for addicts who do not practice recovery awareness. It is important that addicts don’t forget the old adage “If you hang around the barbershop long enough, you will get a haircut!”