I used to be so smug about not being a meth head.
Kim and I have been watching the series Breaking Bad, about a mild-mannered high school science teacher with a cancer diagnosis who gradually descends into a life of crime as a ruthless player in the local methamphetamine drug trade. Good times.
The psychology behind the choices that the characters make and consequences that come from them are fascinating, not to mention the look into the dark underbelly of the drug economy. During scenes that show people in the deepest throes of addiction, I’ve noticed myself judging the junkies.
How stupid could a person be? What did they think would happen? What a loser...
But I’ve come to consider that perhaps we are all addicted to something.
Drugs and alcohol are the most obvious, along with porn, gambling, food, and tobacco. But we can also be addicted to attention, validation, drama, status, and even busyness.
For example, I often find myself caught keeping up on the news. I browse my go-to sites and scroll through my trusted pundits on Twitter for the latest info. When the headlines slant in a direction I think is favorable, I feel good. When they take a turn for the worse, I get anxious. And I keep returning, like an addict, hoping for a “hit” of happiness, while enduring waves of negative emotions during the down times.
I rationalize this behavior by telling myself I’m “staying informed,” and yet this “information” does nothing to help me live a better life or make a positive difference in the world. To make matters worse, I don’t even have any control of these things I’m investing so much emotion into.
Maybe it seems odd to compare a meth head with a news junkie. Certainly there are some addictions that create a chemical dependency that put them in a different category, and yet, social media companies have some of the most intelligent people in the world continually working to make their products more and more addicting, because the more time you spend on them, the more money they make. As Cal Newport pointed out in his book Digital Minimalism, they are even set up to be like little slot machines, where we scroll down to refresh the screen, hoping for the reward: a like on a recent photo we posted, a funny meme that makes us laugh, or a mean comment that gets us riled up.
One common thread that connects all these “drugs,” is that we use them to seek some feeling of relief, control, or security. They are a menu of distractions that Adultitis happily offers as an easy alternative to addressing the hard questions in our life. It cuts us off from the the people we care about and keeps us from considering – and really digging into – the stuff that matters. Questions like…
Am I happy?
Is my life going in the direction I’d like?
Is this relationship working?
Am I doing work I love; work that matters?
If not, what needs to change?
If we want our lives to be filled with meaning, we need the time and space to ask and answer the big questions. Honest answers often require us to do hard things, which are easier to avoid.
Too much avoidance, and our life just floats along, driving us closer to the end while robbing us of happiness and joy. Just like the emaciated junkie in the street.
You can turn anything into a drug.
Figuring it out is the first step on the road to recovering from Adultitis.