I believe that every person on this planet, without exception, uses at least one addictive behavior designed to distract them from having to deal with difficult feelings and painful situations. As controversial as that statement may be for some people, I stand by it.
THE MOST COMMON “COMFORT ZONES”
In my experience, both personal and professional, I have seen this over and over again. There are a great many options we can select from in order to cover up our discomfort; the most common in our society include alcohol and/or drug misuse, smoking cigarettes, gambling, preoccupation with food, being glued for hours to our computer screens, compulsive shopping and over-spending, compulsion and obsession with sex, and people-pleasing in our relationships. Even though we all choose our favorite ways to conceal our suffering, the result is the same: until we find our way out, we remain stuck in our “comfort zones” and our self-respect dwindles as time goes on.
Even today, with 23 years clean and sober from mind-altering substances, I still find it difficult to stay away from rich, dark, organic, delicious chocolate. (My mouth waters at the very thought of it!) Aside from simply loving the taste of it, I am amazed by how often I want to reach for that when anything comes up that is even a bit stressful for me to deal with. I am grateful that I have some self-awareness about this – there was certainly a very long time when I had no understanding of the many ways I used substances and behaviors addictively in the past.
The truth is that no matter how small, “safe,” or innocuous the behavior may seem to be, if we are using it to hide from ourselves in any way, we are using it addictively. The more difficult or devastating the behavior, the more problematic it becomes over time to stop engaging in it.
“DISTRACTION” vs. “ADDICTION”
When people decide to begin their recovery from addiction, they often do so by giving up their drug (or other addictive behavior) of choice, while continuing other behaviors that may also be contributing other damaging effects into their lives. This only delays and prolongs the recovery process, because in order to truly have control over themselves, they must learn to face reality without hiding from it in any way.
That being said, I do believe that it is both healthy and appropriate to have hobbies and interests that keep us sane in the face of life’s hardships. Without them, it could become just too difficult to face the world each day. But what is vitally important is the willingness to be able to tell the difference between a minor distraction and a full-blown addiction.
For example, many people like to come home after a long day at work and have a drink, perhaps a glass of wine or two with dinner, and watch the news or a favorite television show. There is nothing wrong with that. But if the first thing someone does when they get home is turn on the TV and get the alcohol poured, that could signal a problem ~ especially if the person watches TV all evening with a 6-pack or two of beer as a usual occurrence. It’s very important to be able to distinguish the difference between using substances and behaviors once in a while, and using them addictively in order to take oneself away from difficult and pressing realities of life.
Comfort zones develop when we find ways to relieve ourselves of our feelings on a regular basis. For most people it’s about finding that relief from the “negative” emotions such as anger, boredom, sadness, and fear. Some people, however, need to find relief from the more “positive” feelings of happiness and contentment because, deep down, they don’t believe they deserve to feel that way about themselves and their lives.
WE CAN’T HEAL WHAT WE CAN’T FEEL
The pivotal thing to realize is that comfort zones keep us from learning about ourselves ~ and self-awareness is always the first step in making healthy and lasting changes. As Dr. Phil so aptly tells us, “We can’t heal what we won’t acknowledge.” If we’re not willing to be aware of it and feel it (whatever “it” is for each of us) without medicating ourselves with some addictive behavior or substance, we will never be able to fully change, heal, and grow.
It often takes tremendous courage for a person to decide to be honest enough to become truly self-aware. It is important to pat yourself on the back repeatedly if you are making the choice to come out of your comfort zones and heal yourself of your addictions. In my opinion, that is really the only way out of the suffering you have probably been feeling for a long time.
But if, like most people, you are still hesitant about giving up your favorite ways to hide from life, maybe you could think about it this way: If you’ve been struggling for a while already with no end in sight, hiding from your reality with addictive behaviors, wouldn’t it be better to tolerate some discomfort that will lead to a better life instead?
If you are considering making some changes and coming out of your comfort zones, there are many ways to reach out for help: support groups (in person and online), caring friends and family members, and skilled professionals are but a few. Even if you have been suffering in silence, you don’t have to be in recovery alone ~ there are many of us who know how you feel and will be there for you when you’re ready. Good luck!
Candace Plattor, M.A., R.C.C., is a therapist in private practice, specializing in addictive behaviors such as Substance Misuse, Eating Disorders, Internet Addiction, Smoking, Gambling, Compulsive Over- Spending, and Relationship Addiction.
Candace offers individual, couple, and family counseling in her Vancouver, BC office and by telephone worldwide. She also counsels family and friends whose loved ones are struggling with addiction, and provides Clinical Supervision for therapists working with addicts and their loved ones.