The Void – Boredom in Recovery
This addiction business is quite a time consuming, exhaustive and all-encompassing thing.
If it’s not taking up most of your physical time; buying, supplying, using, or preparing – it most certainly will be taking up a lot of your mental resources; when can I use; where will I get it; how will I hide it?
(I used to spend all of my time planning my use and when I wasn’t planning, I was using. This went on for years and I’m exhausted now even thinking back on it!)
Because of your dependence you tend to isolate and disconnect yourself from friends, family, hobbies, pleasures and interests. So it’s pretty clear to see why a lot of people report being ‘bored’ once they become sober and enter early recovery. Ironic really, because boredom is one of the reasons a lot of people actually start using substances in the first place.
Boredom is a very real threat to your recovery, and this boredom (or dead time as I describe it to people) can lead to overthinking, rumination, and self-doubt, and therefore, because a lot of people in early recovery are unhappy with their lives to one degree or another – they start abusing substances again.
But on a positive note:
There ARE ways to cope!
So let’s just day that you have finished some kind of treatment, now you’re sober, you’re attending meeting and support groups and hopefully you are removing yourself from toxic and dangerous social circles. However, you just can get a handle on this sense of ‘boredom’. Outside of doing these things, you are now faced with a lot of time on your hands and nothing much to do – or maybe no one to pass this time with.
Boredom can manifest itself in different ways. My experience was that I felt an overwhelming sense of restlessness; I could sit at piece and highly strung. Like me, you might also find it difficult at this stage to:
Do anything that requires less from you than running at full speed
This restlessness meant one thing for me at the start of my recovery!
I started running at a million miles per hour into anything that would alleviate this overwhelming sense of nothingness that was happening in my life at that time.
One of the most common pieces of advice I got at this time was, “Just get busy and stay busy.”
Boredom + Busyness = Not Bored!
So, me being me, I became super busy at everything. Sounds like a sensible approach, right?
I tried to engage in all sorts of activities and do as much as possible, all so this boredom wouldn’t take hold. Unfortunately, this didn’t go according to plan. I fell on my ass – a few times. Here are two examples that highlight this – one is the “90 meetings in 90 days” approach and one is exercising 10 times a day.
Firstly, before I start; I can almost hear people in the ‘Anonymous’ fellowships gasp. This is NOT a criticism of AA / NA / GA / CA etc. They are great supportive and effective programmes. You should attend sober support meetings frequently – and you absolutely should have sober social support.
However, in my personal experience and opinion, the problem with the attending “Ninety meetings in ninety days” tradition is that it potentially turns into something that ONLY occupies all of your time. You can argue this is not a bad thing, because you’re doing something that helps you stay sober. However, if you are wrapped up in attending meetings so much that you don’t have time to live your life – then you are missing the point of recovery.
The life you are creating needs to be bigger and more positive than the life you are leaving behind.
The second example is using excessive exercise to help cope with boredom.
Now we all know exercise is good for us, right? But, too much of a good thing is still too much. Overdoing something, even when it has perceived benefits, is still overdoing it and actually can be counterproductive if not downright harmful. I fell into this trap at the start of recovery and found only burnout, exhaustion and injury; and guess what? – Injury leads to enforced rest and enforced rest lead to boredom.
See what happened there?
I believe that in recovery we need to approach how we think about things a little differently; the old ways of thinking weren’t really working out for us after all. So, how about changing how you think and view boredom?
Boredom won’t kill you. Substances and active addiction can!
It important to remember that boredom in sobriety won’t make you sick or kill you. The reality is that it may make the emotional pain in your head agonising at times. Yes you will undoubtedly feel some kind of anxiety, even a level of sadness and depression.
However, these feelings are normal!
Remember ALL that time when you were thinking about or actively using? ALL the time that kept you occupied and now you’re looking for things to keep you engaged. Not knowing what you’re going to do or not knowing what’s coming next in life will naturally produce feelings of anxiety and depression.
(I remember sitting outside a bus stop in the dark in tears – despair actually. I didn’t know what direction my life would go; I didn’t even know who I was or what I like anymore.)
In sobriety, you have to start exploring hobbies and activities with a clear head. Always try new things; Volunteer; apply for a course or try a new sport. Whatever it is you won’t know what you like if you are not open to try. You have an entire world open for your exploration.
Considering how the vast array of available activities and hobbies the world has to offer, it is unreasonable to dismiss everything as being dull, uninteresting, or BORING.
Finally! This one will blow your mind when it sinks in.
The boredom you feel is NOT actually not boredom.
What you’re feeling is complete FREEDOM.
You are now actually free to explore things you wouldn’t have or couldn’t have while you were actively using. The fruits of your sobriety are, and not limited to; having more time; more capability and having more options. When you were spending all you mental and physical resources using substances you were severely limited in what you could do.
Freedom means you can move in and out of activities, try new things, without having to spend a significant portion of your time chasing your substance of choice. This was your old life! It’s important to grieve the loss of your past, this takes time. When you quit using drugs or alcohol, you need to take some time to let it go, to lose this way of coping with the world.
Boredom, on some level, is a natural part of transitioning into a sober lifestyle and finding new ways to fill your time with activities that amuse, challenge, or entertain you. As long as you stay busy, within reason, you have no time to feel sad.
You should spend your time feeding your soul, not your habit.