“All the suffering, stress, and addiction comes from not realizing you already are what you are looking for.” ~Jon Kabat-Zinn
I’m currently obsessed with Orange is the New Black. As a binge TV watcher, I find dramas at least three seasons long and watch them like a prisoner eating a box of contraband donuts. I’m glued to the iPad in every spare moment, while I cook, exercise, or eat.
Then it’s over. And all I have left are wasted hours and a tidal wave of guilt. I always make the same promise to myself—no more binge watching.
I punish myself. I cook and eat in silence, avoiding the TV. I put myself into the mental equivalent of solitary confinement, criticizing and shaming myself.
But always after the punishment, I’m overwhelmed with the most powerful desire to rebel. I inevitably find myself again lost in the beautiful bliss of screen time, obsessed with yet another show.
I watched the entire 144 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in a month and a half during one of my worst rebellions.
Whether it’s TV, alcohol, drugs, or food, most of us use something to escape. We take the edge off, relax, and zone out.
But at some point, all of this zoning out can start to become hazardous to our mental and physical health.
I’m addicted to zoning out. Zoning out has trapped me in my own personal mental prison.
And I want out.
My Iron Mind
We get addicted to escaping and zoning out because we create minds worth escaping from. My mental prison is a foggy and grey place.
The leader of my mind runs a very tight ship, full of strict and unrealistic rules. When I inevitably fail, I punish myself.
In my former life as a lawyer I remember not letting myself pee until I finished an email, in punishment for surfing the Internet and wasting 0.2 of a billable hour.
All of this constant punishment and self-criticism then puts me in such a bad place emotionally that the only way out is an escape route. I binge-watch TV, have too many glasses of wine, pot, or an entire German chocolate cake.
The War on Binge TV
The war on drugs tried to teach us that the drugs are the problem. We were told that drugs hijack our brain and force addiction.
But research now proves that it’s actually not the drug’s fault at all. Two different people exposed to the same drug don’t get addicted the same way.
In other words, your propensity to addiction to anything is directly related to the circumstances you are in—your life.
When you live in a mental prison full of punishment and internal criticism, for example, you escape to survive. You escape to not go crazy.
So if you want to stop escaping with food, drugs, alcohol, or OITNB, you must work to make your mind a happier place.
I must find a way to dissolve my internal prison.
Your Inner Bubble Wrap
Now I’m no expert here, obviously. But I have to think that if I created this mental prison, I can let myself out of it.
First, I have to stop doing what I’m doing—stop this never-ending pattern of punish-rebel-punish-rebel.
Whatever your pattern is, try this:
Stop engaging in it. Just accept what has already happened and then cover the whole thing in compassion.
So when I watch too much TV, for example, engaging with my pattern is to punish myself with a crap ton of guilt and shame, and then escape that criticism by watching more TV.
Another way to engage with your pattern is to fight with it. Like for me, arguing with my inner critic to plead my case actually gives it more power.
Inner criticism is particularly mean and tricky. Try too hard to stop criticizing yourself and you will start criticizing yourself for criticizing yourself.
Instead of fleeing or fighting, just accept what happened and accept yourself in spite of what happened. Like, if you drew a circle around all of the behavior that you accept for yourself, draw a bigger one.
I like to look right at my inner critic (in my head) and say, “Yea, so what? So what if I watched too much TV?”
This opens you up to self-compassion. When you accept yourself no matter what you did, you can start to dissolve even the most powerful mental prison-y pattern.
Next, you need to replace the negative pattern with a positive one. Plant a garden of positive feelings in your mind, like gratitude and joy.
I like a “grow” analogy because new thoughts and patterns are like little seeds. At first they may seem small, but if we continue to water them and feed them with our attention, they will grow.
So start finding ways to create a feeling of gratitude and joy.
Every time you can remember to do it, find something you love about your life and acknowledge it. Most of us think of gratitude as “I’m thankful for mommy and the dog.”
But gratitude is so much bigger and more powerful than that. Your mission is to cultivate the ability to find gratitude in any given situation.
Even if the only gratitude you can find is in your breath, find it. Gratitude is about the feeling state that it creates. Gratitude is inextricably tied to joy.
This process won’t necessarily free you overnight. But it will start to wrap you in mental bubble wrap, protecting you from the guilt, punishment, and shame that lead to your pattern.
Strive to become the softest place for you to land. Dream of becoming your own most supportive and accepting friend.
When you can let go of the way you think you must run your mind, you can embrace what is already a perfect system.
Mental prison image via Shutterstock