Living in "Search-Mode"
Dr. Barbara Sinor wrote in her book Tales of Addiction and Inspiration for Recovery that we seem to “live our entire lives in search-mode,” which means that we are constantly looking forward to joys that the next chapter of our lives will bring instead of embracing the joys that our present lives bring right before us. When I read that, I automatically thought of a poem one of the girls in my Al-Ateen meeting talked about a while ago that was titled “I was Dying”:
That Perfect Age?
For as long as I could remember, I was anticipating to turn a magic number to finally be happy. I thought that when I turned 10 years-old, 13 years-old, 16 years-old, and finally 18 years-old, I would finally be completely happy because I would be “all grown up.” I am currently 18 years-old, and I never felt any different after each of those anticipated birthdays. Each of those ages presented their own set of challenges, which I was not always equipped to handle because I was not even anticipating for that age to present challenges. I am still living in search-mode. Right now, being 25, finished school, working in my career field, and living on my own is the seemingly magical time for me. However, I know from past experience that it not about the age in question; it is about being mentally healthy and capable of hacking the challenges of that age in question.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
Looking forward to the next chapter without seeing the beauty of the current chapter is like seeing that the grass is greener on the other side. We get so caught up in fantasizing about and planning for the next chapter that we fail to live life to the fullest. I believe that is a trait that is passed down from generation to generation because from an early age, we envy our parents because we see that they can go to bed whenever they decide, do not have to eat anything but coffee for breakfast, and simply do not have to answer to anybody about their decisions. Since even before we enter preschool, we are taught to start thinking about the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. We have all rolled out eyes and scoffed at our parents when they said, "Enjoy being a kid." A quote by George Bernard Shaw said, "It's a pity that youth is wasted on the young." If all ages were able to have equal freedoms and were not taught to ruminate so much about the future, we would have less people living their lives in search-mode. Unfortunately, we do not live in a utopian society for that to be possible.
Fighting Against the Rubber Band
The famous saying from the recovery programs is “One Day at a Time” is easier said than done. Our state of mind throughout the day is like a rubber band; it can easily get pulled back into the past or stretched forward into the future. One of the lessons I learned in the rooms of Al-Anon to correct that erroneous thought process is to think:
There is another saying in the recovery program that actually says, “Every day is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” Though it is difficult for us to focus our thoughts in the present, investing as much effort as possible for us to do so will reap richer rewards because we will have lived life to the fullest.
A Staple of Our Age Group
A common stereotype of people in our age group (12-25 years-old) is that we cannot put down our cellphones. The fact that few of these people who stereotype acknowledge is that it is not the cellphones that we are glued to; it is the internet. More specifically, we are glued to social media.
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. have become more than means of communication. These social media sites have become a means of showcasing our lives. Many of us -whether we want to admit it or not- have fallen into the trap of showcasing the details of our lives and getting sucked into the details of others’ lives.
Social Media’s Detriments
While social media has been proven to be detrimental to all people’s psychological health, it is even more detrimental to the psychological health for children of addicts/ dysfunctional families for in several ways:
Co-dependency can simply be explained by a person being addicted to the addict just as much as the addict is addicted to his or her substance or compulsive behavior of choice. A co-dependent relationship is not always a mutual relationship that consists of the people involved being directly involved in each other’s lives. Sometimes, the worst cases of co-dependency are where the co-dependent is not involved in the addict’s lives. Co-dependency does not always have to consist of direct connection (e.g. physically seeing, calling, texting, etc.); it can simply be about the psychological connection on the part of only the co-dependent, no the addict. Even if the co-dependent does not see or keep in touch with the addict, they can still connect with him or in their mind, and that connection can be just as strong or even stronger than a direct connection.
I can speak from experience that social media fueled my co-dependency. I did not see my addicted cousin for three and a half years, but he was consuming my life during that entire time before I saw him again and after I lost touch with him again. From the time I last saw him on March 25th, 2010, I descended into the depths of co-dependency. My means of co-dependency was using social media (mostly Facebook) and the internet to learn about the happenings in his life, his addiction, and his drug “friends.” It came to the point that I was not doing it for him; I was doing it for my high of feeling smart, beautiful, tactful, rebellious, and getting revenge. I could not fathom how I could be treated so poorly and neglected so carelessly by my own family, so I became more preoccupied with learning about his drugs friends than him to displace the blame. My two addicted cousins, my one cousin’s girlfriend, his mother, and his stepfather were not enough to explain how I could experience such trauma, so I felt the need to expand the number of people who were responsible to explain it.
Social media provides loved ones of addicts and/or dysfunctional families to form a co-dependent relationship with the addicts and/or dysfunctional members, regardless if the loved ones keep in touch with them or not, because they can stalk their social media profiles and become frenzied over what they see on their profiles. The mental co-dependent relationship that is formed from social media can be even worse because the co-dependents have their fix right at their fingertips. Social media can also exacerbate a traditional co-dependent relationship by being an additional means for the co-dependent to attempt to manage and control the addicts' and/or dysfunctional family members' lives.
Most of the time, that open book consists of only the highlights of people’s life story (e.g. family parties, births, vacations, academic accomplishments, career accomplishments, etc.). NFL player and Philadelphia Eagle’s MVP Nick Foles stated after their superbowl win, “I think in our society today, Instagram, Twitter, it's a highlight reel. It's all the good things. And then when you look at it, when you think like, wow, when you have a rough day, 'My life's not as good as that,' (you think) you're failing.”
It is natural for people who face adversity to think that they are alone in their battle, and social media is evidence for that distorted thought because most people only post the positive event in their lives, not their everyday struggles and past demons. Social media deceives us into thinking that we are the only people with addicted loved ones and/or dysfunctional families because most of our social media friends do not post about the addiction and dysfunction that exists in their family. Social media posts are buffet foods because people can pick and choose which they post, not a whole meal, where people are forced to be transparent. For example, a person can post pictures of their Thanksgiving holiday. The pictures probably only represent the best moments, not the fighting, drunkenness, and police arrests that actually occurred.
How to Avoid the Detriments of Social Media
Social media is a part of our modern culture. School and workplaces may require you to have social media to receive announcements and reminders and complete assignments. Though social media use is unavoidable, it does not have to be detrimental. Keeping in mind that everyone is fighting a battle that you know nothing about, using social media appropriately, and seeking the appropriate help will make your social media experience even less detrimental than it is for your counterparts who are not children of addicts and/or above-average dysfunctional families. Life is a constant battle between how human nature drives us to think and act and how we should think and act to be healthy and moral in civilized society.
Bria Riley is a published author, recovering codependent and adult child of an alcoholic, who is active in several recovery programs. She knows the turmoil and heartbreak of growing up in an addiction-stricken family and wants to help others who have also been affected by addiction through her writing.