Hobbies vs Addiction


I have hobbies.

When I was doing social work for a living (many years ago), I found myself doing computer programming in my spare time for fun (and playing bridge).  When I switched to doing programming full-time, I sought outlets to play violin more.  When I stepped back and saw that pattern, I concluded that I was drawn to those hobbies as a way of balancing out the right-side-of-the-brain activities and the left-side-of-the-brain activities.  You might call them complementing hobbies.  Using the right brain most of the day?  Harmonize with a left-brain activity.  And vice versa.

But none of those hobbies compromised my ability to stop doing them after a reasonable amount of time; they didn’t impede my long-term goals, or leave me filled with regret the next day.  (On the contrary, I felt balanced and more whole afterwards.)

Whereas the activities in my life that I consider addictive, do leave me frustrated and shaking my head at myself the next day, as I end up slogging uphill through my schedule with too little sleep, and nothing to show for the wasted time but muddled thinking and a vague sense of frittering my life away.

For me (and of course, this may be totally different for you), I don’t engage in the addictive behaviors because I’m drawn towards them as much as I’m trying to get away from something else.  The computer game is the most convenient escape, the most mind-numbing activity that is at my fingertips.

For me, it’s important to spend a little time focusing on what I’m running away from, so that whatever strategies I devise are more effective.

The things I’m running away from seem to fall into three general categories:

(1) An unpleasant, present-day happening that I don’t want to deal with.  Large or small.  IRS notification of audit; a hold on my credit card I have to call in to release; a message to call back someone to work through a disagreement.  These are relatively small in the scheme of things.

(2) Unfinished pain from childhood (or past relationships).  Sometimes issues are stirred up that have deep roots, and the unhealed wounds are painful to feel.  I can find myself reaching for the keyboard to numb my feeling state, dampen the emotions, or push away memories.

(3) Angst.  I seem to suffer from bouts of existential angst.  It’s not exactly depression; I’m not sure what to call it really.  But from time to time, life loses its beauty and meaning, and I find it hard to keep going.  Nothing is interesting, my energy falls flat, and I just want to be done.  (My son characterizes this as wanting to “fast-forward through time”.)  At these times I am quite susceptible to crawling into a little meaningless game, with its own little rules and goals, and abandoning my life and the bleak, foggy greyness that comprises those moments.

So depending on which of these is “up”, different strategies are helpful.  Of course, sometimes they all hit at once, and then… oy.

So I think next up will be the Avoidance, Dilution, Substitution, and Redirection Strategies I sometimes use, but for now, I’ll sign off this musing with questions:

  • Do any of this ring true to your experience?  
  • Do you distinguish between hobbies and time-wasting, addictive behaviors?  
  • And if you have the latter, do you think you’re drawn to the addiction for its own sake, or because you’re running away from something?

Until next time, may your heart be filled with gratitude and calm.


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