Recently I saw a news story on “soft addictions.” As I half-listened, half-answered-emails, I chugged my second cup of coffee, groggily letting phrases enter my consciousness:
“Not life-threatening. Blah. blah. blah. You can quit but don’t want to. Blabbedy-blah-blah blah blah. Really comes down to when it affects personal time or productivity.”
The word productivity pulled my lazy eyes upward to the television, where the newsfolk continued their reportage. Some higher being whispered to me that I needed to pay attention, so I did. Eventually, as the caffeine hit my veins, I cranked up the volume and came to the slow realization that the folks on the screen, far, far away in NYC, were talking about ME. I felt embarrassed, taken by surprise. This was an intervention, and it was in MY living room. Wow. I didn’t see it coming, Meredith and Matt.
Let me first say that I certainly would never, ever make light of anything associated with the word “addiction,” because, let’s be honest, there is nothing funny about addiction. I know this: I found myself paying extreeeemely close attention. And it did strike me at that moment that just about anything we, as human beings here in the 21st century, do to help ourselves relax or unwind or be distracted for a while could be considered counterproductive. I put the computer away and strained to actually pay attention; it was the least I could do, since they were lecturing me and had my best interest at heart. Sure, I thought, I could probably be a little more productive in my life. I really, really should give up . . . I should immediately stop . . . Certainly, I could live without . . .
And that’s where I got stuck. What would I give up? Now, before you go thinking I’m a living, breathing angel who could not possibly find one personal flaw, think again. I sat there befuddled because I was stumped. Really, there were so many soft addictions to choose from. Where would I possibly start? Should I drop everything that’s remotely bad for me or really annoying to others or “interfering with normal life?” How would I function? Would people still like me? Would I even BE ME any more??!!!!!
As you can tell by the exclamation marks, I started to get a little nervous about my (many) shortcomings and began to wonder if they were more than shortcomings. By the time I changed the channel (it was hurting my head to think so hard), my answer was clear.
In the time since the news piece, I’ve done a little research (i.e., Googling and Wikipediaing). Judith Wright is largely credited for coining the term “soft addiction.” As Wright herself told WebMd, “Soft addictions are those seemingly harmless habits like watching too much television, over-shopping, surfing the Internet, gossiping -- the things we overdo but we don't realize it . . .” Then she added, “Yes, this means you, Tracy.”
Again, I would never mock addiction issues, soft or hard. But I like to heal through humor, and admitting my problem(s) is the first step in the right direction, so I present you with the most profound soft addictions I face. Perhaps you’ll recognize yourself in some of the behaviors and you’ll realize that you’re not alone. You'll always have me.
Angry Birds: Yes, I know this is a video game. And yes, if I were being honest, I would admit that it can occasionally slightly interfere with my productive time. Or with my bed time. But you’d be angry, too, if someone took YOUR eggs. I tell myself that it’s good for my brain, for my problem-solving skills. And each time those snide little green pigs oink their victory oinks at me, I tell myself that it’s okay to play the level “just one more time” to show them who’s boss. They deserve each black eye I give ‘em.
Yelling at the Contestants on Wheel of Fortune: Tell me this. If the clue currently reads “H _ P P Y B _ R T H D _ Y,” for the love of God, why do you need to buy a vowel? WHY! Do these kind people not realize that buying a vowel means taking away from their own winnings? When watching, I shout these same questions (again and again and again) out loud and elicit eye rolls from my children, who love the show and are still too young to be tarnished by the foolish playing of clueless (hee hee) contestants.
The Bachelor/Bachelorette Franchise of Brilliance: I have actually had peeps on Facebook get angry at me because I watch the Bachelor/ette. To them I say, lovingly, suck it. It’s my brain I’m disintegrating, not yours. Call me a hopeless romantic, but I love to see who will get so drunk on the first episode they puke out their nose. Oh, and will they, WILL THEY?, accept the key to the fantasy suite? The suspense, plus the exotic world travel, plus the sincere professions of love in the hot tub all combine to create the perfect concoction of cheese.
Correcting the Punctuation and Grammar Mistakes of Others: My children will cower into any public corner if they hear me gasp disgustedly and then reach in my purse for a pen. I simply cannot let the “Lets Celebrate!” sign go without that apostrophe, and I WILL add it. A dry-erase menu board advertising “All You Can Eat Crab Leg’s” will compel me to add three hyphens so fast your head will spin. And of course I’ll delete the shockingly oft-present apostrophe in a plural noun. I have my integrity.
Becoming BFFs with Strangers with Whom I Wait in Line: We’re on the planet for a short time. Might as well strike it up in the post office line with someone who is also mailing their taxes at 11:58 p.m. I’ve actually learned a lot about others, myself, and the smallworldness of life by striking up a conversation. When I was bald from chemo and sick as a dog, I met a woman named Kimberly in DSW after I complimented her four-year-old son on his tennis shoes. “They’re UNC colors,” I pointed out, “Do you like UNC?” He thought for a moment and then pointedly replied, “I think that’s a question you’re going to have to ask yourself.” Kimberly and I both laughed. A lot. Turns out she was new and knew no one; turns out I was lonely and sad, although I didn’t tell her that. We exchanged numbers. I lost hers, just like I lost much of my memory from that time, but one day during a particularly rough patch, I listened to my messages and heard the nicest one from her, thanking me, of all people, for making her feel welcome. I wish I could find her number, because I should be the one thanking her. I wouldn’t have gotten that gift if I had not said hi.
Planning Mythical Vacations: I will map out entire itineraries, plan make-believe show times, research probable dinners out, and decide which fake flight would give us enough of a layover to catch our next fake flight. I love the daily life in which I live, but man, do I love a good vacation.
Google Map Touring: I have seen the Eiffel Tower from the streets beneath it. I have done a full 360 right down the street from Parliament in London. Want to find the perfect adorable Italian village, nestled at the foot of the Alps? I’ve found it (Torino). All of this worldly travel was brought to you by Google and its amazing “Maps” feature. When I was on chemo and couldn’t leave my chair, I could still see the world. My favorite haunt: Beverly Hills. I'd go all "street level" on Rodeo Drive, just hoping to see a celebrity. In fact, last summer, on a real-life vacation, exiting off the interstate in Los Angeles just ‘cause we could, I got us straight to the Playboy Mansion without the help of a map or a GPS, simply because I remembered the route from good ole’ Google. That’s either insanely sad or super impressive. I’m not sure which.
Are these things time wasters? I’m sure some would argue that they are. But I feel as though I’ve learned a lot about myself, my husband, my daughters, and those I love because of my soft addictions. Maybe I’m kidding myself by saying that, or by believing I’m exercising my brain. The truth is, I feel fairly well-rounded most of the time. I like to read, walk, hang with my girls, laugh a lot, and write. So perhaps I’m not really exercising my brain with these soft additions (or the dozens of other ones that were too pathetic to mention here), but, rather, getting the rest I need.
There. That sounds better.