The Banality of Boredom in the Life of an Addict

By Ken Wells - 08/18/2021


Series Two; Blog Fifty-Five

“I think boredom is the beginning of every authentic act . . . Boredom opens up the space, for new engagements. Without boredom, no creativity. If you are not bored, you just stupidly enjoy the situation in which you are.” —Slavoj Žižek

Boredom is a fearful distraction that oft leads to chaos for an addict. Doing the same thing over and again can create anxiety for an addict, with constant thoughts of missing out on something. So triggered, I begin to wonder what’s wrong with me that I cannot experience the adventure of fun and intrigue that I assume others have. I begin to judge myself as plain and uninteresting. I fall into this pit of self- loathing with judgment and condemnation about the plight of my life. When in recovery, I can race to the conclusion that not only is my life boring, but recovery prevents me from having fun. Or it can also trigger the distorted thought that at least my drug of choice can distract me from the mundane of every-day living.

Going deep within yourself always involves tangling with boredom at some point. Most addicts attest to a poor track record of managing boredom. It is one of the dreaded experiences in life that often ends with addictively acting out.

I grew up being steeped with a lot of religion. For me, religion was very boring. Typically, I was forced to attend church twice on Sundays as well as Wednesday night prayer service. I also had to attend all the auxiliary meetings throughout the week. For the most part, they were all boring.

Upon reflection, I recall practicing all kinds of creative ways to beat the boredom. My brother and I would play basketball by cupping one hand on the back of an empty pew, making it in the shape of a basket. One of us would sit at the end of the pew while the other sat halfway down an otherwise empty pew. We would wad up the foil of a Wrigley’s gum wrapper and use that for the basketball. We would create an imaginary sixteen-team tournament consisting of the top-rated high school basketball teams in the state of Illinois. We would then play a single elimination tournament.

Each game would end whenever someone reached 20 points. To score, you would have to throw the rolled-up foil into the cupped hand basket with the back of the pew as a backboard. You would have to win by 4 points. That was fun and helpful as it took up a lot of time. One time, when my brother beat me with a bank shot to win the championship, he let out a shout of “Score!” which startled the faithful, and my dad made us shut down our play of tournament basketball. We had to go on to other creative games to make it through the boring church services.

Most people did not grow up contending with the boredom of a long worship service. Yet, everyone has experienced the need to manage boredom. Maybe it was when you were a kid and you had to visit an aunt or a grandma and sit still and not touch anything. It could have been enduring a long commencement speech for high school graduation in a hot gym with sweat rolling off the end of your nose. Whatever it was, you know the experience.

For the most part, no one teaches us how to effectively deal with boredom. At least, I never got any education on the topic. Typically, you just sit while time stalls and seemingly stops. You wait until the uncomfortable time is over, complain about it, and move on with life. Upon reflection, in the midst of all the traumatic experiences that I have known, I would say that boredom was the most difficult to navigate. I consider my creativity in managing the boredom of church as one of the great innovative exercises in my life.

In retrospect, given the craziness and boredom that I knew as a kid, it is no wonder that addiction became a valid means of coping with and managing my life. The deception is that the relief from addictive acting out is brief, and we just need more and more. As a recovering addict, it is important to become conditioned to tolerate the space of boredom and to creatively make meaningfulness out of it. Listed are suggestions to accomplish this. I must;

Practice not being titillated or fascinated all the time. Uneventful experiences can moderate the soul and create calm. For this to be true, you must practice being present in the here and now. Easier said than done, yet embracing the mundane of every- day living adds depth to the experience of life.

Practice listening to your environment, others, and your own heart. We are born with ears to listen. Yet, the cultivation of inner listening requires conditioning our ears to hear the intangible experience of life. Paying attention to the unspoken is a trained art form that adds personal depth in the presence of boredom.

Establish a comfortable routine to your day.  Little things matter. Morning rituals are important. The time you get up, hygiene habits, coffee time, breakfast, and contemplation are all important routines. The way you structure your day—-not too rigid nor too loose—-matters.

Be accountable for unstructured time. Accountability for unstructured, unaccounted-for time will impact the way in which you manage boredom and addictive thinking. For an addict, boredom can be the trigger that crosses the threshold to chaos and addictive behavior. Accountability is a mature intervention to manage the every-day experience of boredom that can trigger addictive behavior.

Draw from childhood creative experience when you face the doldrums of boredom. It’s always an amazing marvel the way a child can take the every-day mundane and create entertainment and fun. In your adult life, you have the same capacity to transform boredom into meaningfulness as you did as a child. Don’t forget to tap into this latent talent that you developed as a child.

Reward yourself when you accomplish a targeted goal. The “chip” system in the 12-step community has rhyme and reason to it. Each step in every-day living that yields sobriety is important. It is crucial that you recognize the positive steps in the midst of every- day mundane living be noticed. Whatever the focused goal, break the build-up of boredom with goal recognition by creatively rewarding your achievement in some way. For example, after completing Step Four of the Twelve Steps, one person chose to become a sponsor to another person as a way of marking his growth and progress. Others create different types of smaller or larger rewards depending upon the milestone. Linking rewards to a recovery checklist can trigger a dopamine release.

Upon reflection, maybe Slavoj Žižek is on to something— “without boredom there is no creativity”. I challenge you to embrace the experience of boredom and transform meaningfulness into this every person experience in life.

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