Coming face to face with addiction, and making a different choice

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So, there I was, one recent random morning, watching the morning news and drinking coffee, psychologically preparing myself to function in the grown-up world, and I realize I’m overwhelmed with gloom. I want to just go back to bed, flip the day into the garbage like a burned roast and call out for pizza. It wasn’t even 7:30, and I was done.
Depression, you wonder? Nope. Depression’s not my gig. It’s not an internal issue. It’s an external issue… being allowed in. Invited, in fact.
ISIS had beheaded another journalist. A caged dog was burned alive, and so was a Jordanian pilot. Four teenagers died in a drunk driving accident, there was a fatal shooting somewhere, a child was molested while playing in her front yard, a family lost everything in a fire…
That coffee you’re drinking — is it killing you? Sure, last week we told you coffee prevents Alzheimer’s, but this week, it causes heart disease! So, you won’t get Alzheimer’s because the heart attack will kill you first!
And AND!
Is gym equipment crawling with herpes? But go to the gym every day to stay fit! Besides, there’s an ointment for that (which contains lead and causes liver damage)! Too much sunshine: skin cancer! Not enough sunshine: osteoporosis! Spinach: saturated with salmonella! Eat more spinach! It prevents eye disease! Tuna: laced with mercury! Eat more fish! It’s good for your heart! Except if you drink too much coffee!
Breaking new: Living leads to death!
I was full up. Saturated with anxiety and doom. And I hadn’t even gone onto Facebook yet, where all that misery and misfortune will tumble down my news feed incessantly.
My brain wants to cry.
It wants to know why I invite all this shock, horror and despair inside of it each morning, frying its little neurons with cortisol, basting it in stress and sadness.
Good question, brain. I’m wondering the same thing. I know watching the news upsets me, but yet, like a heroin addict, I can’t stop. Unlike heroin, however, which is reputed to feel better than a six-hour full-body orgasm, watching the news makes you feel like, well… the opposite of that. Televised news: the Anti-Heroin.
And yet — I’m hooked. Like all hardcore junkies, my habit started in high school, watching KCRA news when Stan Atkinson was young and handsome. He’s probably sucking strained peas through a straw in a nursing home now.
Yeah. That long.
I don’t even like it. Why can’t I stop?
And then came an epiphany, courtesy of a pizza and movie night with friends last Sunday. We watched “What the Bleep Do We Know,” which, as far as I’m concerned, is required material for anyone whose curiosity extends beyond his/her back fence. I’d seen “Bleep” several times already, but this time, I really picked up on the comments about addiction, and its biochemical effect on the brain.
I also latched onto commentary about “creating your day” — literally, creating your day, mindfully and willfully, as you want it to be. And also, infecting your quantum field with your own intentions so powerfully that you’ll receive feedback from the universe to validate your intentions, and yes, you’ll have to watch the movie before you understand that. (It’s called a teaser.) Bottom line: You must create your day. You must make it happen. Or it won’t.
Well, duh, right?
So, there I was last Monday morning, pouring coffee, pondering the notion of creating my day, and recognizing my compulsion to watch the news first, and it hit me: Compulsion is the antithesis of self-control. Of willful creation. Add to this the biochemistry of addiction, and it hit me: I’m an addict. The proof: The thought of not watching the news generated anxiety.
I began wondering if the constant drumbeat of televised tragedy and terror creates a particular biochemical response in the brain, and if it’s addictive. We’re clearly unable to stop watching, no matter how horrific the story. We become like Alex at the end of “A Clockwork Orange,” a torrent of unpleasant information being beamed right through our shocked wide-open eyes and into our minds. Except: No one’s forcing us. There aren’t any contraptions pinning our eyelids open and fixing our heads in one place so we can’t look away. We’re willing participants in this torture. Why?
Is it hypnosis? Ever notice that every televised news report has colorful slowly moving graphics at the bottom and edges of the screen and behind the news anchors? Do they trigger alpha waves in the brain, so that while horror-generated neurotransmitters are flooding your synapses, your brain is simultaneously being lulled into its happy place? And, is that horrified-hypnotized biochemistry addictive? Does that addiction compel you to return to that show again and again, day after week after year, even though you feel miserable afterwards, just to get that “fix”?
I thinks so, on all counts. Adding a truly sinister tinge is that I believe it’s a calculated strategy to entrap viewers. They know what they’re doing. The news networks are the pushers and we’re the junkies. We don’t think so, because we aren’t lying in alleys with dirty needles stuck in our veins. We’re merely saturated with stress, despair, fear, anxiety and anger.
Unless we just stop.
On Monday, I did. Willfully creating my day cannot begin with choosing addiction. So, I read a book instead. On Tuesday, I drank coffee and relaxed with my cats. Wednesday: dishes. Thursday, Friday, something other than watch the news. And no, it wasn’t easy. It was surprisingly uncomfortable. I still want to race to the damn TV every morning. Even so, just for today, I can feel the compulsion and do something else anyway.
With a week of “sobriety” under my belt, life already seems more serene. I don’t need to know all that bad stuff. Like the folks in AA say, “One day at a time.”
Now, I just need to kick the Facebook habit.
Baby steps, people, baby steps.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at; read more of her work at and

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