Quality output demands quality input. Garbage in, garbage out, as they say.
All people are, to one extent or another, influenced by the environment, but people in sobriety seem to be even more so. One of the main reasons that 12-step programs work for the people they do is the strong influence of other people - behaving like they are, speaking like they are, getting involved like they are, helping others like they are. But what if we're not so selective, or we got in with the wrong group of people? What is the impact of TV, radio, podcasts, commercials, billboards, Netflix, internet, social media, or just general conversation? We can't say for sure, but we know it is significant.
The information we take in permeates through the mind like a vapor. For someone to maintain sobriety and recover to good purpose, the entire mindset has to change. It's commonly referred to as a "psychic shift", whereby we react to the world and all its moving parts in an entirely new way, with an entirely new perspective. For a select few people, this happens suddenly - it is usually described as some type of spiritual phenomenon, but for the rest of us, it is a very slow and gradual process. Decades of faulty connections in the brain are not going to reverse because you stopped using drugs for a month. But they can repair over time. Research neural plasticity or check out Norman Doidge's "The Brain That Heals Itself" for more on that. There is certainly hope.
We believe that the information we consume needs to be considered in the same way we would consider the foods we consume. Like we said, garbage in, garbage out. It all matters. Never has there been a time when this is more relevant than today. Just ask anyone with a social media account. We can get lost scrolling mindlessly through profiles, pictures, and videos not at all aware that that content is being digested to one extent or another. This is where those voices come from: "I am not good enough", "What's the use of even trying", "Why does it seem so easy for her", "His life is improving, why isn't mine?", and on and on and on. Sobriety is hard enough, the thought life does not need to be polluted with this nonsense.
We recommend staying off of social media for one year. This might seem extreme if it has become a big part of your life, but in our observation and from the limited data that has been made available on the subject, social media activity only seems to hinder successful sobriety attempts.
Steven Covey wrote in his best-seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, about focusing on your circle of concern. The idea is that you should be seeking out relevant, useful information that you will apply to your life and minimizing the amount of extraneous and irrelevant information that you consume. Once you begin to see your attention as a limited, sensitive and highly valuable resource, this gets easier. If I have a valuable family vase that I care to protect, I am not going to leave it on a low shelf where my two-year old can get to it. I'm going to protect it. The same consideration needs to be applied to my attention. We know that no one will successfully recover without a successful transformation of the mind, and if we agree that the mind is directly and involuntarily impacted by everything it consumes, then if we care about protecting our sobriety, we must protect the mind.
The availability of information today is not a bad thing if we use it correctly. We are in a time where casual consumption of information will become toxic over time, but the flip side of that coin is that if we are diligent and focused on what it is that we want to consume, we will find all kinds of wonderful information out there. For example, if you are involved in a twelve-step organization, there are endless tapes and recordings available on YouTube and other internet sites that you can stream to pass idle time. This is a perfect suggestion for someone who spends a lot of time in the car or commuting to work.
The unbelievable influence of the people around us explains why treatment facilities are so averse to releasing a patient right back into the previous environment. Whether or not we are living with or among others who have addictive tendencies of their own or not makes little difference. A household which harbors negativity is an unbelievably difficult environment for one to begin recovery. One does not get beyond pessimism by associating with cynics; the age-old truism that you are defined by the company you keep has some clinical basis.
The term “family illness” is widely accepted by professionals who work in the field and deeply understood by family and loved ones with enough honesty and courage to see how they themselves fit into the clinical picture. The energy and attitudes one gives off can be thought of as an invisible element which becomes a constituent of the very air we breathe. It becomes part of the life force that permeates and sweeps through the body. Everyone has known individuals who seem to be floating in a bubble of toxic energy; they simply attract conflict at every turn. These are individuals who will inevitably destroy every close relationship around them while being completely unaware of the pattern. Through every form of rationalization and self-justification, even if made aware of the trend, will be entirely convinced that he/she has not once been at fault. The discipline and courage required to identify and distance oneself from these types of relationships can prove paramount to the prognosis of recovery.