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The Time I Abstained

The Time I Abstained

Feb 25, 2022

On Monday, my husband and I started a partial week (what was originally to be four and three-quarter days) long experiment, inspired by a video my husband watched on YouTube, and then shared with me. The concept is a "dopamine detox", which is really misleading. It's more of a dopamine receptor reset (I'm not a neuroscientist, so bear with me), where you cut out the things that release dopamine so that you can reset your brain to get dopamine from other, more meaningful, things. So, instead of getting dopamine from, say, scrolling on Instagram or TikTok, you get dopamine from reading a book or hanging out with friends. I'm skeptical of the idea of resetting one's dopamine receptors (or whatever), but Jeff and I were inspired by the idea of trying an experiment in which we cut out movies, music, television, podcasts, social media, white sugar, etc. We made some exceptions, such as we didn't really cut out white sugar, but we made conscious decisions to not have sweets or dessert. Also, we didn't cut out morning coffee (I had, and continue to have, no interest in getting caffeine headaches). We knew that it would be a challenge, but at this moment in time, where we both have a lot of writing projects and research to do, and upcoming deadlines, we figured that it wouldn't hurt to do something which might help our focus.

Stronger people than I would probably be able to last an entire week. It's important to note that I have depression and ADHD, so my relationship with dopamine and other neurochemicals isn't exactly "normal." I ended up caving early, on Thursday evening, instead of seeing it through another 24 hours. I have no regrets, and I don't really see it as a failure (though, it is, technically). I was just starting to feel mental and emotional pain around putting myself in a position that was resulting in brain fatigue and a sense of overworking.

If you go on YouTube, you'll find dozens of people with videos about how their dopamine detox journey has changed their lives. Everyone's experience will be different, as with any type of personal challenge or experiment. I learned A LOT about myself and my relationship to the things that bring me pleasure and satisfaction.

Here's some of what I learned:

  1. I can function really well without music or background noise. I will continue to maintain a routine in which my workdays start with two or so hours of quiet worktime in the morning, even if that means quiet reading time.

  2. Watching a movie at the end of the day, especially after hours of reading and researching and processing and thinking and writing, is essential to my sense of wellbeing. Watching a movie is self-care. Removing that evening movie or "veg out and watch TV" time (typically I will also draw, embroidery, crochet, or make rugs during this time) in lieu of something that required me to continue processing and reading and thinking resulted in me feeling fatigued. Because... it a lot of ways, I was starting to overwork myself. Your brain is a muscle- making it learn and problem solve for days on end without giving it a break is going to affect you, and your entire body. Rest is important. Does watching a movie release dopamine? Sure. But that's not a bad thing.

  3. My relationship with time, and how much time I spend doing certain activities, has changed. A lot of activities, including making supper, take a lot less time because I don't spend a chunk of time finding something to watch or listen to. That being said, I do like relaxing and unwinding by creating an atmosphere where I can watch something funny and make a meal. Still, my husband and I ended up spending time in the kitchen together a lot, and we also ended up getting better at doing dishes instead of letting them pile up.

  4. My ADHD doesn't control me. Yes, I'm medicated. But, if I remove social media and the aspects of the internet that reward inattention, I can focus longer. If I give myself one task, and tell myself 'This is what we're doing right now', I can focus on that task for a long time. Sometimes stimuli can help focus for ADHD brains (another reason I like to have caffeine), but it's also really empowering to remind myself that I can get work done, and removing distractions really helps with that (wow. who knew). I find that as ADHD becomes a more regular diagnosis in adults (honestly, it's probably over diagnosed), it gives a lot of people a pass to use it as an excuse to not do something. I find myself using my ADHD as an excuse sometimes. Like, oh, I can't focus on this because of the ADHD. I don't know about you, but I don't like using my mental illnesses as an excuse to not do something. My ADHD is a complicated beast, and sometimes it's a struggle, but ultimately- I'm in control. I can work through the discomfort of not being able to focus in order to accomplish my goals. I don't have to succumb to the distractions just because I'm getting distracted. Dig?

  5. Not engaging with digital media is weird. It's like existing in a power outage. Like, you can make do without. You can find other things to do. But there's a distinct feeling of... isolation. I have come to terms with how much I use music and television to fill the silence, to combat loneliness, and act as a distraction from my own inner thoughts. Not having sounds and sights surrounding me is uncomfortable. The first few days of this week were uncomfortable. But we don't grow in comfort. We don't problem solve if we're comfortable. We don't try new things or expand our minds if we're comfortable.

  6. I can read a lot in a day, and still do everything else I need to do. I've been reading a lot more than I have in a long time, and I love it. The collective time I spend on social media can be transmuted into reading a quarter of a book in one day.

  7. I do have time to do things. Maybe I just choose not to do those things (and that's cool).

  8. Abstaining from things that I deemed as essential needs or wants has helped me redefine my relationship with those needs and wants. My relationship with movies, with music, with pretty much everything, has the potential to be a lot more intentional.

It was an interesting few days. I'm going to continue to not have alcohol until the end of the month, and I'll continue to distance myself from social media. A lot of positive changes will come about from this week, and I'm grateful that we decided to go on this little journey. I really did learn a lot about myself (probably more than I wrote here). Experiments are always worth trying, even if you bail early or fail completely.

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