I’ve never touched illegal drugs nor had more than a few mouthfuls of beer and wine, but over the past year, I’ve received great benefit from listening to 12-step lectures for drug and alcohol addicts. I feel like I have a similar hole in my soul.
I was just reading the 2011 biography of the late sportscaster Howard Cosell and it remarks that sports is a narcotic.
Hmm, that hit me hard. I’m a big sports fan. I’ve also noticed that the more devoted the sports fan, the more likely that he’s unhappy.
So that has started me thinking, what have been my favorite escapes from reality? What have been my favorite drugs? And can I rank them in terms of time I’ve expended?
* Sports. I started following sports at age 12. I was spending my summers before sixth, seventh, and eighth grade at the Pacific Union College library. At first, I read mainly history books on things like World War II. As I wandered around the stacks, I found old issues of Time, Life and Newsweek magazines. Eventually, I’d go through every issue. I became interested in American sports and so I went through every issue of Sports Illustrated.
Following sports got me excited. I wasn’t happy with the life I had, so I shucked it off and dissolved myself into the identity of my favorite teams (which I selected largely on the basis of their winning ways, I didn’t want to ID with a loser, instead I went with the Dallas Cowboys in football, the Los Angeles Dodgers in baseball and the Washington Bullets in basketball, the latter being the weakest of my allegiances, eventually abandoned in the mid’80s and replaced by the Lakers six years after I moved to LA in 1994 when they beat the Portland Trailblazers in a thrilling game seven).
From 1977 on, I was a big sports fan. I probably spent more of my spare time on it than anything else for the next seven years. After graduating from high school in June of 1984, I moved back to Australia for a year. It was difficult to keep up with my American sporting allegiances and so this move largely broke my addiction to sports. Now I just ration my watching for when I’m working out or eating a meal or cleaning. I try not to waste much real time on it.
* When I moved away from my parents in January of 1980 to stay with friends of the family so I could finish eighth grade at Pacific Union College Elementary School, I started listening to pop music on KNBR and KFRC every night. Listening to pop music was a sin in my home, but out on my own, I had more freedom. I quickly found out that pop music articulated everything I was feeling and it has been my major source of solace over the years.
* I was an unhappy kid. I didn’t have many friends, so I read a lot of books. They stimulated my imagination. I developed the skill of sitting in a chair and telling myself thrilling stories of battles and explorations where I was the hero. I could bliss out within seconds and stay distracted for hours. As I grew older, my fantasies of grandiosity traded time with romantic and sexual obsessions.
* In eighth grade, I became good friends with my classmate Andy, who who was bigger and stronger than me and he ate an enormous amount of food. I tried to keep up with him and got into the habit of stuffing myself. I got attention for the amount of food I could put away. I liked that and I liked how a full stomach took away my anxieties. I still struggle with over-eating.
* At age 12, I took up long distance running (I started running a couple of miles every day in fifth grade), logging more than 30 miles a week. I finished five marathons. I found that when I physically exhausted myself, my anxieties went away. Exercise was a great distraction from my failure to connect normally with others.
* Attention-seeking aka chasing distinctions. I entered school in second grade and my smart mouth didn’t make me many friends. When I came to America in sixth grade, I used bizarre tricks to get attention such as eating insects and stuffing eight bananas in my mouth at once. I’d also try to stir up debates in class and rip loud farts. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had this one question running through my mind — “How can I get the most attention?”
* My anxiety goes away when I can throw myself into my work, particularly if I enjoy it and I am good at it and I’m around people I like and I get recognition for my efforts. From age 19-22, I spent many weeks working over 60 hours.