When any of our women begin the journey of trauma and addiction recovery, there is always a period of overwhelming boredom that sets in, despite the many activities, Dr.’s appointments, and program meetings they have on their schedule. Why? Contrary to the popular belief that “an idle mind is the devil's workshop,” boredom is normal and actually an essential stage in their healing and recovery. Here are a few reasons why:
1. Our women are used to living a lifestyle that is filled with chaos and adrenaline. All of them have been in jail, homeless, raped, and forced to engage in illegal activity - prostitution, drug trafficking, etc. When they come to us, they finally have a safe place to live. They don’t have to fight for survival anymore. Even though the fight was agonizing, it was an essential part of their identity and purpose. Take that away, and they are left wondering what on earth they are here to do.
They never had the time to stop and ask themselves that question because they were stuck in fight or flight mode. Now, they have a quiet, peaceful place to recover. But it is a completely different world and unlike anything many of them have ever experienced before. It is scary navigating a new world, and they are navigating it for the first time without the numbing power of a drug.
2. Waking up from 10-years of heavy heroin use at age 26 can be quite frightening. They have missed a lot of the essential parts of emotional, cognitive, and social development that is necessary to navigate adulthood. Anesthetizing their feelings with drugs is what allowed them to survive the trauma they were experiencing on a daily basis. But now there is no drug to tend to the pain. Instead they have to sit still and experience emotions and thoughts that are new and seemingly unbearable.
When they say they are “so bored,” what they are actually saying is “give me something to do to stay busy because I can’t handle these scary feelings and thoughts.” But the only way to heal is to face them head on. The bad news is we can’t do this for them. The good news is they don’t have to face them alone. We are here to walk alongside them.
3. There is a core belief that each of our women have unconsciously, that it’s hard to “have fun” or “feel good” without drugs. That feeling of boredom and lack of pleasure they feel in early recovery is actually their nucleus accumbens regulating. Because they have used artificial sources (heroin) to trigger dopamine release in their brain’s pleasure center, once the heroin is taken away, the brain has to heal and repair itself and learn how to begin producing dopamine on its own, without the aid of heroin.
They have to push through the period of ennui, boredom, until their brain regulates. This can take months to years depending on how active they are in therapy. Boredom is scary so the tendency is to busy yourself with distractions. But the longer you run, the longer it will take to heal.
4. The final point I want to make in the issue of boredom is that many of our women come to us with very few to no healthy relationships in their life. Because they have to leave their old world, where often times family members and friends helped them get into the life of trafficking and addiction, they come to us alone. No friends, oftentimes no family.
This is necessary for them to experience true healing but it is lonely. Who do they call when they are bored? Since research clearly shows that the opposite of addiction is connection, it is important for them to have healthy relationships. This is not an easy thing to do. It requires being vulnerable and having strict boundaries, things few of our women know how to do. Many of our women rely on each other and the greater Amirah community for support and friendship. This helps them practice healthy behavior in relationships, so that eventually they can mirror what they have learned when they transition to independent living.
Bottom line, boredom is not bad even though it feels bad. It is a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement. It is a lethargic weariness. They call it boredom; I call it healing.