I never thought that I would be addicted to my phone—addicted to checking if I had a message, checking mail, checking Twitter or Instagram, checking sports scores, news, and blogs. Five years ago, in 2013, I still had a dumb phone. I had just heard a priest friend talk about Nomophobia and how this “fear of missing out” has been exacerbated through smartphone usage. I puffed up my chest a bit as I heard it, because I was still living in the stone age, still living the simple, off the grid life with my LG flip phone. But I am now one of them. I have an unhealthy, addictive attachment to my phone.
If we think there are only two categories: either not addicted (and healthy) or addicted (and need help), we will never fully acknowledge that we have a problem until perhaps it’s too late. We can still have unhealthy attachments, a stepping stone to addiction, to many things that aren’t “evil” of themselves: to our phones, to technology, to food, to drink, to staying up late, to working out or “getting healthy”...and the list goes on. I’ve realized that I have an unhealthy attachment to my phone. I’m admitting it now, publicly. This is a level of “addiction," and maybe that’s the word we need to use so that we'll take the behavior more seriously. We shouldn’t be afraid to admit it—at the very least to ourselves. Many Christian spiritual writers refer to these types of addiction as “disordered attachments” or “inordinate affections.” So whether it is technically an addiction, a disorder, or an unhealthy relationship—whatever you want to call it—we need to gain awareness of it, begin to do “work” against it, and we need to entrust ourselves to the care and help of someone—most especially to God.
I have to admit that reordering disordered behaviors that we have toward good or neutral things is actually a lot more difficult than just getting rid of an objectively sinful behavior. If you are struggling with a behavior that needs to simply be rooted out of your life altogether, then the response is to start every single day with the courageous intention of ending that behavior. Starting the day with prayer about it. Starting the day acknowledging the problematic behavior and committing anew to not do it that day. I followed that same plan when I was in college and had great success overcoming a serious sin in my life. But those behaviors are always black and white. They are behaviors that are harmful and are against the will of God, so our only response it to end the behavior, working hard with the grace of God.
If the behavior involves some good or neutral thing that you are doing too much or are too attached to, the solution isn’t quite as simple. Besides acknowledging the behavior and noticing the causes and effects that surround it, I can only suggest one potential solution: fasting from it. Block off an hour, several hours, an entire day, a week or even longer to disconnect from it. If you can’t do without the behavior for a time, at necessary times, then you will never be able to do well with the behavior. So examine your life. Find something that you are using too much, or something that is disrupting or holding you back from your more important responsibilities and relationships. Then reflect on what is leading you to the misuse of that behavior, and what negative effects the behavior is having in your life. And finally, take action.
That’s it. That is my mind-blowing, highly original advice. Call it something you already knew or call it sage advice. Sometimes we need not complicate the matter.
Be aware and take action. Understand and respond. Know and act. Let's take these first steps, and we can re-establish order.