Hey, Non-Addicts: Want To Better Understand What Addiction and Recovery Feels Like? Try This!

Just about every addict will inevitably be asked what it feels like to be an addict. For the non-addict, understanding the pull of a substance or behavior is mystifying. Further, the idea of stopping something seems easy to them, but in addiction it’s not. Recovery is tough. While I can’t make you feel exactly what it’s like to be addicted to pornography, or what the recovery has been like for me, I think I have a two-day model that can help get some kind of a handle on addiction and recovery for the non-addict.

Day One

You’ll probably want two days off in a row from school or work to run this experiment. Do not let anybody know you are doing this experiment as it could taint the experience.

The first thing that you’re going to do in the morning is to take your cell phone and turn the volume of the ringer and all of your alerts for texting, social media, etc. to the maximum level. Make it loud! Do not look through your phone. Just turn the volume all the way up.

Then, take a Post-It Note and put it on the face of your phone so you can’t see the screen. You could tape a piece of paper to it as well. The point is to not see the screen, but not make it difficult if you decide you want to see it.

Keep your phone next to you all day. Don’t put it in the other room. Don’t put it in a drawer.

Do not use the phone. The phone is the drug or the addictive behavior. You may not call or text or Tweet or Snapchat or whatever. You may not use the phone.

Every call…every chime…every bell…every whistle that comes from someone else; you must ignore them. No excuses. No “good reasons” to interrupt the experiment…NONE!

You may not borrow another person’s phone, nor try to skate your way around the rules. If you feel like you’re bending or going around the rules, you are. Do not participate in any activity that you would normally use your phone for.

That’s it. Sound easy? For some it may be, but I think for the vast majority willing to try it’s going to be much, much harder than you think.

If you use your phone during the day, you fail. You succumbed. Welcome to the world of the addict.

Day Two

Keep your phone in the same state as Day One. The rules to your phone apply exactly the same as they did yesterday.

Today, though, you can figure out a way to do the things you normally do on your phone…you just can’t use your phone.

If you’re going somewhere and don’t know the way, you can’t use Google Maps. You’ll have to use a real map, or get on another computer and print out a map or write down directions.

If you need to talk to somebody on the phone, find a landline. Find somebody else’s cell phone. Go to the gas station and see if they laugh and ask you “What’s a pay phone?” when you ask to use one.

Need to keep up with social media? Facebook started only for desktop computers. Use that, or a tablet. Like to read books on your phone? Pick up a real book. They’re not that heavy. Want your news? Watch TV like we did in the 1990s.

Today’s exercise is about doing everything you would on your phone, just finding out a different way to do it. Were you able to get through today or did you find it too frustrating and resorted to using your phone? That’s tantamount to a relapse.


Day One should be difficult if you’re like most people who don’t realize just how tethered to their cell phone they really are. I think anyone under 30 or 35 will really have some issues as they’ve been raised in a world where the cell phone is almost an extension of the hand.

The reason I say not to tell people you’re embarking on this experiment is because you want completely normal conditions. You need to get the calls, texts, etc., that you’d normally get. After all, the addict lives in the normal, real world. They can’t tell people not to bother them for two days.

I think most will find it easy at first to leave their phone alone, but by that second phone call, or third text, or fifth snapchat chime, it’s going to feel really rough. You’ll wonder if it’s something important, even though you know it’s a 99.9% chance it’s not. You’re going to want to rip that Post-It Note off the phone to see what you’re missing. There’s a whole world living in that phone that you can’t touch.

That’s the feeling for the addict. There’s a whole world in our addiction that we feel like we have to get our hands on. For those of you who cave and look at your phone, which I think will be most, that relief you feel when you finally give in is the relief the addict feels when they give in to their addiction. You know it’s wrong, you know you lost the battle of wills, and sure there is some guilt and shame, but you just feel so much better.

Day Two is about developing the tools and problem-solving skills to still live your life as richly as possible, but without your cell phone. This is what the addict has to learn to do in recovery. We have to develop a set of tools and skills to cope with the real world without the crutch of our addiction. Some of us use to quell anxiety and stress. Some use to forget trauma. Some just want to escape everything. Now, we have to figure out how to get relief and live life on life’s terms in the real world without our addictive behavior.

Every time you pick up your phone on Day One, you’re active in your addiction. Every time you pick up your phone instead of figuring out another way to do things in Day Two, you’re relapsing.

If anybody reading this is bold enough to try this experiment, I’d love to hear about your results and find out if you better understand what addiction is all about come the morning of Day Three.

15 thoughts on “Hey, Non-Addicts: Want To Better Understand What Addiction and Recovery Feels Like? Try This!

  1. That is a really good exercise and insight into the world of addiction. It’s so creative! I think on Day 1 the phone should make a noise from every 10′ to sometimes every 20′, when you least expect it. So at 12′ or 25′ and then at 9′. And with day 2 you’ll also notice that OTHER people can use their phone and they don’t have to restrain themselves which can be percieved as very unfair! Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve had some interesting podcast appearances lately with slightly more combative people than usual and when I came up with this idea, it quieted one of them. I can’t believe there are still people who question addiction.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. dang, I hate to hear that. I love that you used this to shut them up. I am not surprised though. I believe it has gotten bettter but in our counseling world there are many that just don’t know about adiction and refuse to learn about it. THis is indeed a cool idea… btw, I will definately not be combative when we have you on our show: throughatherapist’seyes!!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s usually right wing talk shows that tend to be confrontational with me, but there are unfortunately “experts” who have to prove to me they know more about the experience of addiction than I do. Oh well, as long as they deliver an audience that’s listening, that’s the most important thing.


  2. I’m embarrassed to say that I had pangs of anxiety just reading about Day 1. (And I knew it was only a two day experiment.) I can’t really imagine the stress of giving up something you rely on knowing full well that the goal is to never use it again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And one day, you just do. I don’t remember the last piece of porn I looked at, but I know my last drink was in the parking lot of a liquor store at Laguna Beach, California, late at night on March 31, 2014. For my insurance to cover 85% of rehab instead of just 70%, I had to show up and blow above a .08 breathalyzer, so I made sure I wasn’t going to fail that test.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. While in the throes of my porn addiction I remember if I wasn’t engaged in watching it I was thinking about/planning the next time it’d be safe to do so. I’d spend any moment of the day that I wasn’t having to concentrate on doing my job at work reflecting on a particular scene or photo I’d ogled recently. To say I was mentally obsessed is a huge understatement. Now that I’m free of that compulsive behavior I look back on those days with repulsion. Addiction is a 24/7 enslavement.


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