Do you have a fatal tragic flaw? Are you plagued with self-hatred, irrational fear, or stomach-shredding rage? Perhaps your career has shit the bed for good, or you’ve had a bad divorce, or you’re paralyzed with shame and guilt from some long-past disaster. Anyway there’s stuff you really don’t want to deal with, and it’s not going away any time soon. What to do? Psychotherapy is very, very expensive and slow. Psychiatric medications are also very expensive, and they make you feel funny and aren’t socially okay. For those of you without good insurance, who need to economize, here’s a handy list of sublimation, avoidance, and substitution mechanisms.
- Overwork. This is an old favorite. Take a job where you put in 16 hours a day and don’t get a pause. First-line supervisor jobs are great for this, and careers in public safety or health care are usually winners too. I personally have had success in journalism and technology with this technique. The trick is not just to put in so many hours that you’re completely exhausted, but also to become over-involved in the job generally so that you think and talk about it when you’re not there and consider it to define you completely.
Pluses: 100% effective as a distraction and as an excuse. Brings in money. Not considered insane in our society.
Minuses: Sore feet and exhaustion. Dependent on an employer not laying you off and letting you be obsessive. Eventually you must retire unless you die on the job, and then you need another mechanism.
- Obsessive hobbies. There’s a world of these and one that’s right for you: from ships in a bottle to Magic: The Gathering&trade. Run from your demons into the basement, it’s safe there! Old-school hobbyists prefer model trains, arts & crafts, or amateur radio. Your more modern obsessive will be found playing role playing or fantasy card games, collecting action figures, or reenacting wars in full costume. It’s important to pick one that has the appetite to eat your entire life so that all free time is filled. Make sure that you can not only do the hobby itself but go to frequent conferences and meetings, restrict your social life to other hobbyists, etc.
Pluses: Can be 100% effective as a distraction. Other hobbyists will be enablers, making the transition from the real world easier. Most hobbies have entire pre-made worlds attached to them nowadays.
Minuses: Not effective as an excuse. Expensive. Other hobbyists can be very annoying people. Lots of bad writing and flamewars.
- Drinking. Alcohol is an excellent anesthetic for angst. A good steady 0.10 blood alcohol level keeps your actual life at bay very effectively. I’ve known people to spend their entire lives blissfully out of touch with their secret sorrow. For many of us the alcohol doesn’t kill our humanity enough, or it makes us sick, and we can’t make use of it. For the others, though, it’s possible to float over all those pointy rocks on a lovely stream of beverage.
Pluses: Mostly reliable. Causes pleasant floating sensation. Socially acceptable if you keep it cool. Many alcoholic beverages are very tasty and go well with food.
MInuses: Expensive. Will kill you dead. Will cause you to kill other people dead. Very likely to cause more angst-producing events in your life requiring additional coping and avoiding mechanisms. Can result in severe legal problems. Not socially acceptable when you bottom out and barf all over the Bishop or back over toddlers.
- Religious mania. A regular churchgoing kind of faith can sustain you, but if you need to escape something stronger is needed. All-encompassing cults like Scientology are a big favorite here, because there’s always something you could or should be doing for the religion. If you’re not reading an important book, you’re evangelizing or volunteering. Other good avoidance religions are Hypercatholicism (Mass every day, hang out with priests all the time), Mormonism, the Seventh Day Adventists, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Pluses: Socially acceptable. Will eat every aspect of your life, leaving no time for unpleasant introspection. Very reliable as both escape and excuse.
Minuses: Crises of faith occur which can be terminal. Expensive. Fellow obsessives are annoying people.
- The Internet. This is a popular choice in the last ten years, whether on its own or as a multiplier for other avoidance mechanisms. Since it serves as communication medium, information source, and virtual community, the Internet can provide a near-complete replacement for the actual life that has rotted to the core. An unlimited amount of time and energy can be spent in this environment both at home and at work. Since it is always growing and changing, the Internet can contain an infinite amount of little places to explore.
Pluses: Always available. Near 100% effective as escape. Provides actual interesting information, careers, and useful services along with the obsessive mania. Has porn.
Minuses: Ineffective as an excuse for nonparticipation in life. Other people on the internet are even more annoying than the ones listed above. Socially unacceptable. Causes repetitive stress injuries and eye problems. Can result in personal relationships that are even worse than face to face ones, causing additional angst requiring additional avoidance mechanisms.
I left out some obvious items like The French Foreign Legion, artistic endeavors, suicide, and eating. You should also consider acquiring 35 cats, or becoming the most devoted fan ever of a middle-ranked sports team or one-hit wonder rock ‘n’ roll band; I’ve seen both of these strategies work wonders for people with very serious issues indeed.
If you actually want to continue, grit your teeth and march ahead, and deal with the unhealing wound that tears you from within, that’s your call! Just remember, there’s a whole world of escapes here waiting for you, patiently waiting for you to reconsider.