Imagine you wake up one day to find a raccoon in your house. You don’t like this raccoon; it’s smelly, it’s unfriendly, and it’s making a mess. You want to get rid of it, but you don’t know how.
Seriously, you have no clue what to do with it.
It starts running around, breaking things, and causing problems.
Desperate to do something, you decide to turn off the lights. The raccoon is still here, but at least for a few moments you can ignore it and pretend that everything is okay.
For a while things feel normal and you can tell yourself there’s no raccoon in your house.
But something doesn’t feel right.
Eventually, the lights come back on. You see that the raccoon is indeed still in your house and has made a worse mess.
Turning off the lights didn’t actually help. It just gave you a moment to pretend that the raccoon wasn’t there.
You really want this raccoon to leave, but, again, you don’t know what to do.
You worry that the raccoon might never leave. This feels really scary and overwhelming.
Not knowing what else you can do, you turn off the lights again.
The next time the lights come back on, you realize the raccoon has caused even more damage. What’s worse, it isn’t alone. There’s now a skunk in your house, too.
You rush to turn off the lights. You try to pretend that the raccoon and skunk have gone, but there’s a part of you that knows it’s only a matter of time before the lights come back on. Even while the lights are off, the animals are still there. The longer they stay hidden in your house, the more damage they will likely cause.
Later, when the lights come back on, you can hardly recognize your home. The raccoon and skunk have caused a lot of damage, and there are now a fox, two deer, and three squirrels running around.
You realize this pattern of shutting off the lights isn’t helping anything and, in fact, is only making things worse.
The trouble is you still don’t know how to get these animals out of your home.
You feel stuck, but you promise yourself you’re going to stop turning off the lights.
You decide that you need to learn a new skill. Maybe you read about getting animals out of the house, or maybe you talk to someone who has experience in it. Maybe you think back to other times when you had animals in your home and what worked then. Maybe you imagine what advice you’d give to a friend who has animals in their home.
Somehow, you start to figure it out.
Keeping the lights on, you find ways to safely listen to the animals and understand what they need. Slowly you realize that, by listening and trying to understand why each animal is there, you’re able to pay better attention to their needs. Eventually, the animals end up leaving on their own terms.
Some of the animals take a bit longer than others, but eventually they all go.
But the truth is your house is going to have animals in it again. In fact, it’s supposed to have animals come in from time to time.
What’s different is that now, when the animals come back into your home, you have a better sense of how to respond. You don’t need to ignore or distract yourself. The lights can stay on. Instead, you listen and try to understand them and why they showed up.
What are the uncomfortable emotions (raccoons) that you try to distract yourself from?
How do you distract from emotions—turn off the lights (alcohol, gambling, video games, sex, shopping, drugs, work, exercise, social media, taking care of others, food, etc.)?
If you decided to stop turning off the lights, what else could you do?