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  • Writer's pictureEric Fisher

Fear of missing out

Updated: Jan 29

Let's imagine you've been released from an inpatient treatment centre. You've been abstinent from mood-altering substances, behaviours, and relationships for the last 45 days. Everything seems copacetic. An old acquaintance rings you to see if you'd like to wine and dine tonight at a swanky downtown establishment. Your verbal reply to the invite comes out mumbled and jumbled—a first. Treatment has ruined your go-to choice for mood-altering. At the same time, a part of you wants to join in on the request. What do you do?

Or let's say you are currently in an intensive outpatient program for substance use. Your partner wants to head out with a group of friends to a club where alcohol will be flowing like the waterfalls in Costa Rica. The partner's request feels more like a command in your brain. What do you do?

Fear of missing out, commonly known in pop culture as the acronym FOMO, presents a real challenge for those in early recovery from mood-altering substances, behaviours, and relationships. Working through the thoughts, feelings, and sensations accompanying FOMO can be challenging. We will look at a few characteristics of FOMO and how to deal with the phenomenon when it surfaces.

The first characteristic of FOMO on the list is "doubt installation." FOMO will influence you, through addictive thoughts and uncomfortable feelings, to believe a choice other than joining in on an event to be ludicrous. You'll doubt any resolve you hold. Self-doubt may even seep in. A typical statement: "Are you doing what is best for you with this recovery thing?"

A second characteristic of FOMO is "provoking generalizations." Every event, festivity, or gathering will be amazing. You will miss out on the best memories to make, and social media will forever punish you for not being tagged in those fantastic photos. The generalizing saturates the brain in a pervasive way.

A third characteristic of FOMO comes in the form of "values fracking." FOMO will make you shift your values to accommodate the desired outcome. Social interactions may not be in your best interests, and you may likely acknowledge this. The power of the FOMO prevails and outweighs upheld values - self-care, boundaries, honesty, and so on.

FOMO's fourth and final characteristic hides in plain sight: "Fear-Inducing." The addiction will use fear without any hesitation. Fear you'll miss out. Fear of what someone will think if you are not present. Fearing others will view you as weak. Cultivate faith in the process of recovery over the fear the addiction wants to exacerbate—confidence in overcoming with supportive people, tools, and strategies.

If you attend an event due to FOMO, at least have a plan to give yourself the best chance of making it out unscathed. Bring a friend who knows you are in early sobriety and are making significant changes. Someone you can be accountable to before, during, and after the event about behaviours, choices, and feelings. A friend who won't sugarcoat or enable behaviours. I suggest arriving a little later and leaving earlier. Have a drink in your hand that's non-alcoholic so someone doesn't ask if you want tequila, bourbon, scotch, a beer, or anything else alcohol-infused. Plan to be a designated driver; therefore, you cannot drink—plan, plan. Take your time. Be prepared. Know the end goal and stick to it with the choices you make.

The best solution may be to avoid the party, celebration, or whatever. I highly recommend it, as FOMO can manipulate the brain rather quickly. I suggest reality-testing the situation with a trusted friend, partner, and sponsor. Get more than one opinion. Does this look like a good idea, or am I running into an active volcano?

The suggestions above are to help decrease the chance of any adverse consequences. FOMO is indeed real. It's self-sabotage rearing its ugly head, beckoning you to come back to the fold. Awareness of thoughts and feelings is essential. Connect with healthy supports during early recovery to talk about FOMO.

The FOMO information will make your brain churning about the topic and how you can apply what's been discussed. I wish you all the best in your healing journey!

A woman at a concern making sure she does not miss out on the concert.

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