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"Keeping an Eye on Familiarity" by: Kimberly Sprintz

We all know that feeling, when we come home at the end of a long day and finally relax. Even in our daily routines we can find joy, the smell of coffee brewing in the morning, the good morning headbutt by my cat, the sweet kiss from my husband...yes these routines can make life richer. With so much that is outside of our control, things that stay consistent become the foundation of our subjective normalcy.

I believe we all learned the value of our daily routines when we were in lockdown at the start of the pandemic. It was only when those routines were inaccessible to us that we became aware of how important they were. Look at the issue this week when Facebook shut down, can anyone say we aren't overly dependent on social media? The panic felt when we have no internet? We become attached to that which is familiar because it calms our nervous systems.

As a graduate student of Psychology, I have learned the nervous system is the root of human behavior. The National Research Council (1989) purported, when humans become exposed to a stimulus repeatedly, we can become desensitized since our nervous system is designed to focus on things that are novel, rewarding, or significant for survival. The nervous system learns to respond to stimuli because when it is not noticed, the results are severe, painful and or dangerous. This could be a factor to explain how hypervigilant behavior in an abusive relationship is used as a method to avoid the results of failing to pay attention. This is also how the nervous system works in addiction. Nervous system dysregulation motivates human behavior to seek what it needs to eliminate the dysregulation. In the context of this post, staying focused on familiarity is important because we know that even abuse can become familiar.

When we stay emotionally disconnected from our lives, when we overly focus on working and achieving and pay little if no attention to self-care, relationships, making memories or to simply stay present in the moment, we risk staying stuck in a familiar routine that stands in the way of us living our lives to the fullest. As the quote on the image above mentions inattention as the underlying negative issue that can derail someone who has a life filled with familiarity. Consider a nervous system that developed in the body of a child raised with trauma in the home, followed by adolescent sexual abuse and repeated physical and emotional trauma, that nervous system is looking for anything to help it to regulate. That describes my life and nervous system. I used many things, drugs, sex, relationships...anything to feel at ease. The truth was that even when those external sources of stimulation were successful in regulating my nervous system, they were only short-lived.

Through my recovery, I LIVE life when I stay PRESENT in it. That looks like me treasuring familiarity that is healthy and adds meaning to my life, serves a purpose of self-care and an environment of love and support for myself and others. This also looks like staying AWARE of my own nervous system and what I am seeking out to regulate it. If I seek something that has the propensity for addiction like sex, food, social media, etc., I risk my nervous system becoming dependent on those things because of their stronger impact. This is where we can find a substitute for an initial addiction, or find socially acceptable addictions that the world pats us on the back for. Socially acceptable addictions such as working too much, constantly going and never resting, micromanaging and controlling our lives and those of others, etc.

Simply put, familiarity opens the door to complacency and that is detrimental...if you become complacent in how you are regulating your nervous system, you could become obese, sedentary, overly stressed, leading to massive health and relational issues to address, all unnecessary. Not everyone deals with addiction nor do they recognize their lives as being unhealthy. I have heard any say that my life is as good as my parents or even better than their parents and because it looks "normal" it is fine. Some say that they have a steady job and care for the needs of their family and that is all they have time for. One of my friends expressed their fear of leaving their abusive spouse because they supported the family and have a place to live. In many cultures, simply working and providing food and shelter for a family is considered a successful life. This is where we learn to survive life, working and making ends meet with a random day off here and there. This is where familiarity that leads to complacency.

When an individual STOPS...takes a break from their daily life and asks themselves the following:

1) How are my relationships? With myself, work, friends, spouse, partner, family, food, sex, financial, spiritual?

2) Am I HAPPY, fulfilled? Why or not?

3) If I died today, would I have regrets? If so what would they be?

4) How much of my life is living on autopilot and how much am I present?

5) When was the last REAL conversation I have had with my significant other(s)?

These are mere suggestions of something that many will NEVER take the time to do, but the fact that you are reading this means you are either pondering these things, have already started working on them or are like myself, maintaining focus on your life. In my case, I have made a commitment to myself to stay present in my life and to seek inward for what I need to maintain my serenity, reaching out when I am unable to handle things by working with professionals and my recovery family. My healthy life and all the amazing things I have worked hard to establish for myself and my family is contingent to my sobriety both physical and emotional. I work at honoring those things that are familiar and sustain my health and avoid overly utilizing anything that can derail my sobriety, including social media, sugar, caffeine, etc. This is NOT to say I am trying to be perfect...that would be dangerous and delusional because I know perfection is unattainable. I practice the principles of my recovery in my daily life and that requires staying present and to avoid complacency. Therefore, familiarity is something on my "radar" and will stay there so I can continue to LIVE my life and enjoy every second of it!


National Research Council (US) Committee on Research Opportunities in Biology (1989). Opportunities in Biology (No. 6). National Academies Press.

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