I used to spend Fourth of Julys on the beach, drinking hard ciders in excess and accepting tequila shots from friends of friends. During my earlier years of heavy drinking, I often had enough energy to make it to the fireworks, but on my last sloshed Fourth I was passed out by 6 p.m. The festive booms were the only thing that woke me up. Making it out to the bars in my condition was out of the question, so I just popped a few Advil, downed a bottle of coconut water, and stumbled back to bed.
I was on edge in the days leading up to my first sober Fourth of July. I didn’t want to stand in the overwhelming crowds watching the fireworks, but I didn’t want to sit at home and hear everyone rage as I sat around nursing a case of the FOMOs, either. So, at the last minute, I decided to walk a few blocks to Roxy Cinemas to go see Independence Day: Resurgence. I’d be alone—but at least I wouldn’t be lying on my couch feeling sorry for myself.
Okay, I wasn’t entirely alone. Two guys were there on the other side of the aisle. We joked about our wild holiday plans, and then settled in for a movie that was action-packed (though, I must say, not as inspiring as the 1996 original).
That evening was one of my first “sober wins.” I left the theater feeling far more relaxed and happy than when I had come in. The situation gave me confidence that I could get through a rough moment in my recovery — like FOMO, nerves, or anxiety — without completely losing control of my emotions or succumbing to a glass of wine for a temporary calm. It was another trick and one I still continue to use as an unorthodox, yet fun, method of supporting my sobriety.
My recovery toolbox has grown in the last few years. In a funk I know I can go to meetings, call another sober person, meditate (or at least consider it; progress, not perfection), go for a walk, clean the dishes, etc. But I think encouraging people to go to the movies is vastly underrated.
With just $20 for a ticket and tasty goods from the concession stand, or sometimes items I’ve smuggled in with my oversized purse, I have around two hours to let my mind wander away from anxieties and stressors and instead focus on the big screen.
Sometimes it’s a mindless action film I need. Other times, a period film with rustling skirts and a handsome boy with a low ponytail. If I’m in a moment of desperation, it’s a beggars-can’t-be-choosers pick, like seeing Assassin’s Creed with Michael Fassbender on New Years Eve. But even watching a C-rate movie is better than stewing in jittery emotions that I know are irrational.
You might wonder why you should bother actually getting up and going to the movies — especially when you can save some cash and Netflix and solo chill. Or maybe you’re curious if ignoring your anxieties by going to the movies is akin to reaching for a glass of wine whenever things get rough, albeit a physically healthier alternative. I’ll answer both!
In my experience, I’ve found going to a movie is better because it gets you away from your home, which is a comfortable place to settle into those anxious feelings. When I watch shows or movies at home, I’m usually multitasking and scrolling through social media, or pausing every few minutes. The movies force me to put my phone away, focus ahead, and let go.
I’m also a believer that not every anxious moment needs to be followed by hardcore work of the recovery and self-improvement variety. Sometimes when those anxious feelings start to pick up momentum, the kind thing to do is not sit and over analyze them, or write a list of everything you’re grateful for. Instead, just focus on something fun.
For example, sometimes I get anxious about a work problem that I know isn’t a really big deal, but I just can’t let it go. These feelings also like to rear their heads when I’m about to go through a big life change. Instead of sitting at home, spending an hour finding a Netflix show to watch, and grinding my teeth until my jaw is inflamed, I put on my sneakers and walk to the movies.
And it hasn’t let me down yet!
Now, about the whole “ignoring your emotions and doing something else” aspect of catching a flick. Unless you’re going to the theater every day to escape a deep-seated issue that’s causing clear chaos in your life, I don’t think going to a movie on occasion to relax and take your mind off of something is unhealthy or dangerous.
My guess is that the movie isn’t going to make you feel sick—granted you don’t eat a jumbo bag of popcorn during the trailer—call out of work, lie to your loved ones, make a fool out of yourself, or say unkind things to your friends like you would if you were drunk. It’s just a way to remove yourself from your normal environment, trick your mind out of stressing, and get a little entertainment.
So, go ahead, give yourself permission to put down the thought journal and close out the meditation app from time to time. Instead, go see the movie when you’re feeling anxious. I bet you won’t regret it.