Every day, every time we leave the house, or speak to someone, or turn on the TV, our spirit is being influenced by the things we see and hear. Sometimes these ideas are positive, and guide us to our higher purpose by teaching us compassion, inspiring us to live our life to the fullest. Most of the time we don’t even notice it; there’s a person or a place that we love, and we find that spending more time with them makes us happy, and the better person we become. A positive influence, whatever noun form it comes in, can be the drive we need to go to school, to get a better job, to heal ourselves emotionally, etc. It’s a subtle nudge that forces us forward, developing our opinions, emotions, and ultimately our actions, driving us to become who we are.
Unfortunately, negative influencing works the same way.
When we hear the term “under the influence”, the first thing that comes to mind is drugs and alcohol. When someone is drinking, or smoking, or sniffing, their thinking and behavior is being driven by a chemical substance. Their actions are unfocused, self-centered, and often dangerous. Being persuaded by a negative person or idea can be just as damaging; a slow death, like witnessing the murder of your soul, your common sense, your individualism.
We all had that friend that was a bad influence. Hell, sometimes we were that friend. Your parents hated her, and every time you hung out with her there was drama and controversy. You didn’t understand it at the time; all you knew was that so-and-so rocked and you wanted to be a part of all that coolness. It didn’t matter that every time you hung out with her a fight broke out or something got stolen. It didn’t matter that your grades began to drop and you now thought all your old friends were nerds, or that you’d nearly been arrested six times. Suddenly you were talking like her, thinking like her, setting things on fire like her. And being young meant that you knew everything there was to know about anything, and your parents were idiots who just didn’t understand what the ‘real world’ was like.
The sad part is that by the time we reach adulthood, this “I know it all” attitude hasn’t changed much. We get involved with people or ideas that are obviously no good for us, but we seldom question the effect these negative behaviors and relationships have on our lives until everything comes toppling down around us.
When we grow older, negative influencing hits us in different ways. It’s the music we listen to, the television we watch, the people we associate with. Being surrounded by immoral and unconstructive influences can make awful behavior seem acceptable, because you’re seeing it all day, every day. Little by little, all that harmful information is being fed into your subconscious mind; whispering, suggesting, changing your thought process. Suddenly, behavior patterns and actions which you found so abhorrent before are no big deal. Lying to get what you want doesn’t seem so bad; cheating on your spouse is fine as long as you’re happy; shaming others to make yourself feel better is just the way things are done. When we surrounded ourselves with lowbrow entertainment (such as ‘reality’ television) and shady people that do not serve our best interests, we become desensitized to conduct we would normally condemn. The unacceptable becomes the norm.
If you are not discerning about who and what you let into your life, those things will slowly but surely begin to determine your character. Those people will tell you who you are. And that part of you that knows better is reduced to a barely audible voice in the back of your mind, because the TV, your friends, your family, your music are all loud and telling you how to think and feel. We lose our way, because we no longer know howwe think and feel.
This is why, in both substance recovery and day to day life, practicing sober thinking is so very important. Sober thinking is thinking that is not under the influence of anything or anyone. It’s just us; our hearts, our minds, moving us to act in our most honest and authentic ways. We become the powerful, positive influence of our own lives, and in the lives of others.
Being selective about the company you keep isn’t about keeping yourself from something. It’s about making room in your life for something better, about embracing your potential for success, happiness, and wholeness. It’s like how everyone is so concerned about the quality of food these days – all over the news and your Facebook feed there are messages about eating organically and banning GMO. If we were as discerning about our relationships and habits as we are with our food, people would be living happier lives. Because all these things are feeding you, sustaining you, nourishing your spirit. It’s the difference between feeding yourself poison, or elixir.
Consider how you watch unrealistic romantic comedies all day and then wonder why none of your relationships work out. Contemplate how you listen to negative news reports, music, and watch drama-filled television and then wonder why you’re angry and depressed all the time. Take an honest look at who you associate with and where your time is spent. Ask yourself: what is influencing you and your life decisions? Are the things in your life a good influence on you? Do they make you strive for greater things, teach you compassion, make you feel loved, and special, and taken care of? Or do they make you fearful, stagnant, and get you nearly arrested for the seventh time?