I know lots of people who struggle with drugs and alcohol. They try to escape the challenges of life by imbibing a bit – or a whole lot – too much. I also know people who are addicted to eating, shopping, and sex. The yoga sutras counsel us to enjoy things in moderation; addicts take things to the extreme. I was shocked this week to discover a new kind of addiction—an addiction to reading. Even more shocking was needing to admit that I struggle with that addiction.
I know it sounds a bit funny, but I say it with all sincerity. I am addicted to reading. I read most of the time for pure enjoyment. But there also is a part of me that likes getting lost in the fantasy. If I am invested in the outcome of my protagonist’s challenge, I can forget about my own—at least as long as the book, magazine, iPad or Kindle is in hand.
As part of my yearlong quest to flourish, I have been reading The Artist Way by Julia Cameron. I’m up to the fourth chapter. This week’s challenge was to engage in reading deprivation. According to Cameron, many blocked artists spend hours upon hours reading the creative works others have made. She believes that by putting down the book (magazine, iPad or Kindle), one has more room to create for oneself.
I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about this exercise. But like a good student, I wanted to obey my teacher. I looked at my calendar and decided I would begin the Sunday after I met with my friends to discuss Roxanne Gray’s Bad Feminist and end the Saturday before my book club met to discuss Wild. That first day just so happened to follow the switch to Daylight Savings Time.
When I woke up on Sunday, I did not know what to do with myself. I have a stack of books about five high on my bedside table, plus my two journals. After writing my three morning pages, I did an exercise from The Artist Way. I really wanted to read one of my books, but I couldn’t. I didn’t know what else to do. I began to feel anxious, really, really anxious. After a couple minutes, I closed my eyes and lay back down. Three hours later, I got up because I needed something to eat. Yes, I spent three hours sleeping, because I was overwhelmed by the possibility of a morning without reading. I didn’t go to church like I had planned or do my own yoga practice at home. I slept.
When hunger forced me out of bed, I tried thinking again about what I could do besides reading. I made a trip to the grocery store, cooked something to eat, and prepared to spend some time over dinner with friends. I also managed to fit in another nap. I didn’t write in my journal or post something to the blog. I didn’t use the time to explore my own creativity.
The workweek was a little easier, because I had tons of work to do. My biggest challenges came when I had “nothing to do.” For example, I was tempted to open Flipboard to scroll through the news when riding Metro, but I resisted. Another hard time was bedtime. My habit was to read for at least 30 minutes each night before going to bed. It was really hard not reading at night. I had to move the books off my bedside table. I also stayed up much later than usual watching television, trying to find some way to pass the time before I fell asleep. I noticed how anxious I was, but I survived.
Julia Cameron warned that one easy way to dodge my reading deprivation would be engaging in another addictive behavior. So I committed to staying off social media for the week as well. On Wednesday, I had dinner with one of my college roommates. It was a good but emotional conversation. We discussed how she has been getting along since her father’s death last summer, and we wondered together about another’s friend’s wellbeing. Then, she turned the tables on me. My friend wanted to know what had happened with my marriage—what lead to the divorce.
I have thought about my failed marriage a lot over the years, and I have begun to write about it. But I don’t frequently talk about my marriage – or subsequent divorce. It’s almost like it never happened. Yet, my new last name reminds me and others that I did say, “I do” 12 years ago. When she asked, I talked about the divorce in a pretty matter-of-fact tone. I tried to be fair and accept my share of the blame for our demise. After dinner, I gave her a big hug and put her in a cab back to her hotel. I walked a block, and caught the bus home.
First, I checked my email, but there weren’t too many messages that had come through since dinner began. Then I clicked on the little blue f, and opened up Facebook. From the moment I did until I got off the bus, I was absorbed, so engrossed that I missed my stop. I transferred buses, and scrolled through my newsfeed while waiting for the second bus. When I boarded it, I kept reading.
The next morning, I thought about my slip-up. I had successfully been able to avoid Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for almost four days. What happened to cause me to back slide?
I realized I felt pretty emotional after that dinner conversation. It was hard talking about a time in my life that was very painful. It was hard thinking about my own father, who I haven’t seen since my wedding day in 2003. I still don’t know if he is alive or dead. Rather than process my emotions or talk about them, I stuffed them and turned to my addiction of choice—social media browsing.
I recommitted to my week of reading deprivation, and have had a much easier time of it the last two days. I know it’s because I have come face-to-face with how much I read—and the feelings that motivate me to open a book, turn on the television, or click an app on my phone. These tools allow me to escape the feelings and challenges that exist in my real world.
I will be very happy when Sunday morning comes. I’m going to read my Bible and probably a bit from each of my five books. The following week, I will be on vacation. I already have decided which books come with me in my suitcase. But I also have committed to continuing to reflect and journal about my emotions, and to try to deal with things instead of escaping to a book or social media. I’m sure it will be tough, but I am glad I was able to come to grips with my reading addiction, and have taken steps to get it under control.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.