I so wish that this could be one of those lighthearted posts about an addiction to chocolate, or adverbs, or something else equally innocuous. Unfortunately, it's not. Because this month things got real for me.
This month I have had to face the fact that I have an addiction.
Just like last January, this month our bishop asked us to participate in a Fast From the World. I am pleased to say that this was a much easier proposition for our family this time around. We knew what to expect and we knew we could do it. In fact, it's been almost mundane.
Well, until about a week ago.
That's when I started having computer problems.
At first it was just the screen- being in a house with four crazy kids running around had really put my laptop through the ringer and it had gotten to the point where I had to only have it open to a very precise angle or the screen would go dark. It wasn't so bad, though- I just fiddled with it until it worked and then tried not to breathe too hard so I wouldn't frighten it away.
Then the charging cord went bad. Again, it was much like the screen at first- just took a little finessing and shallow breathing and it was fine.
Until it wasn't.
One night it just died. Completely.
I was fasting from the world, so what was I going to do? No TV, no novels, no movies. I was suddenly left screenless. I was disconnected. And not just disconnected, but disconnected.
The only tool left in my arsenal was a car charger that gave my laptop 15-30% charge, depending on whether I was running a lot of errands or just a few. And then my kids got sick, so I hardly went anywhere. I found that anything I needed to do on my computer- sending & receiving e-mails, writing- it all had to be done in that short window of time (did I mention my battery is on its last legs too? Loses about 1% charge every minute). When I had two articles due for a magazine, I knew that the moment I opened that computer I was on the clock, and I didn't have one second to waste on anything that wasn't necessary to accomplishing my task. I have never written in such a focused and efficient way before.
Now, I am not one of those people who walks around with a smartphone glued to my hand. I have a very basic prepaid phone that I use only to contact my husband and my mom, and the only other people who have the number are my kids' schools and family members who might need to reach me in an emergency. So I'm good on that front. But my laptop is like my brain. When I'm at home, It's like a pet, always sitting next to me- only I'm the one on the leash. I can't get too far from it without feeling that pull toward it again. Every mundane task that takes me away from it feels annoying and I get more and more irritated until I can get my fix.
It wasn't until it was out of the picture that I really realized how addicted I was. Because once it wasn't an option, at first I went through withdrawals.
My kids are being needy- ugh, let me just go check my e- oh, right. I can’t. The laundry is piling up- but I've had such a long day, I should take a break and write down some of those blog ideas I had- oh, I can’t. Ugh, the playroom is a mess AGAIN. Well...I wanted to go check Pinterest to get that new recipe for dinner so...oh. Right.
Before the Fast From the World it was Facebook, blogs, Pinterest, and web surfing that lured me back in every time.
Do you see where I'm going with this? I was exactly like an alcoholic or drug addict- anytime my life put something in front of me that I didn't want to deal with, I reached for my self-medication: my computer. I wanted to just relax, to escape. Just like any addict does.
I think I really began to realize how bad it had gotten once the withdrawals wore off. It was so strange, I got this feeling I had forgotten even existed: boredom. I was bored. I had no screen. All I had was my house around me and my kids. So I began to pay attention to them, because I had nothing else to do.
Again, don't get me wrong. I'm not a terrible mother- I always did the things I was supposed to do: I made dinner every night; we always ate together (screen free) as a family; I read with my kids and helped them with homework; and for the most part I kept up with dishes, laundry, and basic cleaning. But I spent a lot of my time feeling short-fused and irritated. I felt like I never had any time. I always wanted to be doing something else.
Well, the truth was that I did have time, I was just using it to indulge my addiction. Once I cut the leash and began to really wake up I actually saw my life. I saw my home, I saw my kids, and I began to invest in them because they were all I had. After dinner I went ahead and did the dishes because they were there and I had nothing else to do. The hampers in my house are empty because I realized that laundry is actually pretty easy. I'm trying to figure out why I thought it was so burdensome before. It's not super fun, but when your choices are sitting around twiddling your thumbs or making sure your children have clean clothes, it's not that difficult a decision to make. I go to bed early now because...well, because when the dishes are done, the laundry is folded and put away, there's not much else to do. Which means I wake up feeling refreshed and I have much more energy and focus.
I've spent more time helping my worrywart daughter study for school than ever before, and I've seen her confidence level shoot up. I've discovered that all that annoying prattle that was going on in the background while I was trying to check my e-mail was actually my four-year-old daughter thinking some really deep and amazing thoughts and trying to share them with me. She has very vivid dreams, and now because of one of them she absolutely has her heart set on being a mermaid. When my son was home sick I discovered that he absorbs more information than I ever realized and that I might do well to just keep him home from school and let him watch the Science Channel all day- he'd probably be an astrophysicist by the time he's 14. And I now look forward to spending time with all of them because...well, because they're great kids. And there's no leash pulling me away.
This post is getting long, I know, so let me just sum this up: My life has changed.
I don't say that lightly. I mean, it almost feels like I've been asleep- or in some kind of a fog, maybe- for the last several years. I've been living with this constant frustration that I'm not good enough, not organized enough, not fill-in-the-blank enough for so long, that when that feeling just kind of dissipated, the whole world seemed to change. There is this clarity that has emerged for me, something that is so hard to explain other than to say that by turning off the screens, that person that I always wanted to be just kind of showed up. And I realized that now I am enough.
And all it took was a broken cord to make me realize it.
I kneel down and thank God every morning for breaking that cord for me. And I tell Him that I'm scared, because I know I can't turn off the world forever. I do have deadlines to meet, and I do miss making connections on facebook with many dear friends who live far away. I'm an addict who must leave the safety of rehab and reenter real life. I know I will have to find a balance, but I'm so afraid that I will fail. That I will slip back into the clutches of my stupid, stupid addiction that has robbed so much of Life from me. At this point, all I can do is pray and ask God to help me. Because I know I can’t do it alone.
I will end this post like any good recovering addict might: If you think you may be suffering from this addiction- and I assure you, it is very real- I encourage you to get help. Have someone hide your screens or chargers from you for awhile. Detox. See the world through different eyes. You might be surprised to realize it’s even brighter than a screen.