My January TV Cleanse

by Elisabeth

One day, last summer, a friend invited me out on a Saturday. I can’t remember which festival I was invited to- it could have been the Montreal International Jazz Festival, Just for Laughs, or any of the world famous festivals that take place in the city during summer. But I didn’t want to go. I wanted to watch back-to-back episodes of House of Cards, on-demand, instead.

Much of the muggy, hot summer was spent this way. Then fall came. TV addiction is something that I ultimately thought I was too smart for, but the shows have gotten so good! The plot lines can be so captivating! More importantly, there is nothing so safe as spending your time being entertained. Just you and your show. It’s an intimacy you share with an indifferent lover, who is more concerned with their needs than your own. No one can hurt you in that bubble. You aren’t spending money that you don’t have. You aren’t doing anything wrong.

By late fall I had to come clean with myself. I knew the amount of TV I was watching wasn’t good. I promised myself that I would quit soon; that I wouldn’t start any new shows when Dexter and Breaking Bad ended. But there was a hole in my evenings when I didn’t have a succession of entertainment. I was listless, bored, and overwhelmed with all the things that I could be doing. That I should be doing. So I picked up more shows- shows that I didn’t even really enjoy, or want to watch, or need to watch. I just had to fill up my evenings.

It occurred to me that the reason I’m not getting laid, or having adventures, or being the person that I want to be, is because I’m in my kitchen watching stupid shows on my laptop. That my loneliness is begetting more loneliness. And that I could be contributing so much more to life. All this was conscious, and I was considering it. I will change this in January, I thought. I’ll go cold-turkey.

So as the New Year approached I was on edge, making lists of all the things that I would be able to do instead of watching TV. I was considering an all-out digital cleanse, but this is complicated based on the work that I do, and the fact that I wanted to set up a blog. Digital media really wasn’t my problem anyway, I barely know how to use my cell phone. My problem was shows. Everything about the shows: the unconscious eating I did watching them, the sleep I would lose watching one more episode, and the fact that I was coming home to hide.

So when January 1st rolled around, I had a few movies ready to watch- something that I was willing to allow myself because I couldn’t get attached to a movie. Movies end where they end. But something curious happened. I watched 2 or 3 over the course of the week, and then…nothing. I still have a couple movies left to watch.

Once I accepted that watching TV was off the table, I easily found other things to do. In fact, I still felt busy with not enough time, but I started to get more sleep. I was outputting ideas instead of absorbing them, and feeling less stressed overall. There were no withdrawal symptoms, at all. My productivity level shot up, as did my social calendar.

Now that I’m back, catching up on Girls and American Horror Story, I recognize how intoxicating shows can be and why they grab me so quickly. I recognize that I am attracted to ways to close out the day- a glass of wine, a show enjoyed in bed- all of it is the epitome of luxury and leisure. Ease and relaxation is what I’m going for after a day of work followed by the gym. I can get it in other ways, though. I also realized that with Nick working nights, I spend most dinner-times alone and I LOVE to eat while watching a show. I realized that I hate to eat alone- it gives me anxiety, though I’m not exactly sure why. I am sure that it’s causing a lot of unconscious eating.

I recommend a TV cleanse to anyone who feels like they don’t have enough time, or feels like they use it to hide out from the world. I assure you that it will be utterly painless, and will get you back on track. If anything it will help you reconnect with yourself.

“Big Brother isn’t watching. He’s singing and dancing. He’s pulling rabbits out of a hat. Big Brother’s busy holding your attention every moment you’re awake. He’s making sure you’re always distracted. He’s making sure you’re fully absorbed.”

-Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby