TV Fast: Reclaiming My Brain and Accepting Discomfort

As my husband continues his military activity (TDY) in Montgomery, I notice that I have been straight-up binge-watching television. While I recognize that New Girl is delightful and I truly enjoy watching it, spending an entire morning watching episode after episode on Netflix is clearly unhealthy behavior.

I have been a type-A achiever for my entire adult life. I am always trying to do more as a teacher and scholar, as a mother and homeowner. So, it is truly bizarre to find me on my couch on a Tuesday morning at 9:30 AM watching television rather than reading, grading, cleaning, etc.

When my husband first left for Alabama, I had a solid routine of going to the gym on Tuesday and Thursday mornings. I need to exercise for both health and sanity purposes, but at some point, I simply stopped. I still walk with a friend most Thursday mornings, but Tuesday mornings find me returning from dropping my daughter off at school and losing 3-4 hours of my life to digital streaming.

Yesterday was the last straw. My five-year-old beautiful daughter had an absolute meltdown when I left her at school in the morning, and rather than accept the pain of that situation, I numbed myself in front of the television until I absolutely had to shut off the television and get to a meeting. Even in the moment, I knew that I would feel better if I were actually doing something–decluttering the house, responding to student work, reading–but instead I let myself sink into the comfort of watching others pretend to live.

No more.

Although I have been half aware of this increasing habit of numbing not through alcohol or drugs but television, I have been unwilling to turn things around, partially out of a sense of self-preservation mixed with self-indulgence. I miss my husband, and that loneliness is truly painful. I also have much more to do on a daily basis to care for our daughter, dogs, house, and so on, so I am often exhausted in addition to lonely. Television quiets those feelings as it gives the false sense of companionship and requires absolutely nothing in return. But other than numbing the discomfort of this time in my life, it does not to help me cope or, better yet, thrive.

So, after reading Stephanie Vozza’s excellent article regarding her own television fast, I am starting my own for the month of November with two exceptions: family movie night with my daughter and HBO with my husband when he is home on leave. No more binge-watching by myself in the middle of the morning or when my daughter is playing. No more numbing. I am choosing instead to embrace the difficulty and discomfort of this season because I don’t want to waste any more time “checking out” of my life and myself. My hope is that in doing so I will gain an appreciation for this time rather than a sense of dread, that I will find joy in the struggle rather than the senseless oblivion of binge-watching.

Have you ever done a television fast? If so, what helped in the first few days/weeks to stick with it? How did you feel at the end of the fast?


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