September 23, 2010

Addiction II (MDIV 555)

I have attempted to write about the issue several times over the years, but have only succeeded in hinting at it now and again. Previous drafts always took the form of a confessional, but in the end I deleted them all. If you have read the blog for any length of time, you'll know this is a rarity. I barely edit my posts, let alone censor them, but for reasons described below, this issue was just a bit more sensitive to me than it might seem at first glance. This treatment is by necessity short, factual, and contextual, which is perhaps for the best, though it may lack the scope of how broadly this has and does affect my life. I hope as these studies continue, I might gain some insight, but if it offers the reader a good laugh, that is also worthwhile.

Journal for September 22, 2010

On Tuesday I said a bit about addiction, specifically my own, but when abruptly confronted by the end of the page, always more swiftly realized than expected, I concluded my entry. The story doesn’t end there, of course. Later in class we discussed what we might learn about Caroline Brazier’s viewpoint based on her background. Some suggested that her characterization of “addiction studies” is perhaps out of date or less nuanced than the actual discipline.

However, when I first read her second chapter describing our suffering as a perpetuation of addictive behaviors, the strongest of which is ego addiction, I thought they made perfect sense. That’s because what Brazier was describing, sensory pleasure used to mask suffering becoming itself a source of suffering in a self-perpetuating cycle, matches personal experience.

Shortly after the start of the semester, we had an extra day off for the Labor Day weekend. Stress in my life was low. I was happily moved into my house here in California. I like my roommate. I was caught up on my homework and had a reasonable amount of reading to do for class over the long weekend. But what did I do? I spent over three entire days watching Bleach via the internet.

Bleach is a Japanese anime with (then) two-hundred and eighty five, twenty-four minute episodes. I started from where I had left off over the summer on episode one-forty-two. That’s fifty-seven hours of video in a little over seventy-two hours. Unlike American television, I can’t listen and read homework at the same time because Bleach is subtitled. Even I have to recognize that’s slightly crazy.

This isn’t the first time it has occurred, not by a long shot. I plan these ‘binges’ for breaks in the semester or the school year, but I always tell myself, “I’m just going to watch three episodes, then I’ll do homework/clean the house/work on a project.” But then the last episode is a "to be continued," or I forget my promise to myself, or I tell myself I don’t really have that many chores so a few more is okay. Sometimes it’s a series of novels, sometimes of television shows, sometimes movies, but the major characterization is that once I start I seem to have almost no control over when I stop. I don’t stop until the subject material is exhausted, until I reach episode two-eighty-five.

And yes, there’s shame, compounded by the thought that it seems such a silly thing to get carried away with. For a very long time I couldn’t even bring myself to apply the word addiction. After all, there are people with real problems, real addictions, real suffering out there. For the most part, I’m still a fully functional member of society. When I’m not chained to the couch. And I feel guilty for the things I leave undone, the homework, chores, and projects. Sometimes, I spent more money on iTunes or at the bookstore than I can really afford because, after all, there's another season or three more books in the series. That’s more guilt.

I set strict limits on myself. No new authors and no new television shows during the semester. If a new episode comes out once a week, that’s okay, or a new novel once a year, fine. But no hunting for a new series with twelve books already out or, heaven forbid, two-hundred and eighty-five episodes (I can blame my brother for introducing this one). Yet, somehow, I slip up, and it starts again.

As shame and guilt compounds and my undone work piles up and begins to look daunting, I slip deeper and deeper into escapism. It’s a self perpetuating cycle and I recognized it long before reading Brazier’s psychological characterization. If her's is a mischaracterization of addiction, I would be interested to know in what way and also explicitly how it relates to spiritual formation.

And I'd like to think I can get out, but fear I know better.

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