September 21, 2010

Addiction to Fiction

We have moved on from Stages of Faith by James Fowler to Buddhist Psychology by Caroline Brazier. Journal entries will reflect topics covered in that book.

Journal for September 21, 2010

I have loved the Four Noble Truths since I first heard them. They were simple, clear, and hopeful. Suffering happens. It happens for a reason. It doesn’t have to happen. And I’ve got a plan to stop it. I’m particularly fond of number three. It’s very empowering, this idea that we have the ability to put a stop to our own suffering.

However, as I’ve continued to study the dharma and learned about the habituation of desire, aversion, and delusion, I’ve had to confront many less savory things. Mostly these things come from within my own nature. The dharma helped point them out and once that happened, ignoring them, retreating back into delusion, became much more difficult. Understanding the Four Noble Truths was almost instantaneous. Understanding the nature of my addictions took much longer.

Outwardly I’m not a candidate for what pop culture and Western psychology defines as addiction. I don’t drink alcohol to excess or smoke or indulge in illicit drugs. Gambling has never held any appeal and too much food actually makes me feel sick. I’ve no unhealthy fetishes to disclose. I’m very self contained, level-headed, and easy going. I’m also stubborn, mildly contentious, and often oblivious to sarcasm and the emotions of those around me.

And that’s where my addiction comes from. I want to know what others feel and I want to feel myself. But I don’t always pick up on those things from individuals. I don’t read expressions or body language and sometimes I miss verbal cues entirely. I spend too much time deep inside my own mind, living on a little ego-ride that just goes round and round. People baffle me, but I want to understand.

When I do pick up on their emotions I often don’t know what to do about it. And more often than not that impulse to do something about it is itself not quite correct, but powerful nonetheless. So I sit there uncomfortable, confused, frozen but wanting to move, while someone I care about bawls their eyes out. I’ve learned to deal, to some extent, to sit and hug and ask questions or be silent. But for the most part, I sublimated their and my own powerful emotions. I save them up for a safe, constructive, outlet of expression – stories.

I am addicted to stories, to fiction. (Slightly ridiculous, but no less true.) I used to read obsessively. As a teenager, the only book I carried to and from school every day was the novel I was reading. When I was sixteen, a close friend died and I retreated into funny movies and the comfort of my couch. When I had a migraine, I put Star Wars on the television and fell asleep with it playing, the flickering images so familiar I could still see them behind my closed eyelids. I spent at least six hours every day on the couch with a book. This habitual retreat was well entrenched before I graduated high school.

When I returned to the University at the age of twenty-two, I quickly learned I could not read novels during the semester. I could no longer control my impulses. I would sit down with a book by a favorite novelist and not get up for eight hours, homework and classes be damned. Heaven forbid it was a multi-book series (and most of them were).

But the addiction just mutated. I couldn’t do homework unless there was something on my television, some movie I’d already seen half a dozen times, a television show with ten seasons on DVD, or a documentary about the making of either. Luckily, most of my homework was in the form of projects, not reading or studying. I would draft a new construction documents almost mindlessly while watching the eighth season of Friends or Lord of the Rings.

This addiction persists to this day and I am still struggling with it in the face of a new set of challenges and opportunities.

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