30 Days Without TV: Everybody needs a vice/vise.

by Rebecca A. Watson on April 4, 2014

in balance, escapism, habits, judgment, Just Be, life, Recovery

Quitting watching TV for 30 days was more difficult than quitting drinking. Period. Full stop.

When I decided that March would be a month without TV, I thought it was going to be tough like my Facebook challenge had been. But I figured that after a few days of missing it, I would go along without really thinking too much about it.

Not a chance.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. (Or what I would be thinking if I was reading this.) She must be one of those folks that help Americans get to that average of 34 hours a week. Or if you’re German, 23 hours a week about a decade back.

The fact is folks, Sante and I were watching about 1.5 to 2.5 hours of TV per day, which put us on the low end of things at about 10.5 to 17.5 hours per week. So why was this so hard for me? I’ve come up with a few observations. They might provide an explanation.

I was ready to give in the first night we were home. The first few days of this challenge were super easy because we were in Venice. Even with the rain pouring down, no one is going to sit inside and watch TV during Carnival. I hope.

venice in rain

It was pretty crowded.

But when we arrived home, travel-weary and toting take away from the döner place down the street, I so badly wanted to flip on a show and just relax. I decided that if Sante suggested watching something, I would cave. I could start the challenge later.

The only other time I have been so willing to cave like this was my challenge last month, which was giving up sugar. That lasted 12 hours, if that. So is it just my will power weakening? Or is it that proving I’m addicted to sugar or the television isn’t as important as proving I could quit drinking without problems? The latter, methinks.

TV is my numbing device. March served to be one of the most difficult months I’ve lived in awhile here, mostly because I knew my time with a good friend was coming to a close. There were several nights where I was feeling really sad, angry and upset about life and, as a blogger I like wrote so eloquently, I had “fewer hiding places from my emotions.”

Yes there was the Internet, but it requires you to interact, to choose things. I wanted none of that. I noticed that I took to doing something I hadn’t since I was depressed last year: I’d stare at the wall with nothing in my head. It felt good. And it probably was good for me to go to that place and actually come out the other side, instead of turning myself off and not feeling anything. That’s a recipe for getting an emotion stuck in your body, where it will fester and do damage.

Still, it would’ve been nice to tune out and ignore it all. But since I’d made it through the first difficult days, usually the hardest part of the challenge, I couldn’t go back. Even if at day 29 I was dreaming of doner, a Bionade and some cheesy chick flick.

Some television is fine dining. Other stuff? Fast food. House of Cards=Wapa Tapa. A nice Spanish dinner with layers of flavor that took years to perfect, hours to eat and is impossible to replicate. You’re excited to have been there, recommend it to your friends and would definitely go back.

P.S. Order the ribs. Seriously.

P.S. Order the ribs. Seriously.

Sons of Anarchy=Asian Toilet Restaurant. Maybe it’s normal to someone from that environment, but to the rest of us, it’s just there for shock value. Yes, I might try it, and hesistantly admit that I like it. But I will never miss it.

The Bachelor=Taco Bell. Recycled shit for folks who don’t know better or don’t care. You look on with horror at those who enjoy it but that’s as close as you’re getting to eating it. Must. Not. Judge., she thinks, judgingly.

I felt closer and further away from hubby during this time. Although Sante is a supportive, loving man, when I told him about March’s challenge, he raised his eyebrows and said, “I hope you’re not expecting me to do this with you.” And why would I really? That’s not really his shtick, trying a new challenge every month. It’s mine.

Every night when he got home from work, we’d sit down and have dinner at the table. At first I could tell he was annoyed, because while it wasn’t every night, more often than not we’d sit down with our meals in front of something streaming on Netflix.

It was a good way for him to unwind, and I completely understood that. I didn’t mind either. But once in awhile I would insist (and he would begrudgingly agree) that we eat at the table.

About two weeks into the challenge we were having a lively evening at the dinner table, chatting and laughing. I told him that I had really been enjoying this part of not watching shows after he gets home. And while he made it clear he’d still like that sometimes, he admitted he thought we were doing it a little too often.

small victories

Hooray for small victories!

It’s not like we were having deep philosophical discussions at dinner every night, but I got a peak into how his day was and what he was brooding over, because as a Virgo and an engineer, my man is always worrying about something.

There were other times when we would open up to each other and talk about life here in Germany, what our expectations were and are, and how we were feeling. I don’t know if those conversations would’ve happened so easily if we hadn’t had no-TV time.

On the other side of the coin, after dinner was finished, we used to curl up on the couch together, watching fancy foreign dramas or really bad Arnold Schwarzenegger action.

This was prime snuggle time and it was taken away. Naturally Sante still wanted to unwind after dinner, so he’d plug his headphones in and watch an episode of Top Gear while I knit. We sat on the same couch, but we were worlds away.

This coincided unfortunately with a back injury that forced us back into our Euro bed (two mattresses stuck together, each chosen for our body weight and size). We abandoned these early into living here — it’s nearly impossible to cuddle with that crack in the middle dividing you — but it’s what is best for his back so we’re further apart.

I keep thinking, Oh man, why is this [Amy leaving, Sante’s back problem] happening now? If I was watching TV it wouldn’t be so bad. But I realize that maybe it’s just showing me that I have to reconsider how I’m living my life. It’s not that watching TV is the problem. It’s that perhaps I wasn’t connecting meaningfully — to myself in order to process my feelings, to Sante so that I could mentally and physically feel our love.

That thought process also shows me that yeah, maybe I am a little bit addicted to it. I mean, that’s a familiar pattern: Ready to give up quitting in the first days, using it to avoid feeling, considering it to be a source of closeness and comfort in times of stress.

The difference is this doesn’t need to be an all-or-nothing thing for me. It isn’t something I am wrestling with privately. I don’t wake up wishing we hadn’t watched that extra episode of Mad Men. For me, I know that I can fall into bad habits, but I’m beginning to think there’s nothing wrong with having a few vices. Everyone’s are different, and what works for some won’t for others.

Put another way: one person’s vice is another’s vise. Something that holds one man together can rip another apart. The sweet thing I eat every day gives me an outlet for my great baking desire.  It also makes me happy. That same sweet thing can send another woman through an entire jar of cookies and wrack her with guilt later.

These 30 day challenges have taught me a lot, but one thing in particular. I am (duh) a perfectionist, and because of that I like to deprive myself and make myself “better.” Through perfect timing, I came across this meditation right as my challenge was ending.

perfectionism meditation

 

Although I was already into my April challenge by that point, I thought it was fitting that for once, I was going to try to let myself be. Just be. I deserve to be treated well, especially by me. I’m allowed to nap on a sunny day if my body and brain are telling me it needs that.

Like a blogger I like posted, we have to rewrite things without the “enough.” I don’t wanna say I’m good enough. I’m saying I am good. I don’t need to justify my April challenge of doing kind things for myself because it’s my birthday month. I deserve it. We all deserve kindness, especially from ourselves.

So while Sante and I have had dinner at the table a few nights this week, we also got take out and watched two hours of House of Cards the first night my challenge was over. That was the first nice thing I did for myself. Others: hike in the woods, going barefoot next to the stream, coffee with a friend, a nap (!), surfing Ravelry for hours without worrying about finding something to knit, and buying yoga blocks.

Interestingly, I’ve also been strangely productive for going through a time of grieving and napping. Weird? Maybe, but maybe I’ve started putting all the energy I used to focus on telling myself to be better to a good use. Finally!

I have a feeling this month’s challenge might stick with me a little longer than April. And while stopping watching TV did open my eyes to a lot of things, I think it might be the last deprivation challenge I do for awhile.

I have a guest post over at one of my favorite blogs, One Too Many! It’s pretty raw, I’ll warn you, but I’m proud of it. I’d love it if you’d stop by and read it. You should probably read some of Lilly’s posts while you’re there too, because that girl can write. We’re swapping guest posts, so you’ll read one of hers here sometime as well.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kelly April 7, 2014 at 9:57 pm

I think the hardest thing for humans to do is self-reflection. Its hard to sit quietly and alone and really face one’s weaknesses. Its not easy to take responsibility for one’s life instead of blaming all one’s problems on parents or a shady past. But I do agree that truly understanding yourself makes for more compassionate, patient and kind people.
I would like to see a thirty day challenge that involved daily paying it forward, because I tend to like the thinking that taking the focus off of self and directing it to other people brings a ton of joy.

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