It’s March and I saw the Oscars are coming up. There was a time when I anticipated the Academy Awards like a football fan does the Super Bowl. Year round I discussed and debated choices in actors, directors, storylines, production qualities and so on with fellow film buffs. I made decisions and predictions, and awaited the big day. I saw every film nominated, read entertainment articles, and reviewed reviews.
Many times I watched the Academy Awards with friends and we whooped and hollered in a manner that rivaled any Super Bowl Party. Chips and dips, wings and pizza, and plenty of alcohol too. There wasn’t a party for me that didn’t have alcohol.
Back in those days, my 20s, I was in active alcohol addiction and I could really obsess over things. When I wasn’t consumed by movies or getting wasted, I was pouring over a relationship, a job, conspiracy theories, a local murder trial, a musical band, pop trend, an ex, or my own self perceived awfulness. I was obsessed with obsessing and it took almost all my mental energy and time. Movies in particular though were a big one for me.
It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert, they say, and my movie watching obsession put me well on the way to being an expert at ‘suspension of disbelief,’ which regrettably became a skill that bled into all aspects of my life.
My ritual was simple: turn down the lights, settle in to my theater seat or couch at home, and transform into just a head with eyes and ears to take it all in. No breaks. No interruptions. I rarely ate snacks or sipped on a drink during a movie. For all intents and purposes, I checked out for that two hours, “dead to the world.”
I’m now 9 years sober and with some distance and recovery from that era of my life, I can see that I didn’t just have a alcohol problem. I had a dealing with the present reality problem.
I went to the theater every week, it was not unusual to go two or three times. Now granted, movies were around four bucks back then making theater-going a lot easier, but movie watching for me was like a part time job. Funny, because I had a part time job. I worked at Blockbuster Video, which meant I took home a lot of rentals too. I was eventually fired for drinking on the job, but I never equated that to alcoholism till the folks in rehab with me pointed it out.
There were many, MANY things in my life that needed my attention such as school, managing money, relationships, but as long as my mind was running away with Hollywood’s latest, I didn’t have to deal with bills, plummeting self esteem, or following through with promises to my friends and family. I refused to see the Bigger Picture of my life, which was failing miserably at the box office.
Today with streamed TV, binge watching is just as escapist as any alcohol bender. Holing up for 48 hours with Netflix is a little extreme to be justified as “self care”. The obvious difference between alcohol and a weekend lost to the several seasons of a tv show is you’re not driving while intoxicated, robbing people to support your addiction, sleeping with strangers, etc. The repercussions are not nearly as dramatic or illegal but the similarity is an escape from present reality. It’s avoidance and an unsustainable coping method. However I know for some, this is a planned escape and all responsibilities have been met and accounted for. I wouldn’t call that binging though, that’s a staycation.
I’ve wondered if enormous blocks of screentime are any different than our 18th century ancestors busting out the latest Jane Austen novel for a daylong read under the ole Oak tree? Is it different because it’s a book and readers distract with the mind’s eye? The cows still need to be milked, water needs to be fetched, and that pewter is not going to polish itself.
In recovery, I have a much wider variety of interests. I’m not so singularly focused on one hobby. I’m also more active in taking care of my overall health and interacting appropriately with the people around me. I can still harken back to those familiar obsession skills when I need to research something like an aspect of my daughter’s education or when learning how to make really excellent baguettes. It’s a joy to lose myself in an art project or yard work. Luckily now I have the sober presence to bring myself back to reality and responsibilities when it’s time. (I’d like to give a special thank you to my mobile phone alarms.) I’m not abandoning my loved ones anymore, or making my situation worse by ignoring red flags with my finely honed suspension of disbelief.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect, I still procrastinate responsibilities from time to time and get sidetracked by distractions like planning the ultimate day trip in ridiculous detail or pouring over Covid statistics. Most recently I became a tad emotionally unstable from listening to too much podcast coverage of the war in Ukraine. Recovery here means balance – a little work, little play – balance, constantly and annoyingly so, because I wish that I could just let my mind go where it wants with no consequences instead of having to pump the brakes all the time.
I watch movies in moderation now, which is something I can’t do with alcohol. (It’s complete abstinence when it comes to booze.) I’m more selective with my feature length presentations, and like I mentioned, I’m busy doing other things that interest me more then sitting in front of a screen. Half the time, I’m just as fully entertained by the two minute trailers that I don’t even need to watch the whole film. I can snack on these little bite sized stories and then get back to regular life. I enjoy the periphery of Hollywood, the headlines, the trends, the styles, a dash of celebrity gossip, but I don’t dive in and submerge myself anymore.
Today I am the writer, producer, director, and star of my own life. I have great appreciation for my cast and crew, the storytelling and style, and I am completely intrigued with the ever unfolding plot. Honestly, it‘s an honor just to be nominated and I’d like to thank the Academy, and my higher power for being here.
Jenny Hasted is a grateful person in long term sobriety and founder of the Cecil County Recovery Sangha. She lives alongside the Chesapeake with her family.
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