I recently took a writing class at Multnomah University. In the class we were given the assignment to write a confession story. This story, from my life, is what immediately popped into my mind to tell.
My previously promising future appeared muted from the perspective I had on my life, while sitting in my dimly lit living room. I sat with a remote control firmly planted in my hand and my body nearly engulfed in my overstuffed garage sale couch. I was barely out of college, depressed and hiding in my apartment, which offered a much needed refuge.
Daily, after fulfilling my work obligations, I exited the gray outdoors of Portland, Oregon, to seal myself into the solitude of my apartment. The cool dampness of a late winter had caused a long-term chill to seep deep into my bones. I was paralyzed by the pressure of supporting myself, the mounting responsibilities of growing up and the terror of being stalked. Even the little stressors of life and the cheery voices of well-meaning friends threatened to push me over the edge. The walls of my residence gave me the feeling of a temporary sanctuary.
Each day when I shut the door behind me, the stagnant air of my apartment was almost comforting; it coated my frail nerves with familiarity. I had no roommates. The solitude bothered me and it didn’t, because even in a crowd I felt alone. I responded to the constant fear like a potato bug and pulled into myself. I chose to roll up on my couch and wait for the fear to vanish.
I was in a state of indecision as I wrestled with what I wanted to be when I grew up. My high-stress outside sales job which required self-motivation had left me burned out. In addition, despite my mood I daily was required to be personable with strangers. My own expectations that I would further my education were in stark contrast to my obligation to meet my bills month to month. I felt numb and overwhelmed at the same time. The added anxiety from looking over my shoulder to see if my stalker had located my current residence was the final excuse I needed to throw a gala-sized pity party.
Just months earlier, I had considered myself too busy for TV; watching was an activity I had considered mundane. My relationship with TV changed when life overwhelmed me. During this span of time, I craved the break away from my troubles that I found in the electronic lives of strangers. As much as possible, I ignored ringing phones and invitations to spend time with real friends. I pretended to be gone even when the doorbell rang. I didn’t feel safe, and that gave me reason to cocoon myself into my apartment.
On the first day of my great reality escape, I had come home from work and sat immobilized on my couch. I found the silence deafening. So the next day I covered the quiet with the sounds from the TV. I spent at least a half dozen sunless Portland months curled up on my couch. I lived as if an electronically handcuffed to my couch during my every free moment.
The TV literally sucked the will to move out of my body. I spent hours watching the scripted lives of other people in an alternative world. Their fictitious lives were appealing as they offered an escape from my own truths. I sat there, stationary with little energy for anything healthy or productive. My hours slurped up into one-side relationships with TV characters. Moment by moment my ambition drained from me and seeped into the cushions of my couch.
I had no energy. My desire to exercise vanished, and my willpower to eat healthy followed. As the months passed, the results of my apathy began to show on my body as added pounds. Self-loathing set in. In a matter of months I had gone from athlete to couch potato and from health food nut to junk food junkie. Not liking myself set my tail spin into hyper drive.
Each night when the eleven o’clock news came on, I wondered, “Where did the day go?” In the stagnation of my apartment, I accomplished little. My to-do list accumulated undone tasks. Depression oozed into all my empty spaces as my solitude sucked me deeper into my self-imposed prison. I was successfully escaping my reality, but I was vanishing into a dark and lonely world.
I left the couch when I had to, but I rushed back to its safety as soon as the obligations of my job were finished. I left the TV on when I slept, becoming almost afraid to be completely alone with the deafening silence. The TV covered all the outside little noises that ignited my fears that I had been found once again. Rather than cope, I allowed the racket of the TV to occupy my mind in order not to hear my own thoughts. I avoided as much human contact as possible and played hooky from the previously active social life.
Despite my overall withdrawal from life I was drawn each week to church for Sunday service. My pastor was preaching a series on the idols that we set up in our lives. I felt confident that I had overcome those obstacles, until his sermon addressed electronic idols. I squirmed in my seat, vowed to cast off my idol and then promptly went home to watch TV. My habits were deeper than I had thought when I had contemplated my electronic idols from the comfort of my pew. In the solitude of my apartment I mentally beat myself up, feeling out of control and powerless.
One day as I sat watching a slow-moving police chase on TV, I suddenly realized the absurdity of my habit. Right in the middle of the O.J. Simpson car chase, I unplugged my TV, threw it into the closet and walked away. While the world sat riveted by one of the most famous police car chases in history, I cleaned my apartment, organized my to-do list and picked up my neglected life. In the span of someone else’s attempt to evade authority, I finally submitted to the ultimate authority of my life, and, leaning on His power, broke the locks on my self-imposed electronic prison cell.
Today if I sit in front of the TV for more than an hour I feel restless – as if fearful that sitting still that long will steal my momentum in life. The time I could spend lost in the TV I now spend reading, writing, participating in the lives of others, striving toward goals and living life out loud. The time lost was long ago, but now I’m making up for it every day.
How about you? Could you identify with any aspect of this story?