Pulling the Plug

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been a TV addict for most of my life. When I was a child, we were the first on our block to get a television. I still have clear images of my dad watching “Perry Mason” and “Rawhide,” my mother tuning into her soap everyday at noon, and my sister swooning over Elvis when he appeared on Ed Sullivan. I remember that my preferences moved from “The Mickey Mouse Club” as a child, to “Dr. Kildare” and “Ben Casey” as a teen. The habit of turning to television to fill the lonely hours started very young, and it’s been a hard one for me to get away from. It’s still the main pastime for my mother, my six siblings and their families.

As a single parent, TV was often my social life…one of the few things I had energy for after working full-time. It became an activity that I could share with my son, a forum for discussion as we watched “Little House on the Prairie” or "The Wonderful World of Disney" together. Yet beneath my best reasoning for continuing the habit of watching the tube, I secretly wished that I could stop. I had a number of friends who never watched TV…who filled their lives with many other activities, and were never tempted to turn to television for entertainment. I envied them, wishing I had the courage to wean myself from what I was starting to view as an addiction.

There had been times I got away from the TV habit, for years at a time…especially during college and the early years of marriage. But given a chance, I’d easily slip into it again, feeling seduced by the chance to be distracted, entertained…numbed for hours at a time. But I noticed that whenever I traveled, I’d lose interest in my “addiction,” filled with the sense that there were more important things for me to be attending to. I’d swear that upon returning home, I’d find a way to continue with my “travel mind,” and rely less on watching TV. But once home, I’d slip back into familiar habits of feeling bored or lonely, turning to the tube, once again, to fill the empty spaces.

In the last several years, I came to loathe this addiction, and myself for not having the courage to change this wasteful habit. And since my life is devoted to helping people change for the better, I was ashamed to admit that I, the teacher, was unable to let go of my own addictive behavior. It bothered me that I did not feel congruent…I was teaching others about transformation, yet put off attending to my own. This awareness hung about like a dark cloud for many months, sucking vital energy from my heart and mind.

Then I went on another trip…a 2-week journey with my son, driving from San Francisco, CA to Portland, Oregon and back again. During that time, we had the opportunity to experience many beautiful terrains: mountains, farmland, forests, ocean beaches, waterfalls, rolling hills filled with orchards and vineyards. We listened to several audio books on our trip…stories of people who had traveled around the world by foot and by bicycle, and recorded their journeys. When we’d stop for the night, if a TV was on, I noticed my reluctance to watch it…as if it would ruin the magic that the natural world had filled us with. I realized then how much I hated my habit of watching TV, and worse, that I hated myself for doing it. In Eureka, California, on our way home, I decided I must stop this loathsome habit.

I called my sweetheart back home and told him my plan…when I returned, I wanted to have the cable disconnected. With the money we saved each month, we could create a travel fund. He agreed that this was a good plan. Since he’s always been one to take or leave TV-watching, it was no great loss to him. When I got home, I called the cable provider and had them pull the plug. We could still watch TV if we wanted, if we hooked it up to the antenna. But getting the cable disconnected was not enough for me. I rearranged the living room space where the TV is located. It had been standing on a large desk, like an altar, dominating the room with its presence. I removed that desk, placed the TV on a small cart and wheeled it into a corner. We can still watch TV when we like, but first the cart must be pulled out so the antenna can be attached. In other words, it’s somewhat of a chore now to watch the darn thing, so we don’t. It’s been several months since I made this change, and we haven’t turned the tube on once. Hallelujah!

What’s most interesting about this is that I can’t say I’ve missed the TV at all…for I haven’t felt the slightest inclination to turn it on. In fact, I dread the thought! I know that I will probably want to use the VCR as colder weather comes, but for now even the VCR stands quiet. What’s changed? I’ve been to few movies, I listen to the radio more often, and I’m reading more than before. Since I’m not glued to weekly program favorites, I’m more likely to attend community activities. I have more time to devote to my latest creative interest, making mosaics. I hope to devote more time to writing this winter, but have no intention of substituting internet cruising for the TV addiction I’ve finally let go of.

Best of all, I feel more congruent with my inner self…I’m no longer numbed for hours at a time by messages of questionable value. I’m being more selective about the images and messages that I attend to, and it feels like a very powerful change in my life. I’m curious to see what I can accomplish with all the extra hours of time I now have in my life. Everything seems more possible now…and I feel grand!

© 2002 Marybeth Bethel