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Turn Off, Tune Out, Take Charge

Breaking an addiction is never easy. But when reality TV becomes your reality, it's time to change the channel.

It started out as mere entertainment. Isn’t that the way most addictions begin? But in my case, it wasn’t an occasional glass of wine, a feel-good pill or a drag on a friend’s cigarette that got me hooked. There was no substance of choice at all, really. Instead, it was the quiet lull, the familiar situations and the drone of conversations I could overhear without guilt that drew me in.

So I’m standing up and confessing right now. Hi, I’m Mary. And I’m addicted to TV.

Now I know what you’re thinking. When it comes to addictions, TV is not anything major. It’s not life-threatening. It doesn’t hurt your family. Heck, it doesn’t even cost much (as long as you already have Comcast Triple Play or some similar package deal going). It didn’t even make the list of the Ten Most Common Addictions  according to the good folks at Brainz.org range from alcohol (#1) to gambling (#4) to sex (#8) and work (#10).

But I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. TV is threatening my life—at least, the life I want to have, the life around me I want to be a part of. It’s sucking time away from more noble pursuits. I plan around my favorite programs, tape what I have to and put off conversation until the commercials.

I can’t even tell you how it started. When I was a little child, we didn’t watch much TV at all. Of course, that could have been because there wasn’t much TV to watch. I grew up a bit before children’s television hit its stride—yes, I’m talking pre-Sesame Street, long before the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon became household fixtures. There were all of three channels, which meant choices were limited—and so was my TV time.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the old kiddie shows coming out of Philadelphia. I grew up all the local programming favorites – Gene London and his artist pad, Sally Starr and her Popeye Theatre (which featured liberal doses of The Three Stooges, for good measure) and Pixanne and her magical forest. I was Our Gal Sal for Halloween when I was about 3. My mom even took me to the studio so I could appear on the Happy the Clown show as a preschooler. Happy was anything but, the birthday cake was made of cardboard, and I didn’t win any prizes. Still, I always thought my first media experienced trumped the time Dickory Doc announced my sister’s birthday between cartoons on his show.

Anyway, TV got better as I got older, but at first I was too busy jumping rope, riding my bike or chasing the bug man truck to notice. My parents were pretty strict about having us play outside, so TV was more of a treat than a regular part of our day.  After school, we watched an episode of Kimba the White Lion, Astro Boy or Speed Race before doing homework. That was pretty much it.

When did TV become a problem for me? It's pretty recent, though I can't say exactly when. I just know there have been nights when I sit down to watch an episode of Jeopardy! and not getting up until the Action News theme starts. I try to justify it to myself by folding laundry, clipping coupons or writing out bills while watching. But I’m still giving up hours to the almighty tube. And it’s got to stop.

So I decided that, for the month of October, I am going to limit my television viewing. I will be allotted a certain number of hours a week, which I can use any way I like. But that’s that. I will have to budget my TV allowance the same way my kids do their monetary one. Some of it will be spent the same way each week. After all, I’m not about to give up Survivor cold turkey in the middle of a season. But I will have to be more conscious about my viewing. No more watching an episode of Law and Order just because I’m waiting for the show that comes on after it. (Guilty as charged, officer.)

I’m a bit nervous about making this change. Will Mercedes or Rachel get the solo? Will Jenna and Ethan make it to the pit stop? Will my laundry ever be folded again? But I need to take a step toward the ultimate goal of living life more purposefully, of moving away from those things that suck away my time and instead devoting those hours to the things that actually bring me joy. 

It’s time to throw down the remote and find those things. For me, the tribe has spoken.

Debbie MacAdams October 03, 2011 at 03:17 AM
Good luck Mary! I say the same thing to my family. If it's not the TV, it's the computer. Oh, and let's not forget about the cell phone (Facebook and Tweet) Too much technology and not enough family time interacting. Enjoy finding more time for yourself, family and friends. I'm sure you'll feel less stressed and happier once you break the ties that bind. Best wishes!
Tim Dixon October 03, 2011 at 02:25 PM
Maybe now you can write that book you always dreamed of. How about a woman, with so much time on her hands because she has given up TV, she plans torrid and salacious ways to torture and murder her unsuspecting, TV watching neighbors. Then she sells the plans to a major studio who turn it into a weekly drama starring Denzel (his television return since St Elsewhere) and she wins 10 Emmys ...although, she never watches a single episode. BTW..Don't worry about Ethan and Jenna..they're out!

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