Synonyms for addiction are: dependency,craving, habit, weakness, compulsion, fixation, enslavement.
Addiction offers you escape into another world, a world that seems better, more exotic, more romantic, more dazzling, more…well, more everything than the ‘real’one that you inhabit.
Addiction makes you dependent on the said substance and makes it difficult for you to go without it, and if you do go without it, withdrawal tortures you with craving, distraction, apathy, emotional vacuum, physical discomfort.
Addiction takes over your life to the extent that every other relationship, goal, aptitude, desire, dream feels secondary to the bliss of loosing yourself in the other world, the netherworld.
Addicts do/could face difficulty adjusting with people, relationships, work, socialization, goals, time management, financial management.
I have come to this sad conclusion that in recent time, my relationship with books is exactly the one that a junkie has to the noxious substances.
The problem is, whenever you say, ‘ I am addicted to reading’, people go ‘awwwwww’ and nod their head up and down in admiration. When you say that you are a book junkie, either you sound like a self-important pretentious jerk, and/or you sound like you are asking for validation – of how smart, intense, intelligent, creative, self-sustaining you are.
Because hey, reading books is good, no? And reading a lot of books is better than good. I am sure this cultural reverence for books and reading dates from the time when only a few elite had access to written language. The literacy privilege across the world made sure that reading was hailed as an activity closest to achieving Moksha.
No matter how gritty, dark, cynical,hard-hitting, gut-wrenching, knowledge imparting and soul-enhancing the books are, like anything else in life,they are unhealthy for you IF you are dependent on them.
Reading has always been my number one passion/ hobby/ time pass/escapist route since childhood. And honestly, books have always influenced me like no life event or a person has ever.
But in recent years, it has taken over other aspects of my life.
I feel irritation at any perceived disturbance. From plumber to call from parents to project that needs to be finished to sleep. I feel resentful for time consumed by family or friends or work or sex if I am in the middle of a book. More often than not,I have neglected friendships, relationships, postponed important decisions, and screwed up with priorities.
Books have an extremely personal relationship with the reader. The connecting bridge of characters,events, and the narrative that stretches between the reader and the book is usually far more interesting and crisply edited than any connection in real life. Because books are structured texts that are constructed carefully by talented individuals, they always trump over the pace, minutae and mundanities of your own life. At least the safe/protected/undramatic life like mine.
Dependence on reading has slowly and steadily made me weary of being in the company of live/real people in real life. I prefer a character over a live person. I prefer a fictional place over the one I live in. I prefer the narrative of the book over the time in which I live.
This has sometimes led to not appreciating good things and people in my life. Because hey, I have never met anyone even remotely like a Prince Myshkin or a Hamlett or a Pandurang Sangvikar or a Naagveni. I have never experienced a soul exchange with Satan or a concentration camp, a walk across Tibet or hunt for serial killers of Ystad, a witty repertoire between Calvin and Hobbes or the bohemian artistry of the Impressionists. I have never been a detective, or a prisoner of war or a woman wronged in love, or a tortured artist or cheat or a king who has lost his kingdom. A lot of my thinking and my actions underwent a profound change after reading Gramci, while most of the real,committed communists tire me out when face to face. I have had moments of pure electricity coursing through my body while reading the so-called spiritual books, but words of wisdom of my acquaintances or seniors have gone over my head.
Not having a good book makes me cranky and obsessive about the next one. Increasingly, if I am immersed in a good book, I do not know what to talk to even with my husband, let alone friends and acquaintances. I panic and have palpitations if the book I am anticipating is late in reaching me, or worst, lost.
When I read I live in fiction-land, and I do not notice my own life. Since I have half-hearted attention to life, rather than learning from it, I make same disastrous mistakes over and over again. I can spot a murderer by second page or identify with Ivan Karmazov’s existential angst, but do not know how to comfort a stressed brother and have not been able to understand actual backstabbing that was harming me.
Reading too much has ruined my already fragile sleep, so much so, that I am tired and achy with watery eyes, unless, unless I am reading a book. Exhaustion quickly makes way for cynical nonchalance and lack of focus, which goes in the vicious circle:
Read till early hours-exhausted the next day-why the fuck do I need to file taxes- let me finish this awesome book first-sleep at five am- exhausted the next day but floating in the fictional world- cranky with people who puncture that bubble-snatch sleep the next night-wake up early and read- get irritable when you have to get onto work…and so on and so forth.
Suffice it to say, I have come to this conclusion that I have gone overboard with reading, and especially reading a certain kind of dark and slightly obsession-inducing literature. I have stopped enjoying a book and have started guzzling them. Like a chain smoker who no longer enjoys a cigarette but is sucking at them compulsively, hopelessly.
I want to enjoy reading and not be dependent on it. This OCD has got to stop.
So, I have decided to buy only 2 books a month and re-read only one book month, thus restricting my reading to total 3 books a month only. And to make up for the hours and hours available to me now, I have decided to exercise more- even bought new running shoes , hurrah, and sketch more and sleep properly. Watching movies could go the same route as reading, so no-no there.
I know when I am fully ’employed’ again, I am going to crave these weeks and months of undisturbed trip to lalaland that I have had last year. Hell, they have been the best part about this break. But to be honest with self, this is getting into little neurotic territory now. I have a brilliant schizophrenic person in my family, and so have no illusions or romantic notions about living in blurred realities. I want to be in control and I don’t want to be consumed by anything. Not even books.
So for now, shove the mental acrobatics a bit in the corner and focus on physical exercise.
Sounds like a good rehab plan.