Nearly everyone is addicted to something, and probably more than one thing, whether it’s tea or chocolate or cigarettes or booze or crossword puzzles or The Archers or running five miles a day. Or of course the Internet in all its many guises, not least social media. I’ve never had a Twitter account and wouldn’t dare open one: I know I’d constantly be tweaking my tweets. In the pre- and post-referendum days I could feel myself sliding into a serious Facebook addiction: reading article after article on Brexit and its ramifications, more articles on the state of the Labour party, friends’ opinions (everybody seemed to have one) about the situation, not to mention all the other things that people post, like photographs, poetry successes, funny or sad little anecdotes about their lives, and pointless quizzes that tell you how much you know about British (sic) culture or the geography of the North American continent – oh, and poems, which I have to confess I haven’t always read, as it gets a bit depressing when I’m not writing them myself. For a while I’d spend hours a day, getting more and more involved and wound-up inside, pulled back to the computer as though I’d been tied to it by elastic strings and couldn’t move away without being pinged back again.
Eventually it eased off. Since then the addiction has surfaced sporadically, more like an outcrop of spots than a full-blown acne rash (to mix a few metaphors). I’ve noticed that the times when it does tend to surface are those when I’m feeling unhappy or anxious or upset and want to get away from it: to immerse myself in a brightly coloured, endlessly compelling virtual world. What it gives me is a way of connecting with people I may hardly know in real life, a community far larger than – and in some ways a substitute for – the community around me; but it’s also a never-ending source of distraction from what I really am (or could be) thinking and feeling. Which may be painful. For me, as for a lot of people, the feelings around Brexit were troubling and painful, so what better way of dealing with them than by funnelling them into comment after comment on article after article, or diverting myself from them with the myriad snatches of entertainment that other people post?
It would be disingenuous to say that the feelings I’ve been trying to get away from are only about the political situation. Not that what’s happening in the world isn’t important, but alongside the drama of external events most of us are also living through the drama of our own personal lives. Over the past few months I’ve been trying to process a situation that isn’t life-threatening or even all that terrible, by many people’s standards, but that for me has touched into some of the deepest places of pain and loss. Some of the time, through meditation and Focusing – less through writing – I’ve been able to open to the pain, even welcome it, but a lot of the time I’ve avoided sitting in meditation, choosing instead to busy myself with chores or – yes – start checking emails and Facebook. And it doesn’t feel good. The pain doesn’t go away; it just burrows its way underground and emerges as headaches or tension or that wound-up, overstimulated feeling that comes from too much hopping around from clip to clip and site to site, especially if I’ve been drinking tea as well – another escape.
At those times when I am able to sit with it the pain may be intense, so that I’m not able to stay with it for very long, but I’m there’s also the relief that comes from no longer running away. And, as I continue to let it be there, I sometimes come home again to the sense of the benevolent space around the painful feeling, and an acceptance of it that can deepen until it sometimes stops being ‘pain’ and becomes simply a feeling or sensation that in the moment doesn’t have a name. I can’t say that always happens, but when it does the relaxation and even wellbeing is unmistakable. In fact I could say that in that sense feeling bad feels good: the more fully I can meet it, the more fresh and alive it is.
And of course it isn’t always like that. Sometimes it really is too much, and sometimes an anodyne seems to be the best solution, especially if I have things to get on with and people to see. But I know that in the end what eases the pain best is facing it, not Facebooking it.