Last time I went through some of the pitfalls and downsides to a story addiction, especially a fiction addiction. Addictions of all sorts basically come down to this: Something else takes over our lives and gets in the way of our relationships to God, family, friends, and neighbors; gets in the way of our financial goals; gets in the way of how we spend our time; in the way of our health, physical, spiritual, and mental; and lastly, gets in the way of being the best person we were born to be. Me addicted to caffeine or staying up all night to watch six hour-long episodes of a drama I just have to finish, is not the best me. It’s a me that’s hyper, tired, cranky, and down due to lack of sunlight and sleep.
Addictions vary widely in how harmful they can be, however. A severe drug or alcohol addiction can immediately impact a person’s behavior and thinking, while something like too much caffeine, for most people takes a much larger dose and longer time period to show evidence of harm. The great thing about being human is that we have a lot of control in the choices we make in our lives. We can choose to change an addiction from something negatively affecting us, to a positive pursuit. When it comes to story, for example, a young woman who spends her youth with her nose stuck in romance novels may one day be a best selling romance novelist. She still has that passion, but has turned into something she masters, not the other way around. This is why I call this blog A Life of Story, rather than An Addiction to Story. A passion for good stories leads to good things.
The biggest benefit of loving stories is that stories are largely the way humans connect. Though they may not say it, many people are delighted to have listeners and readers of the stories they want to tell. They are anxious to share, whether it’s the old man telling that big fish story one more time, or the mom pealing with laughter over the funny thing her toddler said. For teller and listener, this is a learning and bonding experience. Everyone has at least one great story to tell, as they say, but once one starts listening to people, really listening, one finds they are telling that story or parts of that story almost 24-7. That story is them in some way.
So many story addicts are also writers. This is great, they are attempting to turn their addiction into a good thing. Some are more successful than others, but nearly all simply find peace in writing down the stories they want to tell, often even if no one wants to read them. It’s a bonus if someone does want to read them, and the general public thus has reams and reams of stories both online and off to read, and often for free to boot.
Reading or watching stories, whether fiction or non, are also a great way for people to “travel” in their minds without actually physically traveling. It’s also a way to communication without actually directly interacting with the creators of the stories. We don’t think about it often, but it’s really quite an interesting phenomenon that I can read Crime and Punishment many years after Dostoevsky’s death and still be connecting with him and his thoughts. Some people may want to go see China, for example, and may never have enough money or opportunity to do so, but they can read stories about China, watch movies set in China or made by the Chinese film industry, and if they’re really adventurous they can make China a part of their own story by taking up Chinese cooking or dancing, or language skills. In my own love of Korean dramas and a previous addiction to Bollywood movies, I’ve picked up quite a few phrases in both Hindi and Korean. Stories area great way to learn knew skills or introduce oneself to a potential career or job.
Lastly, stories can be helpful in our spiritual lives. Most of the world’s religions have a creation or origin story to tell, and that directly impacts how a person sees the world. For me as Christian, I know that God created me, that he is a righteous and holy God who demands perfection, but also a loving God, who, when humanity failed to remain perfect, sacrificed himself, his own Son Jesus Christ as a payment for that sin. Instead of trashing the world entirely, God instead decided to save it by great pain and sacrifice on his part. I don’t begin to understand it, but I believe that it’s true because the Bible, tells this story of sin and redemption over and over and over again. This is God’s big fish story, and for believers in him, the greatest story ever told. Story addiction often causes me to sit down and read the Bible. I just want to read the story of Job or Esther or Daniel one more time. Jesus himself spoke in parables, fictional stories with a heavenly meaning or lesson. Our God is a great lover of stories, too, and it’s amazing that we can connect with him in that way, whether by reading the Bible or listening to it read in church. These stories tell us we’re not alone in our sin and weaknesses, that even the best of people, like the apostle Peter, still mess up, but that God is always there to give us a helping hand. Plus, he encourages us to not let the addictions rule us, to not give the devil a foothold, but to always hold firm to the truth. And the Truth is the greatest story ever told! I just think that’s pretty awesome for Christians to consider.
Prayer and living with purpose are the best ways to fight any addiction, or at least to turn it into a beneficial passion. We need a plan of action and spiritual support in that plan. In some cases we are simply too affected by the story or drug or whatever it is and our plan of action has to be to drop it entirely. I had to give up Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series at book 3 because all I was doing was reading, reading reading those books and it was exhausting and hard to focus on everything else in my life. I think story addiction is a kind of addiction that can be made into a passion and a pursuit rather than a monster ruling over me. Along with prayer, my plan of action as I get older is threefold: 1. Limit my consumption of fictional stories, either limit the time spent or be more discerning with the content. 2. Work on my own stories more. I love storytelling and have so many stories I want to tell, and sometimes my desire to read other people’s stories gets in the way of this. 3. Spend more time with people. Okay, this seems like it would counteract step 2, but all the steps work towards the same goal, staying away from addiction, and connecting with people is one of the best ways to do that. Step 2 is a little tricky, because I could very well become addicted to my own fictional stories, so that time, too, should be and must be limited. Oh, I should add a step 4: Always tell myself the truth. As in, it’s ten o’clock, put the book down, it’ll be there for you to read again tomorrow after you get plenty of sleep.