Imagine a heroin addict; a complete slave to a drug which slowly withers away self and leaves a husk of a human that has forgotten any other way to live. In between uses, there is a slow build of desire until the next use. It is also not uncommon for an addict to lie, cheat, and steal for their next score. However, if we take the heroin away, before the Hollywood levels of withdrawals hit, there is a small window that is referred to as extinction burst. Our addict, now knowing that the precious drug is not available will lie and beg as never before in an attempt to satisfy the urge for the reward. This is a period of pure chaos, where self is a distant memory, and violence and destruction exist as means to end the pain of not having.
In my 12 hours of no media, I have been experiencing my own extinction burst. In my mind, there is a chaotic playlist of random jokes from comedians, movie clips, songs I haven’t heard in years, even dreams I forgot decades ago. Just like the heroin addict, this noise started as a small whisper, and has crescendoed into a maelstrom that has taken over any normal thought. I now intimately understand the cliché of ‘deafening silence.’
A most disturbing realization has surfaced, something I could have never imagined I would discover going into this self experiment. I have found that silence is uncomfortable not because of an addiction to noise, but rather that silence is a reminder that I am alone with myself. The reward of this noise is distraction from self. Being a personal trainer, the happiest parts of my day is being with clients, but today I realize that being with clients is joyous because my attention is where it needs to be: on the client, and not on me.
Being comfortable in your own skin is apparently easy if you don’t spend every second of the day there. And when it gets uncomfortable, I simply plug into a podcast and listen to someone tell me about their lives, instead of living mine. It makes sense, doesn’t it? Isn’t that the reason why politicians can get away with something as vague as ‘a better tomorrow’ because we hate ourselves today? The same reason that reality TV has blossomed so well during back to back recessions? The same reason people can’t afford health care, yet pick up a copy of their favorite tabloid to get their weekly fix of escape from self?
This experience has not been all bad. Quite the contrary. There have been moments of clarity I haven’t experienced in years; moments of pure grounding in reality, and a pure joy of being in my own skin, happy in silence. Still, just as the heroin addict, I now know that while the road is hard, there is light at the end of the withdrawal tunnel. But does the light represent a strong sense of self and havingness? Or does the light belong to an oncoming train of relapse? I’ve still got six more days to figure that one out.