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Putting Down the Phone to Face Life's Terms (I Don't Want to)

Welcome to this week's Wednesdays with Wendy!
by Wendy Bradford

This week I wrote on my own blog about needing to put down my phone and step away from my laptop—because my kids have begun telling me to do so. I knew I needed to make some painful changes. Over the 24 hours that I had decided to remove my phone from my face, and not run to the laptop the minute we walked in the door from the playground, I got a taste of how difficult this will be—my hand kept moving to my phone in my pocket; I was anxious not be able to check social media having posted something earlier that day; a peak at the time became a scroll through Facebook that I didn’t intend. It is clear to me I have a problem seeking distraction from my thoughts and feelings—and importantly, I’ve had the time to think about why this is so.

In my twenties and thirties, I spent time in treatment and recovery for eating disorders, which I’ve also written about here. I have a long history of obsessive compulsive disordered behavior around other issues as well. It is all related, I believe strongly, to a painful need for control and a profound fear of all that we cannot. There is a saying among addicts that we have trouble with “life on life’s terms.”

This is because life’s terms are often awful. Or at best, are unpredictable. Peaceful living, meditative living, conscious living all happen “in the moment.” That, we learn, is the key to being happy. And I agree. But we are not built to live in the moment—we plan our lives as if we have many moments ahead of us, don’t we? If we believed our happinesses, our marriages, our families had numbers on their days we wouldn’t bother with the hard work of it all. Yet they have invisible stamps. We cannot stop it, know it, control or change any of it. And this, for people like me—prone to distraction and addiction, in need of relief from the anxiety of living—is the hardest business of life.

Sitting with my children at a local restaurant for dinner last night, a time I would have been checking my phone, or posting cute pictures to Instagram, I felt the intensity of our family—the sharing of French fries, the coloring of underwater scenes on the white paper covering the table, the exhaustive giggling over making bubbles in water. That too is life’s terms. I have trouble with the good parts too. Walking to school with my five-year-old twins, being peppered with questions from my son about how cement is made, where water comes from, how construction workers get all the dirt, is life’s terms. Returning from that walk to read of another mother burying her three year old, is life’s terms.

I don’t know why social media and the numbing action of switching among websites help to keep my thoughts—the hard thoughts—far enough away, but they do momentarily. And as I go through other people’s pictures and comments on my phone, and my kids are asking me to play games or “who is that?” or “can I have something to eat?” I get angry with them for piercing my numbness. I push back at not only all the things that have to get done—dishes, dinner, homework help—but at having to deal with life’s terms that, while captured at a safe distance in friends’ online posts and photographs, are waiting in my children’s impatient faces.

Not everyone has to put down his or her phone; I don’t think parents should never look at their phones while they are with their kids. I am seeing though, that I need to put some tough rules into place: I have a difficult time enjoying life because of my anxiety—and my phone is too easy and too cheap a way out of that anxiety, and away from my children in front of me.

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