by Jesse Daniels
Our demons crush us when we let them.
I’m a firm believer in Christ and Christianity. I don’t necessarily live my life like a Christian, but I believe in the God of the Universe. Now this isn’t a preachy, “do you have a minute to talk about our Lord and Saviour” moment. I’m not going to pretend like I’m scholared in my faith enough to do that without making a muckery of it. But I do believe I know a thing or two about being human, and about the baggage that inevitably comes along with that. I grew up a happy lower middle class life. I was blessed with a loving and strong rooted family. I was not blessed with the comforts of life that those more fortunate than I boast of. Don’t get me wrong. That was not a complaint by any means whatsoever. I am in absolute LOVE with my world and the place I’ve found in it. I’m simply expressing that I can empathize with hardship and the struggle with the demons that tend to tag along. I don’t think I look at demons as the traditional little red guys sitting on our shoulder, convincing us to be naughty. I feel like they choose to emulate every possible temptation and weakness we possess. They try every day to stop us from following our path, and strive to keep us lost.
So as I believe in the Light, I must also acknowledge the darkness.
Evil amongst humans is no scarcity. We pillage and absorb violently until the sponge of our obsession is limp and lifeless. We find new and creative ways to consume new and creative good feelings. We get SO GOOD at doing this, that we don’t even notice when hobby turns to habit, and when pastime turns to problem. Out of South Park of all places, this idea was driven into my head recently. I know, that’s a really weird place to have an epiphany. Yet as I mentioned, I’m a Christian, and I believe God plants seeds in our head in the least expected places. I’ll paint a picture for you with a little imagery. The kids of South Park elementary have all recently started playing the Terrance and Phillip mobile game. Stan’s father, Randy Marsh, is lecturing the kids about a Stan’s unhealthy obsession with it. This game involves micro transactions, flashing lights, achievements, leaderboards, and a false sense of purpose.
Sound familiar? It should.
I was hooked on a few games like this. Actually, hooked isn’t the proper term for it. Infatuated. Enamorated. Obsessed. The very root and meaning of this word was everything I was embodying. Of course, I’d play it off like nothing was actually wrong. “I just need to spin the local Pokestop, it’ll take a second” when I’m out on a nature walk, or “There’s a bonus Mario Kart quest right now, I CAN’T miss out!” in the middle of a movie. I had control of it. It was only little pockets of my day that I would give in. Just a brief second or pause in my attention to who and what is living and breathing right in front of me. Little pauses in my devotion to my relationships. Small slips back down the mountain I’m trying to climb. They never seem detrimental on their own, but collectively…they’re a landslide. Now you may be wondering if you’ve read this far how I’ve gone from talking about God, to South Park, to cell phones. What on earth is going on in this dude’s head? Keep your knickers clear of bunches, I’m getting there. The thought I (and Randy Marsh) want to provoke is this :
These mobile minigames aren’t fun. They are little flashing dopamine inducing bright lights that we try to compensate our demons with.
The SP episode actually goes along to explore the ideas behind these games. How humans are too adept at accessing things that provide us that good pleasurable feeling in our neurons. How we’ve gotten to the point where we become addicts. That isn’t a pretty word, but it’s the best description of our obsessions with our phones. Mini games. Likes on Instagram. Followers on Tik Tok. There’s a billion different ways we are getting fed exactly what we think we’re hungry for. There’s also a reason we feel less tired and more alive when we engage the world around us, as opposed to the one inside a brick in our hand. We put these virtual platforms on such undeserved pedestals every single day. And for what? They provide fleeting moments of joy, not lasting memory. I won’t speak for the readers, but I have never felt more fulfilled writing nothing, and I have never felt less accomplished after I’ve finished everything in a game or a show.
I’ll say that again.
I never felt more than when I wrote nothing, and I never felt less than when I watched everything.
I’m gonna go on a limb here and guess what the reason may be for this. When I would spend my days staring at a screen, be it computer, television, or cellular, I was not engaging the parts of me that made me feel alive. I was putting myself on auto mode, because it was easy, and it felt good. I was feeding this addiction and compensating for my own demons. Putting off things I really want to do in my life, because this couch is comfortable, and South Park is funny. What you don’t stop to think about is that when you become consumed by the simple pleasantries of life to the point of problem, you spoon feed your soul to your own personal demons. Depression. Sloth. Procrastination. Envy. Gluttony. Anxiety. Vices. Take your pick. There’s a reason why we turn to substances and distractions. It’s easy to fall under the weight of our demons. There’s a reason in that space, we’ll look for anything else to focus on instead of the problems right in front of us.
There’s also a reason we start to eventually feel better when we sit in the darkness and figure it the fuck out.
Stop blaming the screens. I’ve seen all the articles and studies, just like you have. No need to go off on a tangent thinking I don’t know that we’ve gone from consumer to consumption. I recently started working for TELUS, and my social media feed is full of ads for everything I sell now. Almost as if I spend a lot of time on certain websites, like I need to reference them for my vocation…weird. I know that the reason I get every notification about a concert coming to town is because I’m a “like” slut for anything musically related. I know why I’ll be thinking about Panago right around dinner time and all of a sudden, there’s an ad for SkipTheDishes on Instagram. The algorithms may be smart, but they’re also kinda dumb. However, throughout all of this hypnotization that leaves us pointing the finger at the device that REQUIRES our fingers…who is the real culprit? My screen time app wasn’t reporting critically insane levels because my phone decided to go into autonomous mode by itself. My stories weren’t scrolling themselves with the occasional doubletap. Your candies aren’t being crushed on their own….or however that game works. It’s me. You. Us. Humans. We are not the victims. We are the problem.
We’re also the solution.
Facing your demons without the help of substance or distraction is the easiest and hardest thing you’ll ever do in life. First you have to figure out the identity of both sides: what am i hiding from, and what do I keep running to? This covers so much more than just screen time. Do you spend too much time at the gym because looking good helps you forget that you go home alone? Do you post Instagram photos half naked because the likes you get make you feel like some version of popularity and fame in your mind? Do you brag about your stocks on Facebook to prove to others that your smart idea was actually a good one? Why do you need anyone else’s validation? You’re the rich one! If I offended you with any of these examples, I apologize, but that was the point. Opening your eyes up to a personal problem is often like cleaning out a messy crawlspace. Uncomfortable, confining, and there’s usually things there you don’t want to look at. I sure didn’t like looking at my own unhealthy habits and addictions. Still don’t!
I’m trying to stop looking for the solution, and start living the solution.
I’m the one that can put the phone down. Turn the TV off. Put the computer to sleep. I’m the one that can stop the distracting, and start the healing. I recently had one of those eye opener moments in my life. I’m not proud of my actions. My distraction came before my reasoning. I let my problems reach boiling point. The woman that fills my life up with SO much beauty and happiness had met with the unforgiving sting of frying pan oil spit cooking us dinner. I should have been present and rushed to her aid, and instead I had to finish a battle against another Pokemon trainer on my phone. This resulted in a quarrel that I felt qualified to win. I used all the same excuses. “I was almost done, just a couple more clicks. It’s no big deal. I’m not putting my phone first.” I KNEW how stupid these words sounded. I knew I was digging myself a deeper pit. I felt I needed to take a pause and go do some soul searching. So I took a walk after dinner. I walked around and sat in my head with my problems. I thought about why I was trying to fix my feeling of emptiness with more emptiness. Sounds about as rational as Trump’s political campaign, right? So I deleted every game off my phone that was sucking my soul out. Profiles, purchases, levels, characters. Everything. Cancelled the $6 monthly subscription that I had rationalized to be worth it because “I enjoyed the game”. I was tired of making excuses for my addictions. I was tired of letting my virtual life be a place where I could procrastinate from my real one. Now, I’m not saying go delete your Instagram if you spend too much time on it. I’m not telling you to stop paying for that Smule subscription if you sing more karaoke than a country bar on a Friday. I had to remove the temptation from my life in order for me to be able to put my life in perspective. I have an addictive personality. I chose to own that fact and adapt to it.
I stopped letting my demons win.
Now of course, I still watch TV. I still play video games quite a bit. I’m not a monk. I believe that we need to take small steps back up our mountain, not flying leaps. Wind is a fickle bitch, and so is life…it can blow you way off course. Better to find small victories than hope for great ones sometimes. My small victory was that I no longer have a place to turn my brain off for 5-10 minutes when I want to put off life. I want to be a writer, not a professional gamer. I want to make music, not catch every Pokemon. I’m 31 years old, and by no means is my life coming to a close anytime soon (I hope), but one day it will. I don’t want to wake up one day in the twilight of my life, look back knowing my only achievements were arthritis from a lifetime of little flashing lights on my phone, and a library of television show memories and jokes in my head. I want to look back on old times from the porch of my house and smile, knowing I was good at livin’, and lovin’, to quote Matthew McConaughey. Now here’s a question from me.
If you think you aren’t any good at that thing that sets your soul on fire, first ask yourself: how much time do I give to my passion, and how much time do I give to my distraction?”
I sat here for an hour or so writing this. It paints quite the vivid picture of how my scatter brain works and creates ideas. It also made me feel more accomplished than any likes on social media or achievements in a video game ever will. It gave me the time to spend in my own head, and my own space. It allowed me to explore my feelings, and meditate on how I feel about them. There’s a difference there, you know. Having feelings, and how you feel ABOUT them. Reflecting like this on yourself is what levelling up is like in real life. After I’m done writing it, I’m gonna make some breakfast, grab my headphones, and go on a nature walk outside. My achievements earned will be personal growth, a Vitamin D bonus, and an oxygen induced dopamine buff, not a flashing light farce. It’s a beautiful day to be something more my friends. Do you wanna keep compensating? Or do you want to start cultivating.
Our destinies complete us when we let them.