Timing and Recovery

by B. Ruth Rinehart
note: this piece is quite dated: 1996.

It started on Labor Day weekend last year, when Lora and I were driving to Dallas to visit my mother. Just this side of Waco, the timing belt broke and we had to come back to Austin, and have the car towed back.

While the car was in the shop getting the timing belt replaced, I decided to have my bicycle tuned up a bit, so that I could start riding to work on Ozone Action days. I had that done one evening, and the next day I found out that the timing belt had bent my valves, and basically my car was worthless.

It was opportune timing, though, you see, because I had my bike fixed and ready to go, and I only live 3 miles from work, so I started riding my bike to work most days. And as bad as it was, the car dying like that, I got this gift of riding my bike every day.

Riding the bike, I can hear the birds singing, smell the fresh mown grass, see the flowers and landscaping people put so much care into, get to know the neighborhood.

I never would have ridden down this street if it weren't for the timing belt breaking. Right in my own neighborhood, on Richcreek Drive, is a building owned by the AISD for professional development. One of the programs it offers is the Reading Recovery Program. Let me say that again. The Reading Recovery Program.

I had always known I was different. And there are all these recovery programs out there, 12-step programs that have helped so many people put their lives back together, recover from the ravages of addiction and obsession. Of course, Alcoholics Anonymous was the first, and has helped so many thousands of people recover from drinking, and now you can get help with so many problems, overeating, sex addiction, gambling.

And now I know there's a program for me ... a program to recover from obsessive reading.

They asked me questions to let me know if I had a problem or not ...

Did I ever hide my reading? I was hiding my reading by the time I was 8 years old, with a flashlight under the covers in my bedroom.

Have I ever missed work due to obsessive reading? The Clan of the Cave Bear completely took over my life, and kept me in the breakroom and bathroom because I couldn't tear myself away from it. I almost lost my job because I just couldn't work!

The question that really got me, though, was: Once I started, once I had read that first syllable, could I predict my behavior? Could I control when I would stop? Could I read just one chapter?

NO! I couldn't. I would tell myself again and again, this time it will be different, this time I'll just read one chapter! But again and again, I would be demoralized and wretched, worn down from lack of sleep because I couldn't put the book down, and STILL unable to stay away from the newspaper in the morning.

I've come to realize how I've organized my whole life around this disease: my jobs have almost all been in the print media. Newspapers, magazines, books. I'm doing technical manuals again! And look who I've fallen in love with, an editor! (David and I actually worked at the Dallas Times Herald, on different floors, in 1984. Is this co-dependency?)

It has to do with escaping reality of course. I was reading about life instead of living it. I have been in denial about this for a long, long time. I've tried controlling it. I thought content was the problem, so I tried switching. I was reading so much fiction, and I thought that was escaping reality, so I switched to non-fiction, thinking that would bring me back to real life. But it didn't matter, it was the same thing. It didn't matter whether it was a book of essays, the morning newspaper, or the back of the cereal box. It was the reading itself that I couldn't stop.

Our vacation that summer, to Colorado, is telling. Here we were, at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, one of the natural wonders of this country, almost as big as the Grand Canyon. And the river is rushing a mile below, and the wind is carrying eagles in its whispers, and the wild flowers are clinging to the rocks, and what am I doing? Reading a National Parks Service brochure DESCRIBING the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River, instead of EXPERIENCING the Canyon itself!

I can't tell you how self-destructive this has become, what hell I've put myself through physically. If you could see me you would understand. I'm legally blind now ... the lenses on my glasses are incredibly thick. Because I haven't been able to get the reading under control.

Alcoholics Anonymous has a pamphlet with the 20 questions, similar to these, to help you see if you have a problem with drinking. Of course, we can't have literature in our program. We've gone to graphical representations of the 20 questions.

I bought my first computer back in 1984. Of course, the operating system was DOS, and it was menu-driven and comfortable to me. And that's why I say this is truly a story about timing. Because it was September 1st, 1995 that the timing belt broke in my car, and that was only one week after August 24th, the release date of Windows 95. Of course, you know that Windows 95 is all about killing DOS, and moving the world into a system of graphical representation instead of word commands.

I'm stunned at the timing of this all ... no car, riding the bike, finding the Reading Recovery Program, and the whole computer world moving away from words into graphical representation of ideas. I'm very moved at the sensitivity of Bill Gates in this regard. I didn't realize he was a spiritual leader.

You know, this is just my story, one person's story. I wanted to tell you here online, because since you are reading this, I feel sure that I'm not alone. So look into yourself, and ask the question: Am I powerless over the printed word?

If I've helped just one person, then my experience won't be wasted. I thank you for your time and welcome you to join me in my recovery from reading.

© 1996 by B. Ruth Rinehart

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