Let me begin by emphasizing that this is a personal journey of realization. I am not condemning reading. I just wanted to put into words my experiences, in hopes of finding betterment. Anyway, here goes.
Ever since I can remember, my life has been entangled with stories and books. From childhood bedtime readings with my mom of princesses and evil witches; to discovering Wonderland with pretty pictures of Alice, Tweedledee and Tweedledum; to soaring into the sky to find Neverland with Peter and Wendy; to finally traipsing on my own, with a dictionary in hand, as I explore pictureless books about the Wizarding World and Narnia, and to the present, wading through different lives through different eyes inside different books.
Indeed, I have found comfort and solace in reading fiction: the ultimate escapism. But I guess in time, my reasons for reading took quite a dark turn. Before, in my innocent youth, I would read because of utter fascination and curiosity, wanting to learn new things. I would read because the experience felt magical and I would bask in amazement and awe. Reading introduced me to hundreds of alternate realities that made me see the world I live in in a different light, made me understand the truths and falsehoods. It filled my mind with insurmountable treasures, I hope to keep forever.
As I grow older, I feel pretty much the same about reading. But in addition, it became my refuge from the harsh realities of life. Reading became a sort of anchor, that keeps me in place whenever the tides of life threaten to sweep me away and when it all feels too much. Whenever I want to forget, I read. Whenever I want to avoid my problems, I read. Whenever I feel stressed, I read.
For quite a time, it works. I become quickly uplifted and could go on about life refreshed and born anew. It was also through reading that I developed my love for writing — expressing myself through strings of words that builds universes around me. I became addicted. But it can only go so far.
I realized that reading was actually toxic for me. I get so lost in this dream-like state that I refuse to be settled back in my own true world. The moment I close a book, everything would come crashing in. Every problem I avoided, every darkness I try to push back using pages of a book, lash out to me by tenfold. Reading is not a catharsis, as I believed it to be. I became so dependent on these fictional characters, thinking of them as friends, fooling myself to be a part of their fantasy, not knowing that I’ve been neglecting my reality.
And I know that this must a slap-in-the-face to my fellow readers, and for that, I apologize. But the longer I read, the better I see what it has become for me. It’s not reading per se that is the problem. It’s how I use it to put up walls and prevent people, emotions, life, and reality to come in, instead of using it to connect with the world around me. It’s how I use it as a cage to trap me in, instead of how I intended it to be my wings. I didn’t know exactly when reading for me changed from momentary escapism to complete seclusion and avoidance. It’s unhealthy, I know.
And it hurts. It’s painful to know that I somehow turned this great wonder of life into a weapon that stabbed myself in the back, leaving me at a loss of direction.
But in life, we need to go forward. And so, I am learning—slowly learning to love reading again, in its purest form, untainted by my personal hoard of demons and unhindered by my yearning to float away in the abyss.