Binge-Watching Took Over My Life

I needed an intervention.

Woman Binge watching tv nomadsoulphotos, leolintang, Konstantin Pelikh | Canva

“Are you writing today?” A text from a friend pings on my phone.

“Yep,” I text back. “Butt in chair. Setting my timer for an hour.”

Writing is what I tell her I plan to do, but I’m lying; to my friend and myself. I know as soon as I get home from dropping the kids off at school, my addiction will take hold, and doing anything other than feeding it will be out of the question. There’d be no writing getting done. Not that day.


The addiction I’m speaking of lured me down its dark alley in 2007 when I first experimented with Don Draper — the suave, womanizing, booze-slinging protagonist of Mad Men. I remember trying to convince myself I was in control, that I could stop watching any time. It was that long-ago, pre-historic era before streaming platforms were a thing and before the ruthless dealer opened up shop in Canada.

Netflix strolled into town in 2010 offering rock-bottom prices for top products. I mainlined the zombie-killing Rick Grimes — a new kind of high. The Walking Dead pulled me ever deeper into my addiction. Then came Walter White. I had resisted him for years. I thought I was too pure to pollute my mind with a series about meth production, but my fellow users assured me he’d be a trip of a lifetime. One hit and I was hooked.


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I binged on Breaking Bad until not one episode remained. I spiraled into withdrawal while I waited, with the rest of the users, for the final season to get underway. 

With the death of Walter White, panic set in. What now? I craved a hit.

It arrived in the form of Dexter Morgan. I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw that seventy-two episodes awaited my consumption. Sixty-two glorious hours in which to appreciate Dexter’s sharp monologues, feel his passion for doing away with the world’s scum, and escape my, by comparison, less-than-dazzling life. I was so far gone that the opening theme song sent my heart racing in anticipation.


As a writer, I fooled myself into believing I was conducting character studies, taking notes on witty dialogue, and researching settings and smooth transitions. But if this was so, why did I hide my Dexter addiction from my friends and family as if it was a dirty secret?

Addiction shows itself through an increased tolerance for a substance (in my case Don Draper, Walter White, and Rick Grimes) and the need to get more (Dexter Morgan) to reap the same effect.

There was also the small matter of guilt that flooded my system like Niagara Falls. I felt horrible for muting my life and disappearing into a pretend world of characters that weren’t even real. My shame took me down. It made sure there were no telltale signs of my afternoon frolics with my favorite leading men. After my binges, I shut off Netflix and switched the TV receiver back to Satellite. When the kids came home from school, there was no sign of my activities and I could pretend I didn’t waste my day staring at a screen. When they asked what I did while they were at school, without making eye contact I said, “Researched for my new writing project.”

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Things weren’t always this way. Years before, when my two youngest were preschoolers, I headed off to a self-directed, four-day retreat on Galiano Island in British Columbia. After working through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, I returned home a new woman, determined to rid my children of their nasty TV viewing addiction and bring creativity into their lives. 

I yanked the television cord from the wall and told a bold lie when I said, “I have no idea why the TV isn’t working. It must be broken.” They were still young enough to believe everything I said. When they complained about missing Dora the Explorer, Caillou, and Arthur, I pulled a book from the shelf, gathered them around me, and read The Berenstain Bears and Too Much TV.

We didn’t watch television for six glorious weeks. We resurrected our ability to play pretend and use our imaginations. I recall the afternoon we traced our bodies onto rolled-out print paper and painted our faces and clothes. We cut out those life-sized shapes and taped them to the doors of their rooms. I still smile when I think back to that time. We connected. Laughed. Experimented. It was great for them as kids and me as a mom first, and a writer second.

But that time was long gone. 


We were all back to turning on the TV for entertainment and distraction, and as for me, I was beginning to accept that binging on series was a full-blown addiction.

I had to get honest with myself if there was any hope for me. I wasn’t doing research. I was wasting time, distracting myself from doing the hard work of writing. Was there a twelve-step program for drama series addicts? Was I strong enough to go cold turkey? Break it off with my dealer? Cancel my subscription to Netflix?

woman binge-watching TV Stokkete / Shutterstock

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I shared my dilemma with my thirteen-year-old daughter, who had recently developed an obsession with Glee.

“Mom! You can’t! Just give yourself a limit.” She possessed the superhuman ability to refrain from eating even one kernel of popcorn in a darkened theater until all the commercials and trailers were done and the main feature began.

A limit? I wanted to scream. But this is Dexter we’re talking about, not some musical. Later that night, I texted my friend: “No writing accomplished this afternoon. My intentions were good, but Dexter got in the way. I think I need an intervention.”

“Definitely an addiction,” she texted back. “Or a numbing escapist thing. What would happen if you didn’t turn on the TV? Or is that too simple?”


My friend meant well, but she wouldn’t have made a good sponsor. She wasn’t experiencing withdrawal as intense as Dexter’s love for blood, or the anticipation of seeing the little sign in the corner of the TV screen telling me the next episode would begin in ten seconds. I had to pull up my big girl panties and get down to the business of recovering my creativity.

Before heading off to bed that night, I took my knapsack out of the closet and slipped in a new notebook. I refilled my LAMY fountain pen with my favorite color ink — purple — and left everything by the front door.

The following day, instead of driving home after dropping off my kids, I headed to my favorite coffee shop. With a steaming cup of joe next to my open notebook, I set the timer for one hour. I wrote that morning and the morning after that. I repeated this routine until the compulsion to turn on the TV was replaced with the delicious feeling I felt upon seeing a blank page filled with my words.


Fifteen years later I can report I’m still writing. I’ve made a habit of sitting at my desk first thing in the morning before the noise of the world, the tug of responsibilities, and the needs of others pull my attention away from what feeds me most.


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Judy Walker writes about the gritty, lovely, naughty, and joyful bits of humanhood. She has written extensively for Medium and Elephant Journal.