Indulgence As Self-Care: Our Vice, Our Therapy

My parents have a story about me they like to tell. When I was in third grade my mom picked me up from school on a beautiful spring day, and suggested we hang out in Central Park and enjoy the warmth. I responded, “Is there a place in the park to do my homework?” My parents laugh that this is proof of my work ethic, that I was never one for laziness or wasted time. Around the same time, I spent a weekend at my grandparents’ house, where often my grandmother would let me watch Nick Jr. while bringing me whatever snacks I craved. The entire weekend was spent in repose on the couch, feeding myself cheddar popcorn and hard boiled eggs sideways, never noticing the outside weather enough to be tempted by it. To me, the homework anecdote is only proof of a lifetime lived on the precipice of acedia. I work hard because I’m afraid of what I will be like if I don’t.

I believe I am naturally lazy as hell. A free weekend day that begins with a series of plans quickly turns into looking up from a “Say Yes To The Dress” marathon, realizing it’s evening. An afternoon at work is lost playing Bejeweled. I come to and realize I’ve been staring at the wall for 10 minutes, not knowing where my mind went, but knowing I could let myself continue that way for as long as I wanted. I just looked away from this post for half an hour, and I’m not even sure what I did.

But the person who procrastinates is not who I want to be, and to compensate for this, I have made a lifetime effort to push this natural part of myself as far away from my core as possible, to the point where anyone who knows me will stick by the homework story. I wake up at my first alarm because if I don’t, I will sleep in for hours. I get to my desk at 8:30 and rarely stand again until noon. When I am stuck on my work, I scan the apartment for chores, hoping that the time can be productive somewhere, that if I can’t finish an assignment I can at least mop the kitchen floor. I email my husband lists of the things I accomplish in a day, worried it won’t be enough. I am driven, sure, but it feels like the drive has never been toward a goal, but rather away from idleness. I don’t care where I am going as long as I don’t stop.

When I worked a 9-5 job, I allowed myself “mental health days,” a trick I picked up from my high school’s nurse. I’d call in sick and sleep until noon, watch mindless TV, and read listicles while eating takeout off my chest. My sloth was something I could indulge in in controlled spurts, like going on a drinking binge. It was okay as long as I gave it structure. Sometimes I think I’d make a really good drug addict that way. One day of heroin a month can’t be all that bad.

So here I am, dipping a toe at a time into full-on inertia, and I start to wonder what is the self? Lol, slow down, Jaya, but is it our desires or our choices? At this point I’m not sure if sloth is actually my vice or if I’m just afraid of it becoming one. I am either a natural procrastinator who has fought tooth and nail against that tendency, or a natural worker who lets herself crash into deep lethargy when working more is just not an option. I hum with anxiety when I’m in between, and I can’t tell which state of being is the desire and which is the choice.

Because there is a pressure to be one or the other. I’m not sure from where, but it exists. There are the slackers and the over-achievers, the experts and the idiots, and the assumption is one is inherently your nature. Obviously that’s not true, we all know plenty of people who fall in between, but is it just that they’re not as much fun to talk about? Is balance not sexy, or is it that it seems false? We assume nobody is naturally balanced, or really, that no one is naturally conflicted. We all must be one way, all Id barely reigned in by the Ego, using every opportunity to reveal ourselves. And what more is a vice than unleashing that Id for the ultimate indulgence of our instinctual desires?

The problem with assuming the only vices are the ones that stem from our base instincts is that we cannot see when they come from the other side. Vices are carnal. Doing drugs and fucking strangers and sleeping all day break the rules, and we internalize anything to correct these behaviors (and the idea that they need to be corrected in the first place) is good. But over-correction can turn into a vice itself.

I don’t know which of my actions are my true self and which are the reins. It might be both or neither, but at some point it doesn’t matter. If a vice is unhealthy, prolonged indulgence, then working until I collapse and then worrying until I can work again is just as much of a vice as spending life watching TV in a pile of snack debris. Both ways I give in to something that briefly feels good and right, and quickly turns sour, and no matter where our urges come from, both ways I can help it. Of course, we all indulge. We must indulge. But the indulgence can just as much be the choice as the instinct.

Vice Week is our seven-day exploration of all the indulgences that surely will ruin us sooner than we can imagine. But hey, what a way to go. You can check out all of our Vice Week coverage here.