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Home DUCTS.ORG Issue 12 | Winter 2003 the webzine of personal stories
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Confessions of an Opraholic

Betsy Freeman

This piece was written last year, right before Dr. Phil got his own show, proving that there are lots of other Opraholics out there....enough to have spawned another media superstar in Dr. Phil.

I'm Betsy, and I'm an Opraholic. There, I've said it. It's been my dirty little secret for the past year or so, roughly coinciding with the downturn in the economy. Up until then, I was too busy running my consulting business to pay much attention to the small television I had strategically located on the far corner of my rather large desk. Once in awhile, I would click on CNN to catch the latest headlines, but that was the extent of it.

Until one day my finger slipped on the remote, and there she was, dancing onto the stage, with her theme music pulsating to a feel-good vibration and the studio audience clapping rhythmically to the beat. She introduced the theme of the show -- how to clean up your clutter -- by showing videotaped vignettes of people whose homes and desks looked far worse than mine, and promising the Nirvana of a clutter-free existence. Okay, I can use this, I thought to myself.

An hour later, I've seen firsthand how easy it is to take a two-car garage chock-full of a lifetime of junk and once again be able to get two cars into it. I've seen the messiest offices transformed from haphazard piles of files, paper, and magazines into models of efficiency -- replete with well-organized, color-coordinated files, magazine racks, bookshelves, and even desks clear enough to work at. I've seen playrooms strewn with toys over every inch of the floor morph into rooms that one could actually play in because the toys are neatly organized on shelves and in bins -- all waiting appetizingly for junior to make a selection.

All it took to transform these spaces was a personal organizer, a high-speed camera to record all the action in quadruple time, and the embarrassment of being exposed as a slob on national television. And for those of us who can't afford to hire a personal organizer, we can always buy the book that tells us exactly how to do it. (That book is now sitting in my office. I know it's under one these piles of paper somewhere...)

Okay, I rationalized, maybe this show is a high-protein addition to my information diet. Little did I realize what a slippery slope I had embarked upon.

In the weeks that followed, I frequently checked in with the show, which is on every weekday in New York City at 4:00 p.m. I learned healthy cooking tips and how to feed your heart the right kind of food (as if I didn't know that already). I saw Celine Dion perform live, on Oprah. She's a career woman who's taken a break and come back to her job on her own terms, I said to myself. I can learn something from this.

I saw volunteer viewers take the "what would you dare to live without" challenge, in which they were forced to give up, for a week, "the one thing they couldn't live without". In one case, Oprah staff members removed or covered up every mirror in the home of a woman who was addicted to looking in the mirror, and recorded her reactions. “Survivor” was never this juicy. In another case, a woman had every phone removed from her home and her cell phone confiscated to see if she could withstand the deprivation. “Thank goodness I'm not like that,” I said to myself as I adjusted the headset to my office phone. Finally, a man who had a computer in nearly every room in his house and a pet name for his laptop was finally forced to interact with his family instead of his keyboard. Now this was quality television. Luckily, no one asked me to volunteer giving up watching Oprah. I was hooked.

But the worst was yet to come, for I had not yet met Dr. Phil. For those deprived souls who haven't been exposed to him, Dr. Phil is the person whom Oprah calls "America's therapist." That must be because he's on Oprah every Tuesday, exploring a topic we all secretly want to hear other people talk about. Want to know how long you should wait for that single guy you've been dating to propose to you? Ask Dr. Phil. Want to know how much cleaning is too much? Tune in to Dr. Phil. Want to know if grown children should feel obligated to give money to their parents? See what Dr. Phil has to say. Want to know if it's “normal” to bring a stuffed animal into your marital bed? Dr. Phil will tell you.

In the process, you can see lots of people – some of whom you would consider normal, some abnormal – mortify themselves on national television as they allow Oprah's cameras into their homes and into their hearts, where Dr. Phil will surely hold an unforgiving mirror up to their behavior. Among Doctor Phil's favorite sayings are: “Get over it,” “Grow up!”, “Get real”, and my all-time favorite – “Duh!”, pronounced with two syllables.

"This is not therapy," Oprah disclaims, "but a way to show you the kinds of things you may need to think about in your own life." Absolutely, I say to myself. I need to know what sexual behavior among teenagers is considered aberrant, even though I do not have teenage children, or any children, for that matter. I need to see a woman who excessively cleans everything she touches, just to assure myself, as I sit in my messy office, that I am completely normal. I need to see the makeovers resulting in "five amazing transformations" so I can learn how, if I spend a lot of money and time on myself, I can look ten years younger.

Okay, so my information diet has got some fat in it. That's not the worst part. The worst part is the guilt, shame, and embarrassment. It's not as if I can talk about these shows to my friends and colleagues. After all, I am a liberated, Ivy League-educated, professional woman, not a stay-at-home housewife. The few times I have caught myself alluding to something I've seen on Oprah, I've had to bite my lip. It would be like admitting to reading People magazine instead of Fortune, even though People magazine can be so much more interesting. My lip may require cosmetic surgery soon, and thanks to Oprah, I know just whom to call.

It's gotten bad. I don't just watch the show, I videotape it. Client meeting at 4:00? No problem, I just set the VCR so I can watch later.

Recently, I've discovered the most guilty part of my Oprah pleasure-- "After the Show". That's where those of us with high-speed internet connections can tune into the online continuation of the juiciest topics -- usually those in which Dr. Phil and Oprah's guests really let down their hair, now that the TV cameras are no longer broadcasting the conversation. It's amazing what people will say out loud. Here I learn that there is actually home exercise equipment you can use to exercise your vaginal muscles – this from the “After the Show” version of “What your Mother Never Told You About Sex.” You see, these after-show gab-fests are indexed online, and you can watch after-the-show chats even for the shows you've missed. Okay, so this high-speed connection, which I originally bought to download large documents from clients, may be worth 40 bucks a month after all, I say to myself.

I know what the warning signs are, and I've hit rock bottom. I've tried and failed to watch less. I set my VCR on Oprah so I can watch whenever I want. I watch when I'm supposed to be working. I watch alone, rather than with others. I lie about it.

It's way past time to admit it, but I'm Betsy, and I'm an Opraholic. Anyone want to share?

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