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Why I Can't Watch Scary Movies Anymore

And yes, 2020 is scary enough, but that's not why.

Fran Jacquier/ Unsplash
Source: Fran Jacquier/ Unsplash

In my 20s, I loved scary movies. I would pour a strong drink (something I don't do anymore) and curl up on my couch, with a pillow to cover my eyes. This was in the era of the delivered Netflix envelope; I could have scary clowns or poltergeists or vengeful demons show up in my postal box every Friday.

It became a sort of addiction. I am a total wimp in real life, terrified of thunderstorms, confrontation, and election season. The movies were an outlet, a release, against a tightly controlled world I had orchestrated for years. The movies raised my heart rate, taking me right into fight or flight mode, which in some way helped work out the kinks of my stressful life. Also, they were kind of fun.

But, I only watched them with a full drink in my hand, of course. As a woman in recovery, there is a lot to say about the pattern I had established. A strong drink, paired with Isolating at home, wrapped up with a spooky denouement. My scary movie cycle was far from healthy.

Now, many years later, I don't watch scary movies. I can't fuel them with alcohol, but that's not only why I abstain. I don't like what they do to my brain.

There are some obvious issues with watching the type of movie that keeps us up at night. First of all? They literally keep us up at night. Good sleep is key for my mental state, and heightened nervousness brought on by a horror movie only shows up the next day by making me a zombie mom. A scary sight.

But more troubling was the increased feelings of dread paired with, strangely, apathy, these movies seemed to create in me. I came to the realization that my own anxiety and depression did not need to be dosed with dread on steroids that are offered up in a grim movie plot. I am now 50 years old, and something happened this year under the subheading of "Life's Too Short for This" that scary movies now fall under. Life's too short to feel extreme revulsion or fear for an hour and 45 minutes on a Friday night. Life's too short to view a protagonist in a horrifying situation and yet become numbed and disaffected by her fate. Life's too short for all of that.

So, yes, perhaps 2020 has weighed in on this. The year of Everything Is Awful really has lessened my ability to watch awful things happen to characters on a screen.

But there are two other problems with scary movies and me.

One, watching them is like hearing an old song from my high school days; they take me back. And me, sitting on a couch with a very large drink and a very small soul, doesn't need to replay in my head. I know that revisiting the horror of my addiction once in a while is acceptable, if only to remind me who I was and what happened and who I am now. But movies are long. I don't need to hunker down in those icky feelings. They are to be acknowledged and valued, but not binged-watched.

And, now that I have some years of recovery under my belt, I realize my addictions are not just to alcohol. I crave feelings. The big kind. I am addicted to distraction, because any sort of boredom or discomfort sends all the alarms blazing in my head, telling me to do something fast. This gets me flustered, and addiction doesn't do flustered very well. A scary movie takes flustered and quickly trades it out for fear or squeamishness or any other sort of interesting spooky diversion. But I know enough now that this sort of flipping the switch ultimately leaves me more anxious, more tired, more lacking in peace.

I love peace more than scary movies. It's so very boring, I know.

I'm not saying I only watch movies about puppies and kittens (I mean, have you seen Santa Paws? It's terrifying). I am a sucker for a great mystery. I love a noir thriller.

But as for me and my family? We just don't do scary.

And yes, 2020 is scary enough. It had to be said.

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