I first realized the value of Law & Order reruns during a period of great uncertainty. I refused to move from Boston to DC for a job I didn’t like anyway and was given the “choice” to resign. I knew I wanted to do something different and that this job didn’t satisfy me, but I wasn’t sure what was next and hadn’t yet made any organized attempts to map my future. I was out of work with a mortgage to pay and no clear direction forward.
Between blanketing the city of Boston with my pithy resume and pacing in my 700-square foot condo, I sat for hours at a time watching Law & Order reruns.
Anyone who’s watched Law & Order knows there’s a formula:
–>Bad thing happens
–>Good guys go to work
–>A few twists and turns ensue (false accusations or dead-end leads)
–>Bad guy is revealed
–>Good guys close in
–>Bad guy is punished.
Loyal Law & Order fans even start to recognize other ‘tells,’ like the fact that the perp is almost always the most recognizable face in the cast (ie, the best actor since L&O is a virtual revolving door of NYC actors).
Over the years, I’ve returned to Law & Order reruns many times and continue to find it uncommonly reassuring. I’m watching an episode right now! Whether it’s SVU, Criminal Intent, or the original (I miss you Lenny Briscoe!), the outcome is always the same. Everything falls apart in the first 10 minutes and all seems lost…until all loose ends are neatly tied up in just one short hour. Brilliant! And a great comfort when the real world seems unpredictable.
For many years, drinking served a similar purpose in my life. During times of stress, restlessness, fear, and uncertainly, I regularly found myself with a glass of wine in hand, gradually working through a bottle in the fridge. Like an episode of Law & Order, the outcome of this behavior was always predictable. That first hopeful sip, followed by the gradual relaxation of each muscle group, the fuzzing of whatever disturbing thoughts brought me to that point, and the gentle drifting off to sleep.
Whereas at the end of an episode of Law & Order, I’d only wasted an hour, not learned anything, and sat in a sort of square-eyed stupor, the morning after downing a bottle of wine by myself, I’d wasted most of a night and was left feeling sluggish, puffy, and remorseful.
In retrospect, it’s hard to imagine how the short-term benefit of an evening spent this way could be so seductive given the long-term ramifications but hindsight is often much clearer than one’s viewpoint in the moment, when perspective is blurred by fear of the unknown.
I have a bad habit of trying to end things on an up note but there is no way to do that here. I don’t experience any less fear, restlessness, or uncertainly now that I’ve stopped drinking. But at least the puffiness has subsided.