Recovery Stories (Translation-Friendly)

The PDFs on our recovery stories page are in English, so we’ve included the stories below so that you can read them in other languages using the translation feature on our website.

Table of Contents

Tremplins
Le rétablissement est possible
La seule chose qui a fonctionné
Quantifier la dépendance à Internet et à la technologie
Fenêtre ouverte

Stories

Tremplins

When I envision my recovery, when I close my eyes and allow its evolution to surface, I envision a simple graph, disclosing a well recognizable angle. Starting from a central axis and continuing steadily at 45-degrees. Always rising. 

The graph reveals a series of attempts to overcome obstacles. Documents a series of hard-won solutions. Some working for a while then weakening. Others providing an enduring insight, a wellbeing that would come to define my life. Whichever category they fell into, seen as a sequence, these trials have guided me on a purposeful path. A formation of steps I can count on.

*

Trauma and loneliness wove throughout my childhood, creating knots of confusion and distress. I was so young, I didn’t have the tools to communicate, to confront the fears and stress defining those years. The compulsive behaviors that followed were in reality an attempt to make things manageable, to survive an unbearable situation. They flourished in an atmosphere of isolation, thriving in obscure places as a misinterpreted source of light. 

As a young child, I developed an overwhelming fear of the dark, spending many nights awake beside my unaware sibling. I surrounded myself with stuffed animals, creating a sheltering comradery.

I rotated my companions each night, guaranteeing each had their turn by my side. No one was left out. No one privileged. No one left wanting.

With time, I felt suffocated by their increasing number. My bed had become overcrowded. There was no room left for me. Their presence no longer provided solace but added to my discomfort. My solution worked until it no longer worked.

*

Another solution then surfaced. I started playing music at a very young age. Was recognized for my ability. Music has always been my most comfortable form of self-expression. Nonetheless, it could not replace my overwhelming need to develop an articulate voice. I craved unambiguous words capable of expressing my complex reality, my tangle of thoughts. Words that could voice adversity and my mission to overcome it. 

As I progressed in my musical studies, it also became apparent that the prevailing criterion was perfection, triggering a compulsive approach regarding my practicing. No matter how much I rehearsed, it never seemed enough. It stopped working as a solution, no longer provided consolation.

*

In early adolescence, my compulsive behaviors found an alternative focus. I found myself increasingly apprehensive, fearful about the future, about becoming an adult. I felt I had no guide, no positive influence to shine a light on my path. I found myself preferring the world as I knew it, rather than venture into uncharted territory without a map. I developed an eating disorder in an attempt to arrest my physical development, to escape what appeared to be inevitable. 

At that time, my particular eating disorder was not commonly discussed. I thought it was my personal solution to my specific predicament. A way to live outside the rules. Claiming some control, albeit fabricated, over what had continued to be unmanageable.

It took me more than ten years to recognize my disease as a problem. To realize that others had found the same distorted solution. 

By a series of chance encounters, I discovered a fellowship for eating disorders. I found a community that shared my concerns. In the smallest of ways, I felt transformed, my path lightened. I began to shed the responsibility to take everything into my own hands, realizing that not everything was mine to fix. By sharing at the meetings, I initiated my journey to recover my voice.

I came to recognize a higher power, my first in an evolution of higher powers. Recognizing that unconditional acceptance from my higher power is a birthright not a privilege. 

I chronicled my transformation, envisioning myself on a heroic journey. Traveling through travails in the hope of a brighter future. A protagonist within an epic tradition. My recovery was reflected in my writing of that time, writing that took the form of allegory. One story in particular portrayed my quest, The Forgetful Man.

There once was a man with a very bad memory.

One day, he went to the doctor and said, “Doctor, by now I’ve lived for many years yet never seem to learn from my mistakes. I run into the same problem without remembering past remedies.” 

The doctor told him to buy a simple notebook and return the next week.

The next week, the forgetful man returned with his new notebook. The doctor suggested he write in detail his everyday experiences and return the next week. The forgetful man agreed and the session ended. What he didn’t tell the doctor was that he didn’t know how to write or, to be truthful, had forgotten. 

It all started in late spring when the forgetful man found himself in the midst of a strangely beautiful moment. Flowers were blooming and donkeys were grazing in the tall swaying grass. The air filled him through and through. He couldn’t tell where his fingers ended and the afternoon began. 

Fearing the loss of his newly gained lightness to his deeper darker dreads, he desperately took out his notebook. He ripped out a blank page, held it high above his head in the sky overlooking the valley, then quickly folded it until small enough to fit in his pocket. When he returned home, he placed the folded sheet in a shoe box beneath his bed. That night, he felt safer as he slept.

A few days later, his mother telephoned him. He had forgotten his grandmother’s birthday and was the only one absent from the party. The forgetful man immediately sent his grandmother eighty-five yellow roses. “How many times have these flowers been sent and I continue to forget!” he cried, covering his face with his hands. 

Without thinking, he ripped out another page from his notebook and carefully exposed it to the dark closed air of his small room, folded it, first in halves, then quarters, then eighths, placed it in the shoe box, and fell asleep. In the morning, his head ached slightly yet he had forgotten the box beneath the bed.

The forgetful man continued to gather both joyful and disheartened events of his life, storing them all beneath his bed without noticing that he had become a collector of sorts. Finally, one day when he needed it most, he realized. 

It was a short day in mid-February. The sun had already begun to set when the forgetful man found himself in a part of the city before then unknown to him. He tried to follow the street signs, but they appeared written in a foreign tongue with indecipherable letters, leading him in circles, deeper and deeper into confusion. The streets slithered like snakes under the light rain. He had forgotten his umbrella.

Hours later, after seemingly endless trials and tribulations, he arrived home. As he opened the door to his one room apartment, everything whirled in newness. He saw things as if never before seen: the delicate flower print of his faded curtain, the golden design of the picture frame, the curve of the faucet as it held the last drop of water in breathless suspension, and the grey cardboard box beneath his small unmade bed. 

Pulling out the dusty box, he found it filled with folded sheets of paper. And then, he remembered.

He unfolded the yellowed pages and hung each one on the clothesline crossing his room. Slowly, surely, images began to appear: a donkey braying in the wind, eighty-five yellow roses, a plaid umbrella, yet as slowly as each memory revealed itself, it slowly fled, running down the paper and dripping, in vivid colors, onto the floor. 

Once again, the pages hung blankly, but a shimmering lake remained, beautiful and blue, in the middle of his room. Every morning, the man took pleasure in wading through its waters, and often stood calmly at its center.

Eventually, after many meetings and outreach calls, after much meditation and reflection, I found abstinence. Or it found me. When I least expected it, still deep within my struggles, my compulsion was lifted. 

I learned that my eating disorder was not a personal solution to my specific predicament, but a life-threatening addiction. While my awareness was expanded, I never attempted to methodically work the steps. I continued to work outside the box. Afraid of set rules or procedures. As a result, certain key elements that triggered my addiction were left unaddressed. 

*

Soon after I found abstinence, beautiful things began to fill my life. I met my present partner, and we began a family. We moved to another country, to a remote village with no twelve-step programs, or at least, none I felt sufficiently anonymous.  I focused on my Qigong and sitting meditation practice, both motionless and moving exercises. Read twelve step literature but also focused on literature suggested by my meditation teacher, finding many connections between my meditation practice and my evolving recovery.

*

Among the Qigong exercises I practiced, what surfaced as invaluable were the walking and standing meditations. 

The walking meditations incorporate walking backwards and forwards with varied arm movements and conscious breathing patterns. The intention is to witness the stillness amidst movement. 

The standing meditations assume specific stances, also with conscious breathing patterns. The intention is to observe the movement in stillness.

*

In my sitting meditation practice, what has been most revealing is a sense of becoming friends with myself. Observing the movement of my thoughts, initiating a familiar awareness of my inner narratives, I began to develop a more steadfast and tolerant self-appreciation when experiencing the assorted struggles of my life, amidst unpredictable, ordinary experience. 

This awareness eventually lessened my inner chatter, created more space. I was able to incorporate meditation techniques throughout my day. Weaving through encounters and misencounters. Finding stillness within the activities which defined my life. Gradually recognizing habitual patterns of reaction and action. 

Meditation proved to be a transformative process, sowing the seeds of a deep sense of self-loyalty and trust. I was able to begin to deconstruct my destructive narratives and observe what earlier blinded me. To begin to let go of the underlying fear. 

*

My growing family further dispersed my compulsive behavior, rooted me in the present by the undeniable necessities of the moment. 

I taught my children from elementary through high school. It was an exercise in perseverance. In patience. An exercise in recognizing what works, until it stops working. Is no longer productive. When one solution is relevant for one child yet falls short when addressing the needs of another.

Once again, this process was aided by the tools I had collected in recovery. Layers of lessons. An ability to slow down and listen to a guiding voice beyond my own. A process facilitated by a deep sense of appreciation and mutual trust.

*

The internet entered my life when I was nearly forty years old. It was a blessing as it released me from a growing estrangement from friends and family. From my city, my country.

Initially my use was limited by poor service and expensive hourly plans. It was defined primarily by emails to my ailing parents as my mother had fallen ill and the prognosis was not favorable. It allowed me to amend my absence. Making my presence felt, no matter the physical distance.

As time went on, my usage continued to be limited. It wasn’t until my eldest was applying for college that I witnessed my tech use escalate. The application and financial aid forms were endless. My mission to find the “perfect fit” occupied my day. 

I would however not consider my tech use compulsive until my children left for school, to another country, to unforeseen circumstances.

I began to check my messages day and night in case they needed me. To make sure they were safe. I spent my days reading and listening to the news. This was for two main reasons, to connect me to a wider vision of the world, a world where my children had settled, and to fill the unfamiliar silence of my home. To keep me company.

After reading the daily news from various sources, I listened while I worked. I listened while I cooked. I listened while I cleaned. I listened while I slept. Until there was no room for me.

In recent years as the news evolved precariously, conflicts overwhelming the headlines, basic tenets of my life threatened, I searched for the truth online as if an oracle, as if it could provide me with that missing link where everything would be alright. Decoding the news as if a personal message. As if a long-awaited way out. As if a concrete solution for an existential and undefined mystery.

It simply proved to be a distraction. There was no simple resolution to my quest. What I searched for eluded me. 

I reached my bottom when the news became increasingly intense. Reached its own undeniable climax. I felt glued to those sources and vocabulary, newscasters that I had grown to know, and I imagined, knew me. I was constantly searching the internet for a possible answer, a solution for the confusion of the state of things until I lost my eyesight.

I began to see double, vertically. I could not walk. Had trouble eating unless I closed my eyes. I panicked, thinking I had an incurable genetic condition, a condition that runs in my family. 

Finally, I was given good advice from a traditional healer. Alternative treatments. Eye exercises. In doing the exercises, I realized how limited my range of movement had become. My eyes were limited to short distances, limited to frontal vision rather than peripheral. 

It was incongruous that I was constantly focused on world events to the exclusion of those around me or my present reality, yet my vision was limited to the most immediate of ranges, a self-imposed confinement, a constraint imposed by my tech addiction.

While I didn’t suffer the genetic disease I feared, I did have a disease that needed attending to. I recognized that I was experiencing, after unnecessary and compulsive use of technology, the same slight nausea I had experienced with my earlier addiction. It was signaling a need. Forcing me to remember. To regather time-honored tools. 

I knew my life was unmanageable. I knew what I had to do but it required some research. Some initial missteps before I found the ITAA rooms.

*

There are two major differences in my recovery this time around.

  1. I work the steps daily.
  2. I learned to pray.

Initially, I kept it simple. Attending 90 meetings in 90 days. Listening and sharing.

After the initial 90 days, I attended a step workshop and, soon after, attended another. Step work was extremely difficult for me. Less about abstinence, more about deep recovery. Tracing what led me to my addictions and seeing its repercussions in my everyday actions or lack of action. 

I revisited the notion of amends. Addressing it with creativity and compassion. Creating safe spaces to stage reunions. When an encounter was not safely conceivable, I envisioned similar situations, future situations, and how I could choose to play them out in a benevolent manner. Searching a fertile ground where I could start anew without risking further harm to others or to myself. I also began working with ways to make amends to those no longer with us.

After a short time in the program, my compulsion to use my bottom line: listening, reading or watching the news was lifted.

My perception of my higher power also evolved. I now envision a team of higher powers much like the diverse members in the ITAA rooms. Each with a remarkable ability, a dedicated and unique gift. If I only remember. If I only find the humility to ask for help.

While my meditation practice had matured, I realized I had never actually gained confidence in prayer. I needed to focus on prayer with an approach that reflected my evolving spirituality. Addressing a kinder, more empathetic source of wisdom. 

I wrote my own simple prayers, for those days where spontaneous words eluded me. The following prayer is one that I often turn to:

May I walk a peaceful path.
May compulsive thoughts lift from my mind
Like mist from still water.
May I connect to my surroundings
With those surrounding me.

May our family experience wellbeing
Whatever we choose to do
Wherever we choose to be
Whoever we choose to be with.
May our love endure distance. Misunderstanding.

May our gardens continue to prosper.
Our bodies continue to thrive.
May our suffering
Be transparent in its teaching
Recognizing your wisdom
With courage and serenity.

*

Sometimes I still need reminding.

I create altars in strategic locations, altars with no religious affiliation. Simply symbolic objects intended to keep me present. Keep me grounded. 

I have an altar where I meditate. On my desk, accompanying my computer, where I write. On my kitchen table. In my music studio. In my garden. By my bed.

They are arranged with tokens of my children’s travels. A vase. A flower from my partner. Selected photographs. Candles and incense. A hot cup of tea.

They remind me what is important. What is not.
They remind me to settle into wisdom
wade deeper into acceptance
recognize what is needed
conjure humility to ask for help
from friends, family, the fellowship
my higher powers.

They remind me I am not alone
though I may still be afraid of the dark.
I am part of something immeasurable
boundless
far beyond 
what hinders me.


La récupération est possible

Comme pour beaucoup d'autres accros à Internet, ma dépendance a commencé tôt dans la vie. J'ai été fasciné par les premiers écrans auxquels j'ai été exposé. Dans mon enfance, j'ai certainement eu des phases d'obsession sur certains médias (dont les livres) mais les conseils assez stricts de mes parents ont empêché que cela devienne trop problématique. Lorsque j'ai eu mon premier ordinateur à l'adolescence et que j'étais libre de l'utiliser pendant de longues heures sans que personne ne s'en aperçoive, mon utilisation a commencé à s'intensifier. Je n'avais pas d'amis dont je me sentais proche, j'étais victime d'intimidation à l'école, je ne m'entendais pas bien avec mes parents et je n'avais pas vraiment l'impression d'avoir des passe-temps importants. Internet était le seul endroit où je me sentais libre et détendu. J'ai passé plus de temps à utiliser du contenu en ligne jusqu'à ce que je considère littéralement regarder des vidéos sur une certaine plate-forme comme mon passe-temps. Grâce à un échange d'étudiants et à deux années d'études intensives pour mes examens de fin d'études, ma dépendance a pris une place secondaire dans ma vie pendant un certain temps. Des périodes comme celle-ci où je pouvais raccourcir mon utilisation d'Internet pour un plus grand bien dans ma vie plus tard m'ont fait me demander si j'étais vraiment accro. 

Après avoir terminé le lycée avec des notes impeccables, je suis tombé dans un trou noir. J'ai déménagé dans une autre ville pour l'université et je m'attendais à ce que tout aille mieux là-bas. Mais j'avais trop de temps libre et de liberté et je ne pouvais pas le supporter. J'étais techniquement un adulte, mais les tâches que je voulais accomplir étaient trop grandes pour moi. Dans ma jeunesse, j'avais appris peu de compétences de vie parce que j'avais l'habitude de fuir mes problèmes. 

Alors, je me suis encore enfui. Après quelques mois à essayer d'atteindre des objectifs sociaux et académiques à l'université et à échouer, je suis tombé plus profondément dans la dépression. J'ai inconsciemment renoncé à moi-même et j'ai plutôt rempli le trou de la frustration, de la colère et du vide avec Internet. Personne ne pouvait plus me dire que j'utilisais trop longtemps ou qu'il était temps de dormir, alors je suis resté éveillé des nuits entières à regarder du contenu en ligne. J'ai pris l'habitude de sauter la moitié de mes cours universitaires parce que je ne me sentais pas motivé pour y aller, ou j'ai dormi trop longtemps parce que j'avais été debout pendant de longues heures la nuit précédente. Être privé de sommeil est devenu mon nouvel état par défaut. Je n'essayais plus de me faire de vrais amis ou de vraiment participer à des activités. J'avais trouvé mes communautés en ligne qui, selon moi, répondaient mieux à mon besoin de socialisation et de plaisir que n'importe quel contact dans la vie réelle.

La plupart du temps, je regardais des vidéos postées sur une plateforme particulière et je lisais des textes dans des forums. J'ai développé une sorte de perfectionnisme tordu avec mon utilisation. J'ai passé énormément de temps à créer et à réorganiser des listes de surveillance et des murs d'images en ligne parce que je pensais qu'«un jour», je les lirais/regarderais tous et être sûr de mes connaissances complètes. J'aimais souvent consommer du contenu de personnes faisant des choses que j'aimerais faire dans la vraie vie également, et je serais tellement étonné par eux. La partie la plus douloureuse a été de voir ces gens faire des choses incroyables avec leur temps alors que je passais tout mon temps à les regarder. Je voulais désespérément être capable de faire ces choses incroyables aussi, mais j'avais l'impression que je ne pouvais pas. J'avais peur d'échouer et j'ai donc eu recours à la simple consommation d'informations sur l'activité, me disant sans enthousiasme que je faisais cela «en préparation» pour le moment où je ferais toutes ces choses un jour.

Cette collecte d'informations motivée était cependant la partie la plus positive de ma dépendance. Je passe aussi beaucoup de temps à regarder des trucs qui ne m'intéressaient même pas juste pour regarder des trucs. Je cherchais toujours le prochain média intéressant pour donner un coup de fouet à mes émotions, mais alors que je devenais engourdi par la grande quantité que j'avais déjà consommée, cela devenait de plus en plus difficile. J'ai perdu la concentration pour regarder quelque chose de plus qu'une courte vidéo. Je regardais dans le but de regarder, j'arrêtais souvent des vidéos à mi-chemin ou je jouais à des jeux pendant que je regardais parce qu'une seule vidéo ne le faisait plus.

Tout cela m'a plongé plus profondément dans ma dépression. J'avais également développé une légère anxiété sociale et tout me semblait être une tâche extrêmement difficile. Mon "problème" tout au long de mon utilisation était que ma vie n'a jamais été si mauvaise qu'elle ait semblé vraiment ingérable de l'extérieur. J'ai suivi mes cours universitaires, bien qu'avec des notes médiocres, j'ai parfois pris des emplois à court terme et j'ai entretenu quelques « amitiés » lâches sans jamais être proche de mes « amis ». Quand les gens m'ont invité à sortir, j'ai eu des moments sociaux heureux sans Internet. J'ai parfois réussi à me forcer à faire des activités de loisir. Tout cela m'a fait penser que ma vie n'était pas si mauvaise après tout, et personne ne s'est jamais préoccupé de mon mode de vie. J'ai continué avec. 

Je n'avais pas de fond précis sur mon utilisation d'Internet dont je me souvienne, mais je me souviens d'une fête où je me sentais absolument mal tout le temps. J'ai pris la décision d'arrêter de renoncer à moi-même à cause de l'état de dépression que je ressentais alors. De retour dans ma ville universitaire, je me suis efforcé de toujours rester occupé, en prenant des stages et des emplois pour ne jamais avoir trop de temps libre, ce qui me semblait être mon problème. Afin de devenir plus productif, j'avais également installé un bloqueur sur mon PC et commencé à bloquer les pages en ligne pendant un nombre croissant d'heures par jour. 

Comme je passais plus de temps en dehors du PC, ma vie s'améliorait beaucoup et je ressentais moins d'envie de passer du temps dessus. J'utilisais Internet librement pendant environ une demi-heure par jour à ce stade et mes activités de temps libre s'étaient déjà considérablement améliorées ; J'allais plus dehors, je faisais mon passe-temps et je n'ai jamais cessé d'être étonné du temps qu'il y a dans une journée où je ne le passe pas devant l'écran. Comme j'étais actif dans les forums en ligne sur le fait de passer moins de temps en ligne, j'ai trouvé le lien vers un groupe ITAA local par hasard. J'y suis allé sans trop savoir de quoi il s'agissait. J'ai commencé à y assister même si je n'avais même pas l'impression d'être un accro à Internet, juste quelqu'un qui veut devenir plus productif en perdant moins de temps en ligne. Pendant quelques mois, je suis juste allé à des réunions, j'ai partagé un peu et j'ai toujours utilisé Internet pour me divertir 30 minutes par jour. 

Après un certain temps, j'ai rencontré une collègue et elle m'a raconté son histoire de devenir complètement abstinent. Même si je ne me sentais toujours pas accro à Internet, j'ai décidé de devenir complètement abstinent le lendemain de notre rencontre. J'ai écrit toutes les pages et activités en ligne qui me déclenchaient (mes résultats) et je suis resté abstinent. Je n'avais coupé qu'une demi-heure par jour d'Internet gratuit, mais le changement était toujours perceptible. J'ai ressenti plus d'émotions plus intensément parce que je les avais auparavant engourdies avec l'utilisation d'Internet. Comme je gardais mon abstinence, ma vie s'améliorait davantage. Il n'y a eu aucun changement magique en une journée, mais des améliorations lentes et minuscules. 

Un an s'est écoulé. Après environ 10 mois, j'ai commencé à avoir des doutes sur le programme et mon abstinence. Je ne me sentais pas accro et j'ai consommé du divertissement en ligne pour me prouver que je ne le suis pas. Même si je ne suis pas entré dans une frénésie, je pouvais sentir le changement mental. Consommer des choses sur Internet me rend nerveux, comme si mon corps n'était pas en phase avec le monde extérieur. Je suis agité et distrait, j'essaie d'effectuer plusieurs tâches à la fois et j'échoue, comme toujours. Je l'ai arrêté à nouveau et je suis passé à un modèle d'abstinence plus strict.

Internet ne me fera pas perdre mon emploi ou risquer ma vie, mais je peux sentir que c'est mauvais pour moi mentalement. Je l'utilise pour engourdir mes sentiments, intensifier mes sentiments, éviter tout contact avec d'autres humains ou moi-même, ou faire face à mes peurs et à mes doutes. Cela ne m'a jamais donné de solution. Il est plus difficile de demander de l'aide aux gens dans la vraie vie, d'aborder un problème de front, de travailler au lieu de consommer, mais cela en vaut la peine. Je me sens équilibré. Je peux ressentir mes sentiments, qui ne sont pas là pour me faire souffrir, mais pour me guider dans la façon de vivre ma vie. Je ressens de la douleur et je sais que je dois changer quelque chose. Je suis plus actif, je fais mes hobbies et m'engage socialement. Je me concentre sur ce dont j'ai vraiment besoin au moment où je veux me connecter. Surtout, je me sens plus vivant, présent, là dans mon corps et dans le monde quand je ne suis pas collé à un écran.

Mon utilisation d'Internet n'est toujours pas parfaite. Je suis passé aux CD et je remarque la difficulté de trouver de la musique analogique. Je fais toujours mes achats en ligne car c'est souvent très efficace et je n'ai pas encore trouvé mieux. Je suis passé à un téléphone à clapet pendant un certain temps, mais j'ai été agacé par l'inconfort et j'utilise à nouveau mon smartphone. Mais je suis conscient de tous mes usages médiatiques et j'essaie de me remettre en question à chaque fois que j'allume un écran. Ai-je vraiment besoin de chercher ça ? Quelle est la chose dont j'ai vraiment besoin maintenant, émotionnellement ? Et de cette façon, je sais que je vais découvrir les briques qui sont encore lâches dans mon abstinence.

Internet m'a fait du mal. J'ai l'impression d'être seulement maintenant, presque un an d'abstinence et un an et demi presque d'abstinence, en constatant la véritable ampleur des effets négatifs que ma consommation a eu sur moi. Toutes les informations, opinions, idées, suggestions et modes de vie que je lis en ligne affectent toujours ma façon de penser. Je me demande toujours comment je devrais me comporter en fonction de ce que certaines personnes ont dit en ligne au lieu de faire confiance à ma voix intérieure qui n'a pas été écoutée depuis si longtemps. J'ai parfois encore du mal à me concentrer sur de longs textes ou vidéos. Ma sexualité est déformée par ma consommation de porno et les idéaux qu'elle a mis en place dans mon esprit. Parfois, je ne peux pas différencier si je veux vraiment faire quelque chose ou si je pense seulement que je veux le faire parce que je l'ai déjà vu en ligne. Ces choses mettront beaucoup de temps à guérir, peut-être même plus longtemps que le temps que j'ai passé en ligne. Mais je vis dans la vraie vie maintenant. Et c'est mieux ici. 

À la fin d'une réunion ITAA, nous avons toujours un moment de silence pour l'utilisateur accro d'Internet et de la technologie qui souffre encore. Parfois, je pense à moi quand j'étais plus jeune et que j'avais besoin de force pour sortir de ma dépendance, et parfois je pense à d'autres membres, peut-être comme vous qui lisez ceci. Je ne vous connais pas, mais si vous souffrez d'Internet et de l'utilisation de la technologie, je prie pour vous que vous puissiez sortir des griffes tordues d'Internet comme je l'ai fait. Je vous promets que ça en vaudra la peine.


La seule chose qui a fonctionné

Mes parents étaient très instruits et, dans les années 1980, nous étions l'une des rares familles du quartier à avoir une télévision et des ordinateurs à la maison. Je me souviens que le week-end, je regardais le dessin animé matinal de quatre heures pour les enfants. J'étais aussi fasciné par les ordinateurs. Quand j'étais enfant, j'étais un vrai nerd de l'informatique, tapant des codes de jeux dans des magazines informatiques, déboguant les programmes, puis jouant à des jeux informatiques. Les ordinateurs m'ont également donné un statut et un moyen de me connecter aux enfants du quartier, car je pouvais les inviter à jouer sur notre ordinateur, ce qu'ils n'avaient pas. 

Quand j'avais 12 ans, mes parents ont divorcé et j'ai déménagé avec ma mère et ma sœur dans une nouvelle ville. Là-bas, je n'ai pas pu me connecter à mes pairs et je suis devenu de plus en plus isolé. C'est à ce moment-là que la télévision et les jeux informatiques sont devenus de plus en plus importants pour combler la solitude. À un moment donné, quand j'avais environ 15 ans, mes parents m'ont offert une télévision et un ordinateur dans ma chambre en cadeau. À partir de ce moment-là, je me suis complètement isolé dans ma chambre, passant mon temps libre à regarder le sport et les informations à la télévision et à jouer à des jeux informatiques. C'était aussi la première fois que je voulais diminuer mon utilisation de la télévision et de l'ordinateur, mais j'ai découvert que je ne pouvais pas arrêter de regarder et de jouer. J'étais en quelque sorte collé à ces machines. Évidemment mes devoirs en souffraient et parfois j'échouais à des tests à cause de ça, mais dans l'ensemble j'avais de bonnes notes au lycée. 

À l'université, la vie s'est améliorée. J'ai enfin eu une vie sociale active. Pendant les trois premières années, je n'avais pas d'ordinateur à la maison. J'avais ma télévision à la maison et je me souviens d'une forte envie de regarder le film porno diffusé chaque semaine, ainsi que les événements sportifs annuels, mais pour le reste, ma compulsion était à peu près contenue. J'étais assez obsédé par la technologie cependant. Je me suis toujours identifié comme le nerd de la technologie et je me suis assuré d'être le précurseur technologique. Par exemple, j'ai été le premier parmi mes amis à acheter un téléphone portable (on parle ici de la fin des années 90). 

Ma compulsion a vraiment décollé lorsque j'ai acheté mon propre ordinateur avec Internet à la maison. En particulier, la pornographie sur Internet est devenue très addictive pour moi, et c'est ce qui m'a vraiment amené à l'autodestruction. C'est à ce moment-là que j'ai commencé à me considérer comme un toxicomane et que j'ai vraiment essayé de contrôler ma dépendance à la pornographie sur Internet. Il a commencé par supprimer des fichiers et des abonnements à des services d'information après avoir agi pour lever la barrière pour recommencer. Cela n'a pas fonctionné. Dans la même veine, j'ai essayé de me cacher le modem en débranchant tous les fils, en remettant le modem dans sa boîte et en le mettant dans le placard. Cela n'a pas fonctionné. Mon cerveau savait toujours où était le modem. (En y repensant maintenant, il est incroyable que je pense que ces choses fonctionnent.) 

Je suis tombé amoureux et j'ai eu une relation amoureuse. Cela n'a pas arrêté la dépendance. J'ai simplement gardé mon problème de pornographie sur Internet complètement secret et j'ai continué à agir dans son dos. Après trois ans, je lui ai révélé mon problème de pornographie sur Internet. À ce moment-là, elle m'a beaucoup soutenue et aimante, ce qui m'a donné l'espoir de surmonter mon problème. Je suis aussi allé voir un sexologue pour mon problème. Cela n'a pas fonctionné. Au bout d'un moment, je commençais à faire du porno sur Internet, en le gardant secret pour ma petite amie, jusqu'à ce qu'elle découvre que je me sentais obligé d'avouer, et j'ai pris de nouvelles résolutions pour arrêter cette fois pour de vrai. Jusqu'à la prochaine vague d'actes secrets, de découvertes, de promesses, etc, etc, à l'infini. 

De nouvelles choses que j'ai essayées : un tout nouvel ordinateur portable propre. C'est sûr que je ne vais pas polluer une machine aussi vierge, ça me sauvera. Ce n'est pas le cas. Ensuite, j'ai essayé les contrôles parentaux. J'ai bloqué certains sites internet, des sites avec des mots clés particuliers, et des accès le soir et la nuit. J'ai gardé le mot de passe à un endroit différent. C'était très gênant. Je me souviens qu'à un moment donné, je travaillais sur l'ordinateur avec un collègue et que nous devions regarder quelque chose sur l'intranet. Cependant, ce contrôle parent bloquait le site Web, donc cet avertissement stupide de contrôle parent est apparu. J'ai dû expliquer à mon collègue que je ne pouvais pas accéder au site maintenant. Bien sûr, toutes ces choses de contrôle parental étaient mon propre plan, et je l'ai gardé complètement secret du reste du monde. Je me sentais très gêné et honteux à ce sujet. De plus, parfois, j'avais besoin de faire une exception et je cherchais le mot de passe, à des moments que je décidais bien sûr. La conséquence était que je continuais à rechuter avec les crises de boulimie sur Internet, car à un moment donné, j'ai commencé à me souvenir du mot de passe par cœur. J'ai également réussi à trouver des moyens de contourner le filtre Internet. Dans l'ensemble, cela n'a pas fonctionné et cela n'a fait que créer du stress. De nos jours, je vois ces filtres Internet de contrôle parental comme un autre moyen de contrôler ma dépendance, juste une autre façon de le faire à ma façon. Maintenant, en récupération, je n'utilise plus les contrôles parent ni les filtres Internet. Je me sens beaucoup plus en sécurité et plus détendu sans eux.

Ici, je dois mentionner que mes tentatives pour contrôler Internet n'étaient pas seulement liées à l'arrêt de regarder du porno. Au travail, je ne regardais pas de porno sur mon ordinateur, mais je regardais quand même beaucoup de blogs, de vidéos et d'articles d'actualité. Souvent, je passais plus d'heures de travail à surfer sur Internet qu'à travailler. 

En fin de compte, après dix ans de dépendance à Internet et au porno, ma vie s'est effondrée. J'étais suicidaire, ma relation était un cauchemar et j'ai même contacté la police. Je me suis rendu compte que je me dirigeais vers l'un des trois C : les établissements correctionnels, la clinique psychiatrique ou le cimetière. 

Heureusement, grâce à une ligne d'assistance, je suis entré dans une récupération en douze étapes pour la dépendance sexuelle et je me suis complètement lancé dedans. J'ai abandonné mon travail et j'ai emménagé avec ma mère juste pour me concentrer pleinement sur mon rétablissement. Au cours de mes deux premières années de récupération, je n'avais pas mon propre ordinateur. Le premier semestre, j'utilisais parfois l'ordinateur de ma mère dont elle avait le mot de passe, et j'utilisais aussi les ordinateurs de la bibliothèque publique. Je pense que cette période m'a énormément aidé à me retirer de ma dépendance au porno. 

Après six mois, j'ai retrouvé un emploi et j'ai déménagé dans mon propre logement, toujours sans ordinateur ni Internet à la maison. Mais maintenant, je pouvais aussi utiliser Internet au travail. Au début, cela a bien fonctionné et j'ai essayé d'utiliser Internet au travail à des fins professionnelles, mais lentement, j'ai également passé de plus en plus de temps à des fins non liées au travail. Et j'ai parfois eu des crises de boulimie au travail, dans lesquelles j'ai arrêté de travailler et j'ai commencé à surfer sur Internet pour le reste de la journée de travail. 

J'en ai discuté avec mon parrain, et il m'a suggéré de reprendre un ordinateur et Internet à la maison. Je l'ai fait. C'était effrayant au début, mais cela a très bien fonctionné. Plus important encore, mes envies de regarder du porno sur mon ordinateur avaient disparu. Je considère toujours cela comme l'un des miracles du rétablissement. Je suis reconnaissant à mon parrain d'avoir insisté pour que je n'utilise pas de filtres Internet ou d'applications de contrôle du temps sur mon ordinateur. Dieu est mon filtre Internet et mon contrôle du temps, et si je veux que mon utilisation d'Internet reste gérable, je devrai compter sur ma puissance supérieure plutôt que sur des filtres Internet ou des contrôles parentaux. Cela dit, alors que je me rétablissais de la dépendance sexuelle, mon utilisation d'Internet restait parfois ingérable, tombant dans des crises de frénésie Internet à la maison ou au travail. Après avoir d'abord travaillé sur d'autres défauts de caractère, cette chose Internet est devenue plus têtue à résoudre avec les étapes six et sept seules. 

Avec elle, mon envie d'arrêter a augmenté. J'ai senti que mon rétablissement était faux. J'ai eu des crises de frénésie sur Internet jusqu'au bout de la nuit, totalement impuissant à m'arrêter. C'était exactement la même chose qu'avant que je me lance dans une récupération en douze étapes, la seule différence était qu'il n'y avait pas de porno impliqué. Mon parrain m'a suggéré de rechercher un programme en douze étapes pour la dépendance à Internet. Je l'ai fait, et finalement un gars m'a parlé de l'ITAA. 

Cependant, je ne voulais pas aller à l'ITAA. Je n'avais aucune confiance qu'aller à l'ITAA m'aiderait. Enfin, une autre frénésie Internet en décembre 2018 m'a convaincu d'appeler à ma première réunion ITAA. 

Cela a-t-il aidé? Vous pariez que oui. 

J'ai été vraiment surpris, mais il s'est avéré que j'avais vraiment besoin de l'ITAA - je devais admettre que je suis un accro d'Internet et de la technologie en appelant et en le disant à haute voix à d'autres accros d'Internet et de la technologie. Et j'avais besoin d'entendre les voix, les histoires de souffrance et de rétablissement réussi, d'autres accros à Internet et à la technologie. Oui, je suis accro à Internet et à la technologie. Je ne peux pas le contrôler, et ma vie est ingérable. J'ai besoin d'une puissance supérieure pour gérer ma vie et des boursiers de l'ITAA pour rester à l'écart des frénésie d'Internet. 

Et le miracle est que depuis que j'ai rejoint l'ITAA, je n'ai pas eu de frénésie Internet grave (même si j'ai brièvement dépassé mes résultats à quelques reprises). Je sens que mon rétablissement et ma vie ont atteint un nouveau niveau. Je suis très reconnaissant pour cela.


Quantifier la dépendance à Internet et à la technologie

Pour démontrer les conséquences potentiellement dévastatrices de la dépendance à Internet et à la technologie, voici comment un membre a quantifié la perte résultant de sa dépendance. Quelles que soient nos expériences passées, nous avons trouvé l'exercice de quantification des conséquences de notre dépendance éclairant et puissant.

Ce que 25 ans d'addiction à Internet m'ont coûté :

  • 25 ans de vie dans des dortoirs et des appartements extrêmement désordonnés. 
  • 20 ans de blessures chroniques et de problèmes de santé.
  • 19 ans depuis ma dernière relation sérieuse.
  • 17 ans depuis ma dernière amitié intime avec laquelle j'ai passé beaucoup de temps en personne.
  • 11 ans depuis la dernière fois que j'ai eu plus d'un rendez-vous avec la même personne.
  • 10 ans que j'ai été capable de gérer une charge de travail complète dans un emploi rémunéré ou à l'école. 
  • 7 ans depuis la dernière fois que je suis allé à un rendez-vous.
  • 6 ans depuis mon dernier emploi rémunéré.
  • 5 ans depuis ma dernière date annulée.
  • 5 ans depuis ma dernière tentative d'avoir une vie sociale.
  • 2 ans de vie/voyage à l'étranger avec très peu de temps passé à faire du tourisme.
  • Plus d'un an de retard pour entrer dans les études supérieures à deux reprises.
  • Environ une année totale de sous-emploi au travail que j'aurais pu passer à acquérir de nouvelles compétences, mais je ne l'ai pas fait. 
  • 2 écoles supérieures qui me convenaient mal, en partie par peur de suivre des cours en ligne. 
  • 2 écoles doctorales que j'ai abandonnées. 
  • 10 cours abandonnés ou échoués.
  • Les notes finales d'un B, C ou F dans mes derniers cours dans une école en conséquence directe de frénésie Internet qui ont eu des répercussions majeures sur mon avenir. 
  • 1 article de recherche n'a jamais été rendu pour lequel un professeur m'a attribué le crédit.
  • Manquer mon opportunité d'avoir des enfants. 
  • Relations ruinées avec les colocataires. 
  • Diabète précoce qui est devenu grave parce que je ne mangeais que des choses qui pouvaient être mangées d'une seule main devant l'ordinateur.  
  • Plusieurs mouvements ratés.
  • Avoir 8 mois de retard dans un programme de formation professionnelle qui ne devrait durer que 6 mois. 
  • Ne pas terminer un autre programme de formation professionnelle qui ne nécessitait que 32 heures de travail et que j'avais 5 semaines à faire pendant que je suis au chômage. 
  • M'écarter d'un plan qui, à la fin de la trentaine, m'aurait permis de prendre ma retraite confortablement à la fin de la quarantaine. 
  • Et un coût d'environ un million de dollars.


Fenêtre ouverte

When I was five years old, the only television in our house was in my mother’s bedroom at the top of the stairs. While I watched, I would move closer and closer so that the screen progressively filled up more and more of my field of vision. Sometimes, I’d lay my face right against the glass and let the colors flood my eyes while I slowly rolled my forehead back and forth to feel the static prickle on my skin and taste the acrid electricity in my teeth. I felt a deep and hypnotic sense of calm in these moments, and my chest would fill with a pleasantly cool numbness. 

I couldn’t have known it then, but this sensation was to grow into one of the defining features of my life. It became my greatest companion and source of refuge, until it weaved itself so tightly into my being that it nearly killed me.

The sight of screens filled me with a secret joy that it seemed only I could recognize, as though they were beyond and outside of the world—a glimpse of magic. The internet arrived when I was ten, and soon I was waiting until everyone else had fallen asleep so that I could slip downstairs to play games and watch videos on the family computer until early in the morning. Crawling back into bed just before dawn, I’d complain of a terrible stomach ache when my mother came to wake me up, and I missed so many days of school that I nearly had to repeat the seventh grade.

As I grew older, it became increasingly common for the whole day to disappear into the screen, with occasional, panic-filled breaks for studying. I managed to scrape by in classes by preparing at the last minute, comforting myself with the thought that I was above school. In some moments of murky self-awareness, I wondered why, if I felt I was above school, I was choosing to spend my extra time not on more fulfilling activities but on an endless stream of pointless videos and games. I pushed these thoughts away.

These were years of loneliness and melancholy. I felt as though I were on one side of a window and life was on the other: visible, but out of reach. The thought that these were supposed to be some of the most important years of my life filled me with great sadness. My days passed by in the moments between glances at the clock on the top right of my screen. 

I was fortunate enough to be admitted to my top choice for a university to study what I was most passionate about, where I soon found myself using more seriously than I ever had before. In the days leading up to my first round of finals, I fell into a tremendous bender in which I didn’t sleep for three consecutive nights. I showed up four hours late and delirious to my final presentation, and then felt indignant when my professor nearly failed me. What did it matter if I was late? I’d pulled together a spectacular presentation in those last four hours. The problem, I thought, was that my teacher had it in for me.

Unfortunately, it was me who had it in for myself. Over the coming years, I began to act out a nearly clockwork pattern of falling into intense, days-long binges at the worst possible moments. Right before important deadlines, social gatherings, and trips, I’d tell myself that I could relax my nerves with a short, ten minute break online. Ten minutes would turn into thirty, which would turn into an hour, then two hours, then four, and then all night. I’d wrap myself up in a heady whirlwind of games, videos, television shows, movies, social media, pornography, online research, shopping, memes, forums, podcasts, health articles, news, and anything and everything I could get my hands on. When one activity’s hold over me began to wane I’d switch to another to keep myself going. I’d keep telling myself that I’d stop after the next video, the next article, the next game, but of course by then a new set of possibilities had presented themselves, so it was only reasonable to extend just a little longer. By the time the sky was turning gray and the birds began singing, I was passing out on my laptop, too tired to move my hands or keep my eyes open, going in and out of consciousness while the last movements and sounds played themselves out on my screen. 

A few hours later, I’d wake up to a potent mixture of harsh sunlight and unbearable shame. My mind was foggy and my emotions were dead. I knew I had to do better today—and there was so much to do. But after a long period of lying in paralyzed misery, I’d think that perhaps watching just one video would help jolt me awake. So would begin another endless deluge, until some impending appointment would spark my self-loathing and fear to a breaking point and I would manage to pull myself out of my stupor with a wave of violent threats, demanding that I would never, ever, ever do this again. Sometimes I’d manage to go several weeks without succumbing. Just as often, I’d be back in the same dark oblivion within a few days.

Whenever I began using, it felt like I was wrapping a large blanket around myself. I experienced an indescribable sense of comfort and safety, as though I were a child being held in my mother’s arms. What I wanted most was to disappear, to become invisible, for time to stop. For a few hours or days, the world would become still and my body would become numb, and I was able to feel peace. 

But my peace never lasted long, and a growing current of pain was widening inside me. I was becoming more capable and mature in every other area of my life, but in this arena I was progressively losing all control. Why couldn’t I stop watching pointless online videos? I could no longer explain away my behavior by claiming I was above school—I was studying what I was most passionate about. My self-sabotage had now become a truly senseless mystery. I felt incredibly embarrassed that despite my best efforts to the contrary, my life was disappearing into the void that I carried around in my pocket.

I managed to keep my problem well-hidden and scrape enough work together to achieve academic distinction, and one summer I was awarded a scholarship to pursue an independent project in a major city—an incredible opportunity that I’d dreamed of since I was young. However, several weeks into the summer found me in a perplexing state of affairs. I was sitting on the hard, wooden floor of a small apartment with no furniture except a mattress, a single poorly fitted sheet, and a used air conditioner that I hadn’t gotten around to installing, despite the oppressive heat wave. Thin plastic convenience store bags lay strewn about me filled with empty ice cream containers and junk food packaging. I was sitting against the wall I shared with a neighbor who had offered to let me use their internet until I set up my own service, and my body was sore because I’d been sitting there continuously for the past ten hours. Hunched over my phone, I was watching hundreds and hundreds of videos I didn’t find even remotely interesting or enjoyable. In the early hours of the morning, overcome by physical pain and mental exhaustion, I pleaded with myself in my head: “Please stop. Please stop now. Just stop.” Against my straining will, my hands moved with a life of their own to click on the next video while I looked on helplessly, feeling like a prisoner behind my eyes. For six and a half minutes longer I would forget that I didn’t want to be doing this. Then another wave of exhaustion and pain would hit me and I’d try to convince myself to stop, over and over again until I finally passed out. With no professors and no parents, no assignments or deadlines, the days stretched out ominously before me, extending this gruesome scene without limit, day after day, week after week. I felt deeply scared. Here was an opportunity I’d been dreaming of most of my life, and I was throwing it all away in the most pointless and humiliating manner I could have possibly imagined. What was wrong with me? Why was this happening?

I wondered whether this was anything like what alcoholics experienced when they had a drink of alcohol, and the thought filled me with a dim sense of hope—I’d heard of Alcoholics Anonymous, and I was certain that there must be a few people in my city who thought they were internet addicts. I resolved to look up a meeting and force myself to go to one. But when I searched online, not only did I find nothing in my city, I found nothing in my country, or anywhere at all in the world. In that moment I felt indescribably hopeless, confused, and alone. 

The summer dragged on, and in the final days before I was due to return to school I strained to pull together something which I could show for the past months. My work garnered praise, but it was a hollow victory. Despite my external facade, I was haunted by the thought that I was wasting my life and not living up to my potential.

I returned to university and the next several years continued in similar fashion, with painful, exhausting, secret binges punctuating my weeks. I tried blockers, self-help books, exercise, supplements, positive self-talk, negative self-talk, therapy, meditation, and any and every other strategy I could think of to stop my acting out behaviors. Nothing worked. Upon graduating I was awarded another scholarship which afforded me three months to work independently, during which I did little more than obsessively scroll social media and read the news. After my scholarship money ran out I got an excellent job from which I was promptly fired after showing up to work six hours late, having stayed up until dawn the night before watching television. A relationship fell apart because I wasn’t able to give enough time or intimacy to my partner. The next several relationships fell apart in much the same manner. My bank account became a revolving door and I started sleeping in my car because I couldn’t afford to pay rent. Between it all my using grew even more unregulated and excessive. My fantasies began vacillating between visions of abandoning all ambitions to live out the rest of my life playing games and watching television, and mental illustrations of cruel and gruesome ways in which I could take my own life. I rarely enjoyed using anymore. I began pressing the points of knives to my chest to quiet my anxiety and would travel out to bridges in the middle of the night to stand at the edge.

In a moment of desperation after a particularly bad binge, I again tried looking for some kind of support group for my problem. This time I miraculously stumbled across a Twelve-Step fellowship for gaming addiction with daily phone meetings. It’d been years since I’d started looking for a group like this, and I’d finally found an answer. 

But after surveying the website, I decided that it wasn’t for me. It was helpful to read about some of the tools they used, but it had now been nearly a week since I’d stopped binging, and I was truly serious about stopping this time. My last binge had been incredibly painful and I’d firmly decided that I must stop at all costs. I was confident that I was finished now.

Several months later, early on the morning of my birthday, I passed out after 70 hours of continuous gaming. I had traveled to my hometown for a few days to go through my childhood possessions before my mom sold our house, and I’d made plans to celebrate my birthday with the rest of my family while I was in town. By the time I woke up from my blackout, I’d missed my own birthday party and had less than an hour left before I had to leave for the airport. My phone was filled with missed calls and my room with piles of unorganized things. An unbearable weight of shame and panic settled over me. After sitting for some time in stunned paralysis, I started going through my room in a crazed frenzy, throwing my lifelong possessions into the trash with little more than a cursory glance. In the last few minutes before I had to leave, I kneeled down on the floor of the room I’d grown up in and tried to say goodbye. I wanted to cry or feel gratitude for my childhood home, but I felt nothing. After several fruitless minutes, I sat down at my desk, closed my eyes, and promised myself that if I ever played another video game again I would kill myself. 

The next night I called into my first meeting for the gaming fellowship. I got the time wrong and showed up just as the meeting was ending, and I was so nervous that I was whispering. Two members kindly offered to stick around and talk with me, and I shyly explained to them, in abstract generalities, that I was playing too many games. After listening to me compassionately, they shared their own stories, encouraged me to keep coming back, and suggested I attend a meeting every day. I listened to their suggestions. Sharing honestly and vulnerably with a group of strangers who came from all walks of life felt uncomfortable, messy, and awkward. There was also a lot of talk about a Higher Power, which made me uneasy. But after years of secrecy, hearing other people share experiences that mirrored my own was like drinking water in the desert, and everyone’s kindness, sincerity, and goodwill kept me coming back. 

Unlike everything else I’d tried over so many years, these meetings proved to be the only thing that worked. I haven’t played a single game since my first meeting. Abstinence didn’t come because I’d threatened myself—I’d been doing that in one way or another my whole life. It came because I was finally able to start speaking honestly with people who understood me, and who in the light of their understanding, offered me unconditional love.

While abstinence from gaming was a vital beginning, the rest of my online behaviors continued unabated, and several weeks into my nascent sobriety I found myself settling into long sessions of watching videos of other people playing games. I saw I was headed towards trouble if I continued down that path. I connected with two other members who were also looking to address their problematic internet and technology use, and in June of 2017 we held the first meeting of Internet and Technology Addicts Anonymous. We agreed on a weekly meeting time and I felt hopeful that the same freedom I’d been granted from gaming would soon extend to all my other problematic internet and technology behaviors.

The process wasn’t as straightforward as I would have liked, to say the least. For my first five months in ITAA, I relapsed constantly. My sobriety felt like a tenuous ledge on an icy mountain slope. I’d begin checking my bank account, and 16 hours later I’d find myself in the middle of another terrible relapse wondering how it had happened. 

But I didn’t give up—I decided that I would go to any lengths to find recovery. I started a second weekly meeting, began calling other members regularly, read literature from other Twelve-Step fellowships, and started keeping a time log of all my internet and technology use. It was a noble outpouring of dedication. Then in late November of that year I decided to watch a movie one evening and fell into another terrible three-day binge. 

Mercifully, this was to be my last serious binge. I’d apparently done enough footwork that the depths of this particular bottom were enough to propel me into my first period of sustained sobriety. In the initial months of my newfound freedom, I went through withdrawals. I felt foggy-headed, angry, apathetic, and numb. My hands filled with pain whenever I tried to handle objects, and my legs felt like sacks of wet sand whenever I tried to walk. I slept too much or couldn’t sleep at all. Endless stretches of unbearable boredom were punctuated by painful extremes of elation and depression, as well as intense urges to turn to my addiction. I became willing to release myself of all expectations of what I should do or be and to put my recovery before everything else. When I couldn’t muster any strength to face the day, I allowed myself to lay on my bed and cry. When I experienced emotional highs, I guarded against the temptation to stop going to meetings. Eventually the withdrawals passed and I stopped feeling the constant urges to use. I kept my head down and continued trying to further my recovery work.

For a long period, it was important to change out my smartphone for a flip phone and to remove my home internet connection so that I could only connect online when I was in public. I deleted all my social media accounts and stopped reading the news, which had never helped any of the people I’d been reading about anyways. I began treating risky and triggering technology behaviors as things to avoid at all costs. I helped start more meetings. And perhaps most importantly of all, I began developing a relationship with a Higher Power.

I finally understood that the Steps refer to a Higher Power of my own understanding. Even though the words were there, in my heart I’d still thought this phrase referred to a Higher Power of someone else’s understanding. I made up a straw man in my head of what that Higher Power was and decided I wanted nothing to do with it. My fellow members never said a word to discourage me—on the contrary, they listened to me with curiosity, compassion, and acceptance. Eventually I realized that I was only fighting myself. I had to come to terms with the simple fact that there is an immense universe of things that are fundamentally beyond my control and understanding. I slowly began to let go of my controlling grip on the world, trusting things to take their natural course while listening open-mindedly to the experiences of others. Today, my spiritual practices are the cornerstone of my entire recovery program: I pray and meditate each morning and evening, and I practice an ongoing surrender and trust in something greater than myself which I don’t fully understand.

Over the next two years I had a handful of slips. Each time I slipped, I sat down and wrote about what happened, why and where it had started, and what changes I needed to make to my recovery program moving forward. Then I called other members and spoke with them about it, putting into place their suggestions. My last slip was at the end of 2019, and by the grace of my Higher Power, I’ve had continuous sobriety since January 1, 2020. This last slip was to be the foundation for three new major pillars in my recovery. 

First, I had to totally admit my powerlessness. Nearly every slip I’d had occurred when I’d tried to take a break from the program. Having experienced long, solid periods of sobriety without any urges to use, I secretly wondered whether I might be able to step back from the program and get back to living my life without the extra commitment of meetings, calls, and service. Over the course of all my experiments during those two years, I again and again received the answer to my question: I was never able to go more than two weeks away from the program before relapsing. My last slip painfully hammered this truth home to me. Just like the hundreds of thousands of oldtimers in AA who have decades of sobriety and still show up to meetings every day, I had to profoundly admit that I am an addict, that there is no cure for addiction, and that I will need ITAA for the rest of my life. I am not the exception to the rule—and if I am, I no longer want to keep trying to find out.

The second major pillar that I established in my recovery was to get a sponsor and start working the Steps. I’d previously viewed the Steps as an optional, additional resource I could draw on when I wanted to. Others had been asking me to sponsor them because of my own beginnings of sobriety, but I didn’t even have a sponsor myself. Again I had to cast away the idea that I could be the exception to the rule. I found an experienced sponsor and at their direction began working the Steps using the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. After having initially viewed the core of our program with suspicion, resentment, uneasiness, and disinterest, I’m so grateful I got to a place in my recovery where I became willing to work the Steps—it’s difficult to describe just how transformative and profound they’ve been for me. They provided a safe container through which I was able to work through a great deal of pain and suffering that I’d been carrying throughout my life from childhood sexual abuse, dysfunctional family dynamics, and a string of toxic relationships. I understood my self-hatred in a new light and was able to gently let it go, along with my desire to take my own life. My work in therapy has been essential to this process, and I’ve needed to rely on trained professionals to help me with my healing. I also needed the directness, humility, and vulnerability that the Steps provided. They have been critical to my long-term, sustained abstinence.

The third pillar was a new approach to sobriety. At times in my recovery, I’d navigated a byzantine web of top, middle, and bottom lines that crossed in a hundred directions, with action plans, time logs, and bookends balanced precariously on top. While these tools are deeply useful to my recovery, after my last slip I adopted a much simpler attitude: I only use technology when I have to. I try to keep my usage minimal and purposeful, and I generally avoid using for entertainment, curiosity, or to numb my emotions. If I find myself straying from this principle, I call my sponsor and talk about it. This simple approach has placed me far away from the rocky crags of relapse and on the wide and rolling plains of serenity. I’d feared this would be the more difficult route, but the opposite has proven true in abundance. Today I meet my needs for pleasure, relaxation, curiosity, and connection in non-compulsive, offline ways. In the process, my life has grown unimaginably richer.

It’s been a very long time since I had the thought “I’m not living up to my potential.” Today I feel fully alive. My capacity to spend my time working towards meaningful ambitions that align with my values has been restored and expanded. I’ve developed rich, fulfilling relationships in which I’m able to be present and vulnerable. The precarity in my career and finances has fallen away. I’m able to take care of my body with appropriate rest, a healthy diet, good hygiene, and regular exercise. I have access to my emotions and can feel happiness, gratitude, and peace without repression or compartmentalization. I can also feel sadness, fear, and anger. I use my devices responsibly when necessary, and afterwards I’m able to stop. I no longer need to hide or lie, and I can keep the commitments I set with myself and others. I’m not consumed with fear, pride, or shame as I used to be. Instead I find myself acting with serenity and clarity. 

Recently, I was in the ocean during a light spell of rain. The air was still and soft, and gray light filtered from the sky. The taste of saltwater and freshwater mixed on my tongue, and cool air filled my chest. I stayed still for a long time, standing in the water, in the embrace of a wide and quiet world that had always been here. It had been waiting on the other side of a window that had once separated me from life.