Recovery is possible

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As with many other internet addicts, my addiction started early in life. I was fascinated by the first screens I was exposed to. In my childhood, I definitely had phases of obsessing over certain media (including books) but my parent’s rather strict guidance prevented it from getting too problematic. When I got my first computer in my teenage years and was free to use it for long hours at a time without anyone noticing, my use started escalating. I didn’t have friends I felt close to, I was being bullied at school, I didn’t get along well with my parents, and I didn’t really feel like I had any significant hobbies. The internet was the only place where I felt free and relaxed. I spent more time consuming content online until I literally considered watching videos on a certain platform my hobby. Through a student exchange and two years of intensive study for my final exams, my addiction took a back seat in my life for a while. Periods like this where I could shorten my internet usage for a greater good in my life later had me question if I was really addicted. 

After finishing high school with impeccable marks, I fell into a black hole. I moved to another city for university and expected everything to be better there. But I had too much free time and freedom and I couldn’t handle it. I was technically an adult but the tasks I wanted to live up to were too big for me. In my youth, I had learned few life skills because I had been used to fleeing from my problems. 

So, I fled again. After a few months of trying to achieve social and academic goals at university and failing, I fell deeper into depression. I subconsciously gave up on myself and instead filled the hole of frustration, anger and emptiness with the internet. Nobody could tell me anymore that I was using too long or that it was time to sleep, so I stayed up whole nights watching content online. I got into a habit of skipping half of my university classes because I felt no motivation to go, or I overslept because I had been up for long hours the previous night. Being sleep deprived became my new default state. I didn’t try anymore to make real life friends or really engage in activities. I had found my online communities that I felt like fulfilled my need for socialization and fun better than any contact in real life.

Mostly, I watched videos posted on a particular platform and I read texts in forums. I developed a sort of crooked perfectionism with my usage. I spent a tremendous amount of time creating and reorganizing watch lists and picturewalls online because I thought that “one day,” I would read/watch them all and be sure of my complete knowledge. I often liked to consume content of people doing things I would like to do in real life as well, and I would be so amazed by them. The most painful part was seeing these people do amazing things with their time while I spent all my time watching them. I desperately wanted to be able to do these amazing things as well, but I felt like I couldn’t. I was scared of failing and so I resorted to just consuming information about the activity, half-heartedly telling myself that I was doing that “in preparation” for when I would actually do all of these things one day.

This motivated information-collection was the more positive part of my addiction, though. I also spend a lot of time watching stuff I didn’t even feel interested in just to watch stuff. I was always searching for the next interesting piece of media to give a kick to my emotions, but as I was becoming numbed by the great amount I had already consumed, this was getting harder. I lost the concentration to watch anything longer than a short video. I watched for the purpose of watching, often quitting videos halfway through or playing games while watching because one video alone wasn’t doing it anymore.

All of this dug me deeper into my depression. I had developed light social anxiety too, and everything felt like an extremely hard task to me. My “problem” throughout all my use was that my life never got so bad that it looked truly unmanageable from the outside. I kept on track with my university courses, although with mediocre marks, occasionally took short-term jobs and upheld a few loose “friendships” without ever being close to my “friends”. When people invited me to hang out, I had happy, social times without the internet. I sometimes managed to force myself to do hobby activities. All of this made me reason that my life wasn’t so bad after all, and nobody ever got concerned about my way of life. I kept going with it. 

I didn’t have a specific rock bottom about my internet use that I can remember, but I remember one holiday where I felt absolutely bad the whole time. I made a decision to stop giving up on myself because of the state of depression I felt then. Back in my university town, I made an effort to always stay busy, taking internships and jobs to never have too much free time on my hands, which I thought was my problem. In order to become more productive, I had also installed a blocker on my PC and started blocking online pages for a growing number of hours a day. 

As I was spending more time outside of the PC, my life was becoming a lot better and I felt less urges to spend time on it. I was using the internet freely for about half an hour a day at this point and my free time activities had already improved tremendously; I was going outside more, doing my hobby and never stopped being amazed at how much time there is in a day when I don’t spend it in front of the screen. As I was active in online forums about spending less time online, I found the link to a local ITAA group by coincidence. I went there, not really knowing what it was about. I started attending it even though I didn’t even feel like I was an internet addict, just someone who wants to become more productive by wasting less time online. For a few months, I just went to meetings, shared a bit and still used the internet for entertainment 30 minutes a day. 

After a while, I met up with a fellow member and she told me her story of becoming completely abstinent. Even though I still didn’t feel like an internet addict, I decided to become completely abstinent the day after our meeting. I wrote down all the pages and online activities that were triggering to me (my bottom lines) and stayed abstinent from them. I had only cut out that last half an hour a day of free internet but the change was still noticeable. I felt more emotions more intensely because I had previously numbed them with internet usage. As I kept my abstinence, my life improved more. There was no magic change within a day but slow, tiny improvements. 

A year went by. After about 10 months, I started having doubts about the program and my abstinence. I didn’t feel addicted and I consumed some entertainment online to prove myself I’m not. Even though I didn’t go into a binge, I could feel the mental shift. Consuming things on the internet makes me feel nervous, like my body is out of tune with the outside world. I get hectic and distracted, try to multitask and fail, as always. I stopped it again and switched to a stricter model of abstinence.

The internet won’t make me lose my job or risk my life but I can feel it is bad for me mentally. I use it to numb my feelings, intensify my feelings, avoid contact with fellow humans or myself, or cope with my fears and self-doubt. It never gave me any solution. It is harder to ask people in real life for help, to address a problem head-on myself, to work instead of consuming, but it’s worth it. I feel balanced. I can feel my feelings, which it turns out are not there to make me suffer, but to guide me in how to live my life. I feel pain and then I know there is something I need to change. I am more active, I do my hobbies and engage socially. I focus on what I really need in the moment when I want to go online. Most importantly, I feel more alive, present, there in my body and in the world when I’m not glued to a screen.

My internet usage still isn’t perfect. I switched to CDs and I’m noticing the struggle of finding analogue music. I still shop online because it is often very effective and I haven’t yet found a better way. I switched to a flip phone for a while but got annoyed by the discomfort and now I am using my smartphone again. But I am aware of all of my media use and I try to question myself every time I turn on a screen. Do I really need to look this up? What is the thing I really need now, emotionally? And this way, I know I will figure out the bricks that are still loose in my abstinence.

The internet harmed me. I feel like I am only now, almost a year abstinent and one and a half years almost-abstinent, noticing the true scope of the negative effects my usage had on me. All the information, opinions, ideas, suggestions and lifestyles I read about online still affect my thinking. I keep wondering how I should behave according to what some people said online instead of trusting my inner voice which hasn’t been listened to for so long. I sometimes still have trouble concentrating on long texts or videos. My sexuality is twisted from my porn consumption and the ideals it set up in my mind. I sometimes can’t differentiate if I really want to do something or I only think I want to do it because I once saw it online. These things will take a long time to heal, maybe even longer than the time I spent online. But I am living in real life now. And it’s better here. 

At the end of an ITAA meeting, we always have a moment of silence for the addicted internet and technology user who is still suffering. Sometimes I think of myself when I was younger and needed strength to get out of my addiction, and sometimes I think of other members, possibly such as you who are reading this. I don’t know you, but if you are suffering from internet and technology use, I pray for you that you can get out of the twisted claws of the internet like I did. I promise you, it will be worth it.

Page last updated on ספטמבר 3, 2023