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
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.
- I work the steps daily.
- 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
what hinders me.
다른 많은 인터넷 중독자들과 마찬가지로 내 중독도 어릴 때부터 시작되었습니다. 처음 접한 화면에 매료되었습니다. 어린 시절에는 확실히 책을 포함한 특정 매체에 집착하는 단계가 있었지만 부모님의 다소 엄격한 지도로 인해 문제가 되지는 않았습니다. 10대에 처음으로 컴퓨터를 얻었고 아무도 모르게 한 번에 오랜 시간 동안 자유롭게 사용할 수 있게 되자 사용량이 증가하기 시작했습니다. 친하게 지내는 친구도 없었고, 학교에서 왕따를 당했고, 부모님과도 사이가 좋지 않았고, 딱히 의미 있는 취미가 있는 것 같지도 않았다. 인터넷은 내가 자유롭고 편안하게 느낄 수 있는 유일한 곳이었습니다. 나는 문자 그대로 특정 플랫폼에서 비디오를 보는 것을 취미로 생각할 때까지 온라인에서 콘텐츠를 소비하는 데 더 많은 시간을 보냈습니다. 교환학생과 기말고사를 위한 2년 간의 집중적인 공부를 통해 내 중독은 한동안 내 인생에서 뒷걸음질 쳤다. 나중에 내 인생에서 더 큰 이익을 위해 인터넷 사용을 단축할 수 있는 이와 같은 기간은 내가 정말 중독되었는지에 대한 질문을 던졌습니다.
흠 잡을 데 없는 고등학교를 마치고 블랙홀에 빠졌다. 나는 대학을 위해 다른 도시로 이사했고 그곳에서 모든 것이 더 나아지기를 기대했습니다. 그러나 나는 너무 많은 자유 시간과 자유가 있었고 그것을 감당할 수 없었습니다. 나는 엄밀히 말하면 어른이었지만 내가 감당하고 싶은 일은 나에게 너무 컸습니다. 젊었을 때 나는 문제를 피하는 데 익숙했기 때문에 삶의 기술을 거의 배우지 못했습니다.
그래서 또 도망쳤습니다. 대학에서 사회적, 학문적 목표를 달성하기 위해 몇 개월 동안 노력했지만 실패한 후, 나는 더 깊은 우울증에 빠졌습니다. 나는 무의식적으로 나 자신을 포기하고 대신 인터넷으로 좌절, 분노, 공허함의 구멍을 채웠다. 더 이상 아무도 내가 너무 오래 사용하거나 잘 시간이라는 말을 할 수 없었기 때문에 온라인에서 콘텐츠를 보면서 밤새도록 있었습니다. 갈 의욕이 없어서 대학 수업의 절반을 건너뛰거나 전날 밤에 오랜 시간을 깨서 늦잠을 자는 버릇이 생겼습니다. 수면 부족이 나의 새로운 기본 상태가 되었습니다. 더 이상 실제 친구를 사귀거나 실제로 활동을 하려고 하지 않았습니다. 나는 사회화와 재미에 대한 필요를 실생활의 어떤 접촉보다 더 잘 충족시키는 것처럼 느껴지는 온라인 커뮤니티를 발견했습니다.
주로 특정 플랫폼에 게시된 동영상을 보고 포럼에서 텍스트를 읽습니다. 나는 나의 사용법으로 일종의 비뚤어진 완벽주의를 발전 시켰습니다. 나는 "언젠가"가 모든 것을 읽고 /보고 내 완전한 지식을 확신 할 것이라고 생각했기 때문에 온라인으로 감시 목록과 그림 벽을 만들고 재구성하는 데 엄청난 시간을 보냈습니다. 실생활에서도 하고 싶은 일을 하고 있는 사람들의 콘텐츠를 즐겨 소비하는 경우가 많았는데, 그 사람들에게 너무 놀랐습니다. 가장 고통스러운 부분은 내가 모든 시간을 그들을 보면서 보내는 동안 이 사람들이 그들의 시간으로 놀라운 일을 하는 것을 보는 것이었다. 나도 이런 놀라운 일들을 할 수 있기를 간절히 바랐지만, 그럴 수 없다는 생각이 들었다. 나는 실패하는 것이 두려웠고, 활동에 대한 정보를 소비하는 데 의존했고, 언젠가 실제로 이 모든 일을 할 때를 대비하여 "준비"하고 있다고 반만 나 자신에게 말했습니다.
이 동기 부여된 정보 수집은 내 중독의 더 긍정적인 부분이었습니다. 저도 관심도 못느끼던 것들을 보기 위해 많은 시간을 보냅니다. 나는 항상 내 감정을 자극할 다음 흥미로운 미디어를 찾고 있었지만 이미 소비한 많은 양에 무감각해지면서 점점 더 어려워졌습니다. 짧은 영상보다 더 긴 영상을 보고 집중력을 잃었습니다. 저는 시청할 목적으로 시청했는데, 영상 하나만으로는 더 이상 하지 못해서 중간에 영상을 끊거나 시청 중 게임을 하는 경우가 많았습니다.
이 모든 것이 내 우울증을 더 깊이 파고들었다. 나 역시 가벼운 사회불안을 가지고 있었고, 모든 것이 나에게 매우 어려운 일처럼 느껴졌다. 모든 사용 기간 동안 내 "문제"는 내 삶이 외부에서 진정으로 관리할 수 없을 정도로 나빠진 적이 없었다는 것입니다. 나는 대학 과정을 계속 진행했지만 평균 점수를 받았고 때때로 단기 일자리를 얻었고 내 "친구"와 가깝지 않은 채 약간의 느슨한 "우정"을 유지했습니다. 사람들이 나를 초대했을 때 나는 인터넷 없이도 행복한 사교 시간을 보냈습니다. 나는 때때로 취미 활동을 억지로 하기도 했다. 이 모든 것이 결국 내 삶이 그렇게 나쁘지 않았으며 아무도 내 삶의 방식에 대해 걱정하지 않는다는 이유를 만들었습니다. 나는 그것을 계속했다.
기억할 수 있는 인터넷 사용에 대한 구체적인 바닥은 없었지만, 내내 기분이 나빴던 한 휴가는 기억합니다. 그때 느꼈던 우울감 때문에 스스로 포기하지 않기로 했다. 대학 도시로 돌아가서 나는 항상 바쁘게 지내려고 노력했고, 인턴십과 직업을 가지고 너무 많은 자유 시간을 가지지 않으려고 노력했는데, 그것이 내 문제라고 생각했습니다. 생산성을 높이기 위해 PC에 차단기를 설치하고 하루에 점점 더 많은 시간 동안 온라인 페이지를 차단하기 시작했습니다.
PC 밖에서 더 많은 시간을 보내면서 내 삶이 훨씬 나아지고 있었고 그것에 시간을 할애하고 싶은 충동을 덜 느꼈습니다. 이 시점에서 나는 하루에 약 30분 동안 인터넷을 자유롭게 사용하고 있었고 자유 시간 활동은 이미 엄청나게 향상되었습니다. 나는 더 많이 밖에 나가서 취미생활을 했고, 하루 중 스크린 앞에서 시간을 보내지 않는 시간이 얼마나 많은지 놀라움을 금치 못했다. 온라인에서 시간을 덜 보내는 것에 대한 온라인 포럼에서 활동하다가 우연히 지역 ITAA 그룹에 대한 링크를 찾았습니다. 나는 그것이 무엇에 관한 것인지 전혀 모르고 거기에 갔다. 나는 내가 인터넷 중독자라는 생각조차 하지 못했는데도 참석하기 시작했습니다. 단지 온라인에서 시간을 덜 낭비함으로써 생산성을 높이고자 하는 사람일 뿐입니다. 몇 달 동안 나는 회의에 참석하고 약간의 이야기를 나누며 여전히 하루 30분씩 인터넷을 오락으로 사용했습니다.
얼마 후 지인을 만나 금욕을 하게 된 사연을 털어놨다. 아직 인터넷 중독은 아니었지만, 모임 다음 날부터 완전히 금주하기로 했습니다. 나는 나를 촉발시키는 모든 페이지와 온라인 활동(내 결론)을 적어두고 금욕을 지켰다. 나는 무료 인터넷의 마지막 30분의 하루를 끊었지만 그 변화는 여전히 눈에 띄었습니다. 이전에 인터넷 사용으로 감정을 무감각하게 만들었기 때문에 더 강렬하게 감정을 느꼈습니다. 금욕을 지켰을 때 내 삶은 더 나아졌다. 하루 만에 마법 같은 변화는 없었지만 느리고 작은 개선이 있었습니다.
1년이 흘렀다. 약 10개월 후, 나는 프로그램과 금욕에 대해 의심을 갖기 시작했습니다. 나는 중독되지 않았으며 내가 중독되지 않았음을 증명하기 위해 온라인에서 약간의 오락을 즐겼습니다. 폭식을 하지는 않았지만 멘탈의 변화를 느낄 수 있었다. 인터넷에서 물건을 소비하면 내 몸이 외부 세계와 조화를 이루지 못하는 것처럼 불안해집니다. 나는 바쁘고 산만해지며, 언제나처럼 멀티태스킹을 시도하고 실패합니다. 나는 그것을 다시 중단하고 더 엄격한 금욕 모델로 전환했습니다.
인터넷은 내가 직장을 잃거나 생명을 위협하게 만들지는 않겠지만 정신적으로 나쁠 수는 있습니다. 나는 감정을 무디게 하고, 감정을 강화하고, 다른 사람이나 나 자신과의 접촉을 피하거나, 두려움과 자기 의심에 대처하기 위해 그것을 사용합니다. 그것은 나에게 어떤 해결책도 주지 않았다. 실생활에서 사람들에게 도움을 요청하고, 직접 문제를 해결하고, 소비하는 대신 일을 하는 것이 더 어렵지만 그만한 가치가 있습니다. 나는 균형을 느낀다. 나는 내 감정을 느낄 수 있는데, 그것은 나를 고통스럽게 하기 위해서가 아니라 내 삶을 살아가는 방법을 안내하기 위해 존재하는 것입니다. 나는 고통을 느끼고 내가 바꿔야 할 것이 있다는 것을 압니다. 나는 더 활동적이며 취미를 하고 사교 활동에 참여합니다. 나는 온라인에 접속하고 싶은 순간에 내가 정말로 필요한 것에 집중합니다. 가장 중요한 것은 화면에 붙어 있지 않을 때 내 몸과 세상이 더 살아 있고 존재한다는 느낌이 든다는 것입니다.
내 인터넷 사용은 아직 완벽하지 않습니다. CD로 바꿨고 아날로그 음악을 찾는 데 어려움을 겪고 있습니다. 나는 그것이 종종 매우 효과적이며 아직 더 나은 방법을 찾지 못했기 때문에 여전히 온라인 쇼핑을 합니다. 잠시 플립폰으로 바꾸다가 불편함에 짜증이 나서 지금은 다시 스마트폰을 사용하고 있습니다. 그러나 나는 나의 모든 미디어 사용을 알고 있으며 화면을 켤 때마다 나 자신에게 질문하려고 합니다. 이거 꼭 찾아봐야 하나요? 지금 나에게 진정 필요한 것은 감정적으로 무엇인가? 그리고 이런 식으로, 나는 금욕에 여전히 느슨한 벽돌을 알아낼 것이라는 것을 압니다.
인터넷이 나에게 해를 끼쳤다. 나는 이제서야 거의 1년 동안 금욕을 하고 1년 반 동안 거의 금욕을 하게 되었고, 나의 사용이 나에게 미친 부정적인 영향의 진정한 범위를 알게 되었습니다. 내가 온라인에서 읽은 모든 정보, 의견, 아이디어, 제안 및 생활 방식은 여전히 내 생각에 영향을 미칩니다. 그동안 듣지 못한 내면의 목소리를 믿지 않고 온라인에서 어떤 사람들이 하는 말에 따라 어떻게 행동해야 하는지 계속 고민하고 있습니다. 긴 글이나 동영상에 집중하기 어려울 때가 있습니다. 내 섹슈얼리티는 내 포르노 소비와 그것이 내 마음에 세운 이상으로 인해 뒤틀려 있습니다. 가끔 정말 하고 싶은 일인지 아니면 온라인에서 본 적이 있어서 하고 싶다는 생각만 하는 건지 구분이 안 될 때가 있습니다. 이러한 것들은 치유하는 데 오랜 시간이 걸리며, 어쩌면 내가 온라인에서 보낸 시간보다 더 오래 걸릴 수도 있습니다. 하지만 나는 지금 현실에서 살고 있다. 그리고 여기가 더 좋습니다.
ITAA 회의가 끝나면 여전히 고통받는 인터넷 중독 및 기술 사용자를 위해 항상 침묵의 시간을 갖습니다. 가끔은 내가 어렸을 때 중독에서 벗어날 힘이 필요했을 때의 나 자신을 생각하고, 가끔은 다른 회원들, 아마도 이 글을 읽고 있는 여러분을 생각합니다. 나는 당신을 모르지만 인터넷과 기술 사용으로 고통 받고 있다면 저처럼 인터넷의 꼬인 발톱에서 벗어날 수 있기를 바랍니다. 그만한 가치가 있을 것이라고 약속합니다.
The Only Thing That Worked
우리 부모님은 교육 수준이 높았고 1980년대에 우리는 집에 TV와 컴퓨터가 있는 동네에서 몇 안 되는 가족 중 하나였습니다. 나는 주말에 4시간 동안 아이들을 위한 아침 만화 쇼를 보곤 했던 것을 기억합니다. 컴퓨터에도 매료되었습니다. 어렸을 때 나는 컴퓨터 잡지에서 게임 코드를 입력하고 프로그램을 디버깅한 다음 컴퓨터 게임을 하는 진짜 컴퓨터 괴짜였습니다. 컴퓨터는 또한 나에게 지위와 이웃 아이들과 연결할 수 있는 방법을 주었습니다. 그들이 가지고 있지 않은 우리 컴퓨터에서 놀도록 초대할 수 있었기 때문입니다.
12살 때 부모님이 이혼하고 어머니와 여동생과 함께 새로운 도시로 이사했습니다. 그곳에서 나는 또래들과 연락할 수 없었고 점점 더 고립되었다. 외로움을 달래기 위해 TV와 컴퓨터 게임이 점점 더 중요해지는 시기였습니다. 제가 15살쯤 되었을 때 부모님이 제 방에 있는 텔레비전과 컴퓨터를 선물로 주셨습니다. 그때부터 나는 내 방에서 완전히 고립되어 TV로 스포츠와 뉴스를 보고 컴퓨터 게임을 하며 자유 시간을 보냈습니다. TV와 컴퓨터 사용을 줄이고 싶었지만 보고 노는 것을 멈출 수 없다는 것을 알게 된 것도 그때가 처음이었습니다. 나는 어떻게 든 그 기계에 붙어있었습니다. 분명히 내 숙제는 그것으로 인해 고통을 받았고 때로는 시험에 떨어졌지만 전반적으로 고등학교에서 좋은 성적을 받았습니다.
대학에서 생활이 좋아졌습니다. 드디어 활발한 사회생활을 하게 되었습니다. 처음 3년 동안은 집에 컴퓨터가 없었습니다. 집에 TV가 있었고 매주 방송되는 포르노 영화와 매년 열리는 스포츠 경기를 보고 싶다는 강한 충동을 느꼈지만 나머지는 거의 자제했습니다. 그래도 나는 기술에 꽤 집착했다. 나는 여전히 스스로를 기술 괴짜라고 밝혔고 기술 선두주자임을 확신했습니다. 예를 들어, 나는 내 친구들 중 처음으로 휴대전화를 구입했습니다(여기서는 90년대 후반에 대해 이야기하고 있습니다).
집에서 인터넷이 가능한 내 컴퓨터를 구입했을 때 내 충동은 정말로 사라졌습니다. 특히 인터넷 포르노는 나에게 매우 중독성이 있었고 이것이 실제로 나를 자멸하게 만든 것입니다. 이것은 내가 중독자라고 생각하기 시작했을 때와 인터넷 포르노에 대한 중독을 진정으로 통제하려고 노력했을 때입니다. 다시 시작하는 장벽을 높이려는 행동을 한 후 파일과 뉴스 서비스 구독을 삭제하는 것으로 시작했습니다. 작동하지 않았습니다. 비슷한 맥락에서 나는 모든 전선을 뽑고 모뎀을 상자에 다시 넣고 옷장에 넣어 모뎀을 숨기려고 했습니다. 작동하지 않았습니다. 내 뇌는 여전히 모뎀이 어디에 있는지 알고 있었습니다. (지금 돌이켜보면 이런 것들이 효과가 있다고 생각했다는 게 놀랍다.)
사랑에 빠졌고 낭만적 인 관계에 빠졌습니다. 중독을 멈추지 않았습니다. 나는 단순히 인터넷 포르노 문제를 완전히 비밀로 유지하고 그녀의 뒤에서 계속 행동했습니다. 3년 후 나는 그녀에게 내 인터넷 포르노 문제를 폭로했습니다. 그 순간 그녀는 매우 지원적이고 사랑스러워서 내 문제를 극복할 수 있다는 희망을 주었습니다. 나는 또한 내 문제로 성 치료사에게 갔다. 작동하지 않았습니다. 잠시 후 나는 인터넷 포르노에 대해 연기하기 시작했고 여자 친구에게 비밀로 유지했습니다. 그녀가 발견할 때까지 저는 고백해야 한다고 느꼈고 이번에는 진짜로 중단하기로 새로운 결심을 했습니다. 은밀한 연기, 발견, 약속 등의 다음 물결까지 무한대.
내가 시도한 새로운 것들: 완전히 새로운 깨끗한 노트북. 확실히 나는 그런 처녀 같은 기계를 오염시키지 않을 것입니다. 그것이 나를 구할 것입니다. 그렇지 않았다. 그런 다음 부모 통제를 시도했습니다. 특정 사이트, 특정 키워드가 있는 사이트, 저녁과 밤에 접속을 차단했습니다. 비밀번호를 다른 곳에 보관했습니다. 그것은 매우 불편했습니다. 언젠가 동료와 함께 컴퓨터 작업을 하다가 인트라넷에서 무언가를 봐야 했던 기억이 납니다. 그러나 그 부모 컨트롤이 웹 사이트를 차단하고 있었기 때문에이 어리석은 부모 컨트롤 경고가 나타났습니다. 지금은 사이트에 액세스할 수 없다고 동료에게 설명해야 했습니다. 물론 이 모든 부모 통제는 내 자신의 계획이었고 나는 그것을 다른 사람들과 완전히 비밀로 유지했습니다. 나는 그것에 대해 매우 부끄럽고 부끄러움을 느꼈다. 게다가 가끔은 예외를 둬야 하고 비밀번호를 찾아봤죠. 물론 결정한 순간에 말이죠. 그 결과 어느 시점에서 나는 암호를 암기하기 시작했기 때문에 인터넷 폭식을 계속 반복했습니다. 또한 인터넷 필터를 우회하는 방법을 찾았습니다. 결국, 그것은 효과가 없었고 스트레스만 만들었습니다. 요즘에는 이러한 부모 통제 인터넷 필터가 중독을 통제하는 또 다른 방법, 제 방식대로 하는 또 다른 방법으로 봅니다. 이제 회복 중이며 더 이상 부모 컨트롤이나 인터넷 필터를 사용하지 않습니다. 나는 그들 없이 훨씬 안전하고 편안합니다.
여기서 나는 인터넷을 통제하려는 나의 시도가 포르노 시청을 중단하는 것과 관련이 있을 뿐만 아니라 관련이 있음을 언급해야 합니다. 직장에서 나는 내 컴퓨터에서 포르노를 보지 않았지만 여전히 많은 블로그, 비디오 및 뉴스 기사를 보았습니다. 나는 종종 실제 일보다 인터넷 서핑을 하는 데 더 많은 근무 시간을 보냈습니다.
결국 10년 동안 인터넷과 포르노에 중독된 후 내 삶은 무너졌습니다. 나는 자살 충동을 느꼈고, 내 관계는 악몽이었고, 경찰에 연락하기까지 했습니다. 교정시설, 정신병원, 묘지의 3C 중 하나를 향해 가고 있음을 깨달았습니다.
운 좋게도 헬프라인을 통해 섹스 중독에 대한 12단계 회복에 들어갔고 완전히 빠져들었습니다. 나는 직장을 그만두고 회복에만 전념하기 위해 엄마와 함께 이사했다. 회복의 첫 2년 동안 저는 제 컴퓨터가 없었습니다. 상반기에는 어머니가 비밀번호를 알려주신 컴퓨터를 가끔 사용했고, 공공도서관에 있는 컴퓨터도 사용했습니다. 이 기간이 포르노 중독에서 벗어나는 데 엄청난 도움이 되었다고 생각합니다.
반년만에 다시 직장을 구해 집으로 이사를 갔지만 집에는 컴퓨터도 인터넷도 없었다. 하지만 이제는 직장에서도 인터넷을 사용할 수 있게 되었습니다. 이것은 처음에는 잘 작동했고 업무 목적으로 직장에서 인터넷을 사용하려고 시도했지만 점차 업무와 관련되지 않은 목적으로 점점 더 많은 시간을 보냈습니다. 그리고 나는 때때로 직장에서 폭식을 하여 일을 그만두고 나머지 근무 시간 동안 인터넷 서핑을 시작했습니다.
나는 이것을 나의 후원자와 의논했고 그는 내가 집에서 컴퓨터와 인터넷을 다시 가져갈 것을 제안했다. 내가 그거 했어. 처음에는 무서웠지만 꽤 잘 작동했습니다. 가장 중요한 것은 내 컴퓨터에서 포르노를 보고 싶은 욕구가 사라졌다는 것입니다. 나는 여전히 그것이 회복의 기적 중 하나라고 생각합니다. 나는 내 컴퓨터에서 인터넷 필터나 시간 제어 응용 프로그램을 사용하지 않는다고 주장한 후원자에게 감사합니다. 하나님은 나의 인터넷 필터이자 시간 제어이시며, 내가 인터넷 사용을 관리할 수 있게 유지하려면 인터넷 필터나 부모의 제어보다는 더 높은 능력에 의존해야 할 것입니다. 섹스 중독에서 회복하는 동안에도 인터넷 사용은 때때로 통제할 수 없는 상태로 남아 있었고 집이나 직장에서 인터넷 폭식에 빠졌습니다. 다른 문자 결함을 먼저 해결한 후 이 인터넷 문제는 6단계와 7단계만으로 해결하기가 더 완고해졌습니다.
그러면서 그만하고 싶은 마음이 커졌다. 나는 나의 회복이 가짜라고 느꼈다. 나는 밤이 깊어질 때까지 인터넷 폭식을 했고 멈출 수 없었습니다. 내가 12단계 회복에 들어가기 전과 정확히 같았고, 유일한 차이점은 관련된 포르노가 없다는 것뿐이었습니다. 후원자는 인터넷 중독을 위한 12단계 프로그램을 찾아보라고 제안했습니다. 그렇게 했고 마침내 한 친구가 ITAA에 대해 이야기해 주었습니다.
그러나 나는 ITAA에 가고 싶지 않았습니다. ITAA에 가는 것이 도움이 될 것이라는 확신이 전혀 없었습니다. 마지막으로, 2018년 12월에 또 다른 인터넷 폭식은 저를 첫 ITAA 회의에 초대하도록 설득했습니다.
도움이 되었나요? 당신은 내기했다.
정말 놀랐지만 ITAA가 정말 필요하다는 것이 밝혀졌습니다. 이해하는 다른 인터넷 및 기술 중독자에게 전화를 걸어 큰 소리로 말함으로써 내가 인터넷 및 기술 중독자임을 인정해야 했습니다. 그리고 다른 인터넷 및 기술 중독자들의 목소리, 고통, 성공적인 회복 이야기를 들어야 했습니다. 네, 저는 인터넷과 기술 중독자입니다. 나는 그것을 통제할 수 없고 내 삶은 통제할 수 없다. 나는 내 삶을 관리하기 위해 더 높은 힘이 필요하고 인터넷 폭음을 멀리하기 위해 ITAA 동료가 필요합니다.
그리고 기적은 내가 ITAA에 합류한 이후로 심각한 인터넷 폭식을 하지 않았다는 것입니다. 나는 나의 회복과 나의 삶이 새로운 수준에 도달했음을 느낀다. 나는 그것에 대해 매우 감사합니다.
인터넷 및 기술 중독 정량화
인터넷과 기술 중독의 잠재적으로 파괴적인 결과를 보여주기 위해, 이것은 한 회원이 중독으로 인한 손실을 정량화한 방법입니다. 우리의 과거 경험에 관계없이 우리는 중독의 결과를 정량화하는 연습이 분명하고 강력하다는 것을 발견했습니다.
25년 동안의 인터넷 중독으로 인해 다음과 같은 비용이 발생했습니다.
- 매우 지저분한 기숙사 방과 아파트에서 25년을 살았습니다.
- 만성 부상과 건강 문제의 20년.
- 마지막 진지한 관계 이후 19년.
- 개인적으로 많은 시간을 보냈던 마지막 친한 친구 이후 17년.
- 마지막으로 같은 사람과 두 번 이상 데이트를 한 이후로 11년.
- 유급 직장이나 학교에서 완전한 업무량을 처리할 수 있었던 지 10년.
- 내가 마지막으로 어떤 데이트에도 간 이후 7년.
- 마지막으로 유급 고용을 한 지 6년.
- 마지막 취소 날짜로부터 5년.
- 사회생활을 마지막으로 시도한 지 5년.
- 2년 동안 해외 생활/여행을 하면서 관광에 보낸 시간이 거의 없습니다.
- 1년 넘게 대학원 진학이 두 번이나 늦어졌습니다.
- 직장에서 불완전 고용된 상태로 약 1년 동안 새로운 기술을 배울 수 있었지만 그렇게 하지 않은 총 시간.
- 부분적으로 온라인 수업을 듣는 것에 대한 두려움 때문에 나에게 적합하지 않은 2 개의 대학원.
- 자퇴한 대학원 2개.
- 10개의 수업이 중단되거나 실패했습니다.
- 내 미래에 큰 영향을 미친 인터넷 폭식의 직접적인 결과로 학교에서 마지막 수업에서 B, C 또는 F의 최종 성적.
- 1개의 연구 논문은 교수가 저에게 학점을 준 적이 없습니다.
- 아이를 가질 기회를 놓치고 있습니다.
- 룸메이트와의 관계가 망가졌습니다.
- 컴퓨터를 하면서 한 손으로 먹을 수 있는 것만 먹어서 심해진 초기 당뇨병.
- 여러 번 엉망이 된 움직임.
- 6개월만 소요되는 직업 훈련 프로그램에서 8개월 뒤쳐진 것입니다.
- 32시간만 일하고 실업 상태에서 5주 동안 해야 하는 다른 직업 훈련 프로그램을 마치지 않았습니다.
- 내가 30대 후반이었을 때 40대 후반에 편안하게 은퇴할 수 있었던 계획에서 벗어나.
- 그리고 비용은 대략 100만 달러.
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.