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.
Recovery is possible
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.
The Only Thing That Worked
My parents were highly educated, and in the 1980s we were one of the few families in the neighborhood that had TV and computers at home. I remember that on the weekends I would watch the four hour morning cartoon show for children. I also was fascinated by the computers. As a kid I was a real computer nerd, typing in game codes from computer magazines, debugging the programs, and then playing computer games. Computers also gave me status and a way to connect to neighborhood kids, as I could invite them to play on our computer which they didn’t have.
When I was 12 years old, my parents divorced and I moved with my mother and sister to a new town. There I wasn’t able to connect to peers and I became increasingly isolated. That was when TV and computer games became increasingly important to fill up the loneliness. At some point when I was around 15 years old, my parents gave me a television and computer in my room as a present. From then on I isolated myself fully in my room, spending my free time watching sports and news on TV and playing computer games. That was also the first time that I wanted to diminish my use of TV and computer but discovered that I couldn’t stop watching and playing. I was somehow glued to those machines. Obviously my homework suffered from it and sometimes I would fail tests because of it, but overall I had good grades in high school.
At university, life got better. I finally got an active social life. For the first three years I didn’t have a computer at home. I did have my TV at home and I do remember a strong compulsion to watch the weekly broadcasted porn movie, as well as the yearly sports events, but for the rest my compulsion was pretty much contained. I was pretty obsessed about technology though. I still identified myself as the tech nerd and made sure I was the technological frontrunner. For example, I was the first among my friends to buy a cell phone (we are talking about the late 90s here).
My compulsion really took off when I bought my own computer with internet at home. In particular internet porn became very addictive to me, and this is what really brought me to self-destruction. This is when I started to consider myself an addict, and when I really tried to control my addiction to internet porn. It started by deleting files and subscriptions to news services after acting out to raise the barrier to start again. It didn’t work. In a similar vein, I tried to hide the modem from myself by unplugging all the wires, putting the modem back in its box, and putting it in the closet. It didn’t work. My brain still knew where the modem was. (Looking back at it now, it is incredible that I thought these things work.)
I fell in love and got into a romantic relationship. It didn’t stop the addiction. I simply kept my internet porn problem completely secret and continued to act out behind her back. After three years I revealed my internet porn problem to her. At that moment she was very supportive and loving, which gave me hope to overcome my problem. I also went to a sex therapist for my problem. It didn’t work. After a while I would start acting out on internet porn, keeping it secret from my girlfriend, until she discovered, I felt compelled to confess, and I made new resolutions to stop this time for real. Until the next wave of secretly acting out, discovery, promises, etc, etc, ad infinitum.
New things I tried: a brand new clean laptop. For sure I’m not going to pollute such a virgin-like machine—that will save me. It didn’t. Then I tried parent controls. I blocked certain websites, sites with particular key words, and access in the evening and night. I kept the password at a different place. That was very inconvenient. I remember that at some point I was working on the computer with a colleague and we needed to look at something on the intranet. However, that parent control was blocking the website, so this stupid parent control warning showed up. I had to explain to my colleague that I couldn’t access the site now. Of course all these parent control things were my own plan, and I kept it completely secret from the rest of the world. I felt very embarrassed and ashamed about it. Moreover, sometimes I needed to make an exception and I looked up the password—at moments that I decided of course. The consequence was that I still kept relapsing with the internet binges, because at some point I started to remember the password by heart. I also managed to find ways to bypass the internet filter. All in all, it didn’t work, and it only created stress. Nowadays, I see these parent control internet filters as just another way to control my addiction, just another way to do it my way. Now in recovery, I don’t use parent controls or internet filters anymore. I feel much safer and more relaxed without them.
Here I should mention that my attempts to control the internet were not only related to stopping watching porn. At work, I didn’t watch porn on my computer, but I still looked at a lot of blogs, videos, and news stories. Often I spent more working hours surfing on the internet than on actual work.
In the end, after ten years of internet and porn addiction, my life crashed. I was suicidal, my relationship was a nightmare, and I even got in touch with the police. I came to realize that I was heading towards one of the three Cs: correctional facilities, the psychiatric clinic, or the cemetery.
Luckily, through a helpline I got into twelve step recovery for sex addiction and I threw myself completely into it. I gave up my job and moved in with my mom just to focus fully on recovery. In my first two years of recovery I didn’t have my own computer. The first half-year I would sometimes use my mom’s computer which she had the password to, and I also used the computers in the public library. I think this period helped me tremendously withdrawing from my porn addiction.
After half a year, I got a job again and moved to my own place, still without a computer or internet at home. But now I could also use the internet at work. This initially worked well, and I tried to use the internet at work for work purposes, but slowly I spent more and more time for non-work related purposes as well. And I sometimes had binges at work, in which I stopped working and I started surfing on the internet for the rest of the work day.
I discussed this with my sponsor, and he suggested that I take a computer and internet at home again. I did that. That was scary in the beginning, but it worked quite well. Most importantly my cravings to watch porn on my computer had disappeared. I still consider that one of the miracles of recovery. I’m grateful to my sponsor that he insisted that I do not use any internet filters or time control applications on my computer. God is my internet filter and time control, and if I want to keep my internet use manageable, I will have to rely on my Higher Power rather than on internet filters or parent controls. Having said that, while in recovery from sex addiction, my internet use still remained unmanageable at times, falling into internet binges either at home or at work. Having worked through other character defects first, this internet thing became more stubborn to resolve with steps six and seven alone.
With it, my desire to stop increased. I felt my recovery was fake. I had internet binges until deep in the night, just totally powerless to stop. It was exactly the same as before I got into twelve step recovery, the only difference was that there was no porn involved. My sponsor suggested that I look up a twelve step program for internet addiction. I did that, and finally a fellow told me about ITAA.
However, I didn’t want to go to ITAA. I had no confidence at all that going to ITAA would help me. Finally, another internet binge in December 2018 convinced me to call in to my first ITAA meeting.
Did it help? You bet it did.
I was really surprised, but it turned out that I really needed ITAA—I needed to admit that I’m an internet and technology addict by calling in and saying it aloud to other understanding internet and technology addicts. And I needed to hear the voices, the suffering and successful recovery stories, of other internet and technology addicts. Yes, I am an internet and technology addict. I cannot control it, and my life is unmanageable. I need a Higher Power to manage my life, and ITAA fellows to stay away from internet binges.
And the miracle is that since I joined ITAA I haven’t had a severe internet binge (although I have briefly crossed my bottom lines a few times). I feel my recovery and my life have reached a new level. I’m very grateful for that.
Quantifying Internet and Technology Addiction
As a demonstration of the potentially devastating consequences of Internet and Technology addiction, this is how one member quantified the loss resulting from their addiction. No matter our past experiences, we have found the exercise of quantifying the consequences of our addiction to be illuminating and powerful.
What 25 years of Internet Addiction has cost me:
- 25 years of living in extremely messy dorm rooms and apartments.
- 20 years of chronic injuries and health problems.
- 19 years since my last serious relationship.
- 17 years since my last close friendship I spent much time with in person.
- 11 years since the last time I’ve gone on more than one date with the same person.
- 10 years since I’ve been able to handle a full workload at paid employment or school.
- 7 years since the last time I’ve gone on any date.
- 6 years since my last paid employment.
- 5 years since my last cancelled date.
- 5 years since my last attempt at having a social life.
- 2 years living/traveling abroad with very little time spent sightseeing.
- Over a year’s delay getting into graduate school two different times.
- Roughly a year’s total time of being underemployed at work that I could have spent learning new skills but didn’t.
- 2 grad schools that were a poor fit for me, partly out of fear of taking online classes.
- 2 graduate schools I dropped out of.
- 10 dropped or failed classes.
- Final grades of a B, C or F in my last classes at a school as a direct result of internet binges that had major repercussions on my future.
- 1 research paper never turned in that a professor gave me credit for.
- Missing my opportunity to have children.
- Ruined relationships with roommates.
- Early diabetes that got severe because I only ate things that could be eaten with one hand while at the computer.
- Multiple messed up moves.
- Being 8 months behind in a job training program that is only supposed to take 6 months.
- Not finishing a different job training program that only required 32 hours of work and that I had 5 weeks to do while unemployed.
- Sidetracking from a plan that when I was in my late 30’s would have put me retiring comfortably in my late 40’s.
- And roughly a cost of one million dollars.
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.