Tools of Recovery

Addiction is a spiritual, mental, and physical disease, and so we use a variety of tools to pursue recovery. This is a list of those tools that we have used to overcome our internet and technology addiction. You may find that some of these are useful for you as you embark on your recovery. Different members have found different tools to be helpful, and often the tools we use change over time. If you have questions about any of these, you can join a meeting where members can help guide you in how these tools work, and which tools may be most helpful for you.

Spiritual tools

Joining a fellowship
Joining a fellowship means to join a community of individuals who are seeking relief from the affliction of internet and technology addiction. In ITAA, the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop compulsive internet and technology use. For many of us in ITAA, after years of struggling to control our addiction on our own, we have found this joining this fellowship has been the only thing that has led to achieving real and sustainable sobriety from our problematic behaviors.

The 12 steps
The 12 steps of ITAA are the spiritual core of our program of recovery, and they lead to deep healing that goes beyond the acting-out behaviors of our addiction and addresses many of the deeper issues which interact with our addictive tendencies. The 12 step model was pioneered by Alcoholics Anonymous over 80 years ago, and it has helped millions of people suffering from the disease of addiction to find recovery. You can read the steps of ITAA on the 12 steps page. It’s usually recommended to work the steps with a sponsor or recovery partner. You can also reference our in-progress step guide. As with all of our fellowships resources, you are encouraged to take what works for you and leave the rest.

Attend meetings regularly
Prioritizing recovery can make all the difference. We have a growing number of face-to-face meetings, and multiple phone/online meetings every day, which meet at times accessible from different time zones. Attending meetings and experiencing first-hand that we are not alone in our addiction is a central part of the recovery journey. Schedule in regular, weekly meetings, and tell people you are not available then. At least one meeting per week is good, but twice per week or more will give you more solid footing. It can also be an enormous help to your recovery to go to a meeting every day for the first 30, 60, or 90 days of recovery.

If you’re trying to fit a meeting into your work day, consider scheduling for it as you would any other appointment related to your health care, or explore creative scheduling options that would enable you to carve out an hour during your day.

Find a sponsor, co-sponsor, or accountability partner.
A sponsor is another member with experience in sobriety and recovery who can guide you through your recovery process. Generally, a sponsor will have regular phone calls with you about your progress, listen to your struggles, and share their own experience. ITAA is a young fellowship, and we don’t have very many members sponsoring yet. You may one day be able to help with this! But for the moment, if you are looking for a sponsor, we encourage you to join a meeting and mention you are looking for this. You’re also encouraged to reach out privately to anybody about whom you think “They have something I want.” You can also look for a co-sponsor or recovery partner within ITAA. Co-sponsorship is a relationship with another member who is in the process of working the steps. You can read more in our guide to sponsorship and co-sponsorship.

Make a phone call every day
Making phone calls to other members is a simple and very effective method to strengthen our sobriety. One-on-one conversations allow us to go deeper than we normally would in a meeting, and they let us reach out precisely when we’re most vulnerable. After a meeting, you can mention that you are hoping to make program calls, and ask if anybody would be open to giving out their phone number. If you have a smartphone, you can also join the ITAA whatsapp group, where members frequently post outreach requests.

Explore the idea of power greater than yourself
The 12 Steps center around the concept of a power greater than ourselves. Part of the 12-step process is an invitation to explore what sort of higher power is most helpful to us in our recoveries. For some members this power might be a religious deity, for others it is the fellowship, and for others it could be nature, love, or service. Connecting to power greater than ourselves grounds us in connection, solace, strength, and humility; many of us find it necessary for recovering from the isolation that our addiction thrives on.

Service
Providing service to others, inside or outside the fellowship, is an enriching way to strengthen your recovery and find a sense of meaning outside your internet and technology use.

Literature
We are in the process of writing literature for ITAA, and you can read our in-progress step guide. There is also a large body of 12 step literature from other fellowships, which can be an extremely valuable resource; you can find some examples on our literature page.

Prayer and Meditation
Prayer and meditation is useful at every stage of your recovery. Taking time to still your mind and connect to something beyond yourself can restore serenity and stability, put you in better touch with your feelings, and help clarify your intentions.

One day at a time
Sometimes thinking about being sober from our problematic internet and technology behaviors can seem daunting, threatening, or overwhelming. We might use these feelings as an excuse for one “last” binge before we’re ready to be sober. Instead of dealing with such a big commitment, many of us do not think about being sober for a whole lifetime; we just think about being sober for the next 24 hours. We take things one day at a time.

Practical tools

Top Lines, Middle Lines, Bottom Lines
Writing top, middle, and bottom lines (also referred to as green, yellow, and red circles) is a method for defining sobriety from internet and technology addiction. While we all suffer from a common disease, it expresses itself in different ways for each of us. This exercise can be helpful in charting the map of our own personal addictive behaviors. It is often helpful to write these down, and to say them out loud to another member. There are other methods for defining sobriety, but many ITAA members have found this one to be immensely helpful.

Top lines are the activities and behaviors we want for ourselves in recovery (working on a project we’re passionate about, spending time with loved ones, hiking, dancing), as well as the tools of our program (going to meetings, meditating, calling members). We can also include IT behaviors that are healthy for us (using IT in productive ways that align with our values, taking one day a week to be offline, using a flip phone).

Middle lines can be conceptualized as triggers. These are things that in and of themselves do not initiate the addictive cycle that our bottom lines do, but that are consistently likely to bring up urges to go into our bottom lines. Middle lines can be IT behaviors (buying something online, listening to podcasts), or they can be situations or emotions (feeling lonely, missing a deadline, traveling). Many members find it helpful to gradate their middle lines into different sections. For example, there are triggering situations we do not have control over, others which we do have control over but are sometimes necessary for our work, and others which are not necessary but in and of themselves not addictive for us. For those using the green, yellow, red color scheme, it can be helpful to think of the middle lines as spanning from ‘light yellow’ activities to ‘dark orange’ activities.

Bottom lines encapsulate the destructive behaviors that characterize the most difficult aspects of our addiction. One way to think of bottom lines is to identify the things that when you start, you can’t stop, and when you stop, you can’t stay stopped. These are the behaviors and situations that each of us tries to remain completely abstinent from. Items in your bottom lines might be specific websites or apps (e.g. youtube, reddit, instagram) or problematic behaviors or feelings (e.g. watching pornography, obsessively gathering unnecessary information, or playing video games). It can be helpful to be as clear and specific about these items as possible, as our addiction can take advantage of ambiguity. Many of us use our bottom lines to help us determine what “having a relapse” means for ourselves. For each behavior you are considering for your bottom lines, ask yourself honestly whether you have experienced the feeling of not being able to stop once you get started, or not being able to stay away once you do stop. The answers might feel uncomfortable, or even surprising. That is okay. Just pay attention and try to allow yourself to be fully honest.

Here is are several examples members’ top, middle, and bottom lines. You’re encouraged to reach out to other members for other examples of bottom, middle, and top lines.

Your bottom, middle and top lines do not have to be perfect, and they can change over time. Once you have written them down, try to bring awareness to where your internet and technology behaviors are falling in relation to these categories at any given moment. This can help strengthen your self-awareness around your compulsive patterns.

It’s important to remember that figuring out what sobriety means for us can be difficult, and there’s no cookie cutter solution. It takes time, so practice gentleness and self-compassion. It’s also important to realize that this is not a method for gaining control over our addiction – in fact, our program is about completely letting go of our attempts to control our addiction. Setting these guidelines are a practice in self-awareness, of putting language to our experience of addiction. It’s important to not get bogged down in tweaking these lines in search of the perfect system; rather, once you have written out a draft of your lines, it can be helpful to turn your attention to the deeper emotional and spiritual tools of our program. As we continue attending meetings, sharing with other members, and working our recovery, our intuition will strengthen, and over time our relationship to sobriety will naturally grow clearer.

You can read a more thorough explanation of top, middle, and bottom lines in the step guide on our literature page.

Sidelines

If you are struggling with whether to add a particular behavior to your bottom lines, you can try setting some “sidelines” (or a “purple circle”, perhaps) which consists of setting a temporary bottom line. You can think of this as literally “sidelining” a certain behavior, just as a coach might sideline a member of a sports team for a period of time. 

First, try to define the sideline behavior as clearly and explicitly as you would a bottom line. Next, determine how long you would like to remain completely abstinent from this activity: one week? One month? Six months? There’s no right or wrong here, though it’s recommendable not to do any less than one week. Then, communicate the sideline to another member, as well as the date on which your temporary abstinence will end, and make a commitment to speak with this member again on this date. When you speak again with your recovery partner on the set date, discuss how things went. After discussing, you can make one of the following commitments: 1) introduce this behavior officially into your bottom lines; 2) decide that you’d like to try re-introducing the activity into your life, potentially with an action plan for how you would like to engage safely; 3) commit to another period of temporary abstinence to give yourself more time to figure out what’s right for you.

Writing a technology use inventory
Some members find it helpful to write an inventory of all their internet and technology behaviors. This can be a helpful supplement to setting top, middle, and bottom lines. You can use this exercise sheet for writing a technology use inventory.

Tracking usage/keeping time logs
Keeping a time log of all of all your internet and technology usage can help you gain perspective on how you are using. Behavioral science has shown that simply by measuring our behavior, we automatically subconsciously begin to adjust it towards our desired goals. It is most helpful to send daily usage to a sponsor. Here is one example of a time log, and here is another example.

Create action plans
You can create action plans around potentially dangerous internet and technology behaviors or situations. You might create an action plan that says “If my friends decide they want to watch youtube videos while we’re together, I will excuse myself and make a call to another member.” Or, “If I need to travel, I will make an outreach call every day.”

Bookending with another member
When you are going to engage in a middle line behavior, you can bookend by texting or calling another member to let them know. Then, you send another message once you have finished.

Working with a trained mental health practitioner
Some members have found it helpful to work with a trained therapist or psychologist, particularly if they have a background in treating addiction. Often our addictions are layered in with other traumas, fears, and troubled pasts. A trained mental health practitioner can help you gain deeper insights into the psychological issues involved in your addiction.

Journaling
Journaling and reflecting on your feelings, struggles and goals can help you develop perspective about your addiction and its underlying causes. Committing things to paper gives you something concrete and reliable to look back on.

Confide in another person
Let somebody you trust know that you are struggling with this addiction, and that you are trying to change your behavior. This can help relieve shame about what you are suffering from, increase accountability, and give you additional avenues for support.

Review relapses
After a relapse, we may have a tendency to feel ashamed and angry with ourselves. Instead, this moment can be a growth opportunity. Look back at your relapse and try to examine what were the factors that led you to relapse. Consider adding those factors to your middle lines. Call another member to discuss what happened. When you are ready, lovingly release your shame about what has occurred. In ITAA, every moment is an opportunity for a fresh start.

Lifestyle tools

Exercise
Regular exercise and physical movement has been shown to improve health, mood and wellness. As an internet and technology addict, exercise may help you strengthen your recovery and improve your resilience. You might take regular walks, run or bike, play a sport, dance, or sign up for a membership at your local gym.

Sleep
For most internet and technology addicts, addiction goes hand in hand with sleep deprivation. Our usage regularly takes us far into the night, and sometimes we can only fall asleep only when we pass out. Many of us may be chronically sleep-deprived, and returning to a regular and full sleep schedule is one of the best things you can do for your mental health and your recovery. Sleeping 8 hours each night, going to bed and waking up at the same time every day, and morning and night routines can help establish better sleep habits.

In-person community
Instead of connecting with your community through social media, our members make an effort to connect with others in real life. Getting together with your friends and family, taking part in group activities, or being of service in your community can help relieve the isolation that our addiction reinforces.

Offline hobbies, passions and activities
Many members, after starting to make progress with their recovery, find themselves faced with an uncomfortable amount of free time. What are we supposed to do with all this time if the internet and technology is not an option? Investing your time in offline hobbies, passions and activities can help alleviate boredom and restore meaning to your life in the absence of the internet and technology. It can be helpful to write down a list of healthy forms of rest and relaxation, and reference it when you are struggling to think of what offline activities you can engage in with your free time.

Removing access to problematic behaviors

Getting rid of problematic social media accounts
Many members have found it helpful to delete their social media accounts. If you are worried about losing connection to your community, you can make a post explaining that you will be deleting your account in one month, and encouraging your friends to send you a text message or call to make sure you can stay in touch. If some groups you are a part of use social media to communicate and coordinate, you can ask another member of the group to keep you informed about important information and updates.

Deleting problematic apps from your computer or smartphone
If a particular app is in your bottom lines, the easiest way to avoid it is to delete it from all your devices. If an app is in your middle lines, you may want to delete it as well.

Finding offline alternatives
Many things we do with technology can be accomplished with offline tools. For example, you could buy a physical map of your city instead of using a map application, read physical books instead of e-books, go to the store instead of buying online, or write in a physical journal or planner instead of writing on your computer.

Delete your stored data
Some members engage in ‘digital hoarding’, collecting unnecessary bookmarks, emails, notes, files, or other data. It can be helpful to let go of this clutter by simply deleting it.

Switching your smartphone for a feature phone
You can switch out your smartphone for a “feature phone”, a non touch-screen phone with only call and messaging features. While daunting at first, in practice this offers enormous relief and safety for many members.

Setting up wifi-free zones, or getting rid of personal wifi entirely
You can establish rooms or spaces in your house, such as your bedroom or the dinner table, as technology- or wifi-free zones. Some members remove their personal wifi entirely, either asking their roommates or family to change the password and not tell them, or disabling service and getting rid of their router. If you need to connect to the internet, you can go to a coffee shop, library, or your office.

In removing access to problematic behaviors, we sometimes struggle to come to terms with the loss of utility or comfort we fear might be involved. At first, these actions can seem daunting to us. Wondrously, many of us have found these actions to bring great relief and ease to our lives, and the expected loss of utility is often forgotten as we find other ways to satisfy our needs without relying on the internet and technology.