The following post is from Sara (not her real name). She is an eighteen-year-old woman who is looking forward to going away to college. Unfortunately, her cyber past still seems to be haunting her. She has struggled with some emotional and family issues, and was even put into a treatment center. Her very open email that she sent to me today shows many of the telltale signs of the cyber struggle. She, like myself , has other issues at work alongside her cyber ones. She has struggled to control her cyber impulses, but has fallen many times, in spite of a strong will and a high level of intelligence. Further, Sara shows an uncommonly high degree of self-reflection. Like so many who struggle with this insidious problem, Sara needs access to a computer to perform the tasks of life (in her case those of a student). She has also become dependent on cyber relationships. She has given me permission to share her letter. In reading it, you will see how our excessive attachment to the cyber world often springs from a desire to compensate for deficiencies we perceive in our lives. I can certainly relate! Sara hungers for a life rooted in the real world but great waves of terror grip her when she contemplates leaving behind her carefully-crafted cyber reality.
August 25, 2011:
Hello Kevin, I’ve been reading your book and it’s had a very serious [affect] on me. I’m taking a huge step in writing to you. My parents and my therapist have been trying to help me for 6 years. I was sent to lockdown boarding schools as a teenager because of family struggles. When I got out of my last one, a friend from the program immediately introduced me to role-playing. It started with Harry Potter games and quickly turned into celebrity role-play. I was emotionally damaged from my experiences at the schools and had nowhere to seek help. These worlds provided a life of luxury I wished I had; I suddenly had a multitude of friends and could pretend I had the career and life I desperately wanted. I would stay up all night on the computer in the living room playing, and I eventually became nocturnal. Not having my computer when it was taken by my mom sent me into huge mood swings and anger. Multiple times in my life I’ve had my computer or iPhone taken away. My parents have even gotten me a phone that isn’t a smart phone. To this day despite everyone’s best efforts I still struggle to leave a world where I have friends, an amazing imaginary life and even a faux relationship. I like to think I’ve beaten it when I no longer stay up all night, maybe just until 1 or 2 in the morning, but truthfully I still lie and sneak around. My parents have taken my computer and I write to you on an iPod I bought secretly to continue my issues and keep in touch with friends. I’m about two weeks away from going to college and my parents want to send me without a computer. I’m at a crossroad. I don’t want to go without a laptop and be the only kid without one. I want to be normal and use my computer for school work, watching movies and nothing more, but I know myself and while I greatly want to turn over a new leaf and do well at this school, I’m terrified I will fall into the same patterns of behavior and fail at yet another school. I’m terrified this is destined to be my life and I will never have the life I pretend to have on the Internet, because the reality of it scares me. I write to you in desperation. I want to know if there’s anything I can do to escape this behavior that has become my crux and part of my daily life, and be able to go to college and make friends and get good grades and be normal, because right now the thought of not being able to talk to my fake friends online every day is terrifying to me. I hate being this person; I hate what my own issues did to me because I never dealt with my trauma. If there’s any way you could help me or offer me advice, I would appreciate it so much. I know it would mean so much more coming from someone who understands.
Thank you so much,