On several occasions, usually in the summer or during vacations, I binged for something on the order of 50 hours on computer games. During these periods, which required chiropractor visits for at least a few weeks afterward, I would fall asleep in the computer chair, take a few naps, take care of biological needs, and scarf down protein bars. Other than those activities, I simply played my game. If I could muster that sort of intensity for writing, I would finish six or seven books a year. Unlike writing, I never once suffered from a video game “block.” Carpal tunnel syndrome, back aches, and a stagnant career were not enough to get me to change.
For some, these binges would be viewed as an accomplishment. In fact, the Guinness Book record for uninterrupted video game play now stands at 50 hours. For me, these periods of binging represented a giant waste of my potential, because after these binges I would guilty and wonder why I couldn’t exhibit the same sort of energy on my dreams: stand-up comedy, writing a book, and becoming a motivational speaker. Herein lies the essence of addiction: we rationally know that our behavior is destructive, but we still do it.
For Farouk, a member of one of my cyber recovery groups, addictive “bliss” was found in Facebook. He developed 26 different Facebook profiles to help him advance through the ranks in Mafia Wars and built an impressive “family” and became a top-notch player. He also played Café World, Farmville, and Restaurant City on Facebook, in addition to at least a dozen other applications. The major problem for Farouk was that his binges occurred during the workday. His techno-transgressions were eventually uncovered and he was fired. He had discussed this possibility at the group and knew he was risking his job. Nevertheless, he continued his cyber activities.
Andy also lost jobs. He was kicked out of living situations and pushed away friends and family. It wasn’t until he was living at a homeless shelter that he began to wake up. “I just could not stop,” he said. “I knew rationally that I was headed for a homeless shelter, but I guess I had to get there in order for it to sink in.” The homeless shelter represented “bottom” for Andy. It got him disgusted enough with his behavior and life situation to finally reach out for support.
If you have a loved one like Farouk, Andy or me, it is important that you do not prevent us from experiencing natural consequences for our actions. “It was only because my family stopped helping me,” Andy said, “that I ended up homeless. But that’s what woke me up.” In helping an addict, we risk becoming enablers. It is important, whether you’re dealing with a family member or friend, that your help does not inadvertently prevent natural consequences, because these are usually the vehicle for serious recovery work. The pain that results from our addictive behavior has the power to transform our lives. Make sure you do not prevent us from experiencing it!