First of all, big apologies for my absence over the last few days. I’ve had a serious bacterial illness, and living in an RV without a bathroom in my condition has not been fun! Anyway, my convalescence got me thinking about bad habits (you don’t get the chance to indulge any when you’re sick!)
Several years ago, I acknowledged that the internet was my ‘bad habit’ or addiction. Most people wouldn’t accept the internet as being a real addiction and only think of excessive smoking, alcoholism and other destructive physical behaviors as being ‘genuine’ bad habits. I disagree with such notions.
There was a time when ‘obsessively thinking about sex’ had no psychological diagnosis, too. It was seen as just a form of laziness, a failure to reign in urges. And video game addiction was not included as a diagnosis even in the brand new edition of the DSM.
“Californication” star David Duchovny made headlines for voluntarily entering rehab a few years ago for sex addiction. I think that people are surprised that there is such a thing as ‘sex rehab’, and they’re simultaneously excited by the idea. People love to discover things about others that are taboo and hidden from view.
Just as celebrities play a twisted public/private game with what they choose to reveal about themselves, I think that oddly we hide our own addictions from ourselves even as we are aware of them. I knew that I used the internet far too much, to the point that it gravely damaged to my social and familial relationships. Yet I escaped from the faint feeling of guilt by browsing webpages more to try to find ways to stop browsing the web!
I was looking for a solution from within the problem!
The same goes for hard drinkers who become drunk to escape their lives, lives which have gone downhill largely as a result of alcohol. Or smokers who smoke more to handle stressful financial situations which wouldn’t be quite as bad had they not spent so much of their incomes on a commodity which ruins their health.
So I’d define a serious addiction as a habit that becomes a solution to its own problems. It’s a circular descent down to a false Shangri-La that leaves you incapable of facing the real world. That’s why the internet, gaming and even coffee could all be addictions – it’s not the product, but the brain state of the inveterate user that matters.
How to deal with such a treacherous self-consuming obsession? Here’s how I stemmed my internet addiction:
1. Tell everyone that you’re going to quit your addiction for a week
Publicly announcing a goal is proven to make it far more difficult to relapse during your week of hell. You’ll have the negative opinion of others to face up to if you go back on your word.
2. Remove all ‘quarantined materials’
We’re going to call anything that triggers your habit a ‘quarantined material’. Such items must be removed from your household at once. Trash the television, lock up the laptop, incinerate the cigarettes. If you eat too much, like most Americans (who on average eat 150% calories worth of the recommended daily allowance), then simply empty the house of comestibles and don’t head down to the supermarket at any cost.
3. Find a substitute activity
During your week of purity, you’re likely to continue to receive mind-urges to get involved in your addiction in some way. In my case, every time I ran into a piece of information which I didn’t know much about – say, the meaning of the word ‘comestible’ – I was desperate to run to the nearest computer and look it up. I substituted in a nice dictionary and encyclopedia, and adjusted to using these instead. An alcoholic could simply drink loads of water; a smoker has nicotine patches to replace cigarettes.
After a week has passed, you might give yourself a day of indulgence before trying a month off.
I usually recommend a kind of cognitive therapy for achieving goals, but physical denial is the only route forward. I think that addictions hack your mind, and the only way to escape the circle is to remove the material activator of the habit.
Have you struggled with major addictions? Did you find this strategy useful? I’d love it hear about it below.