Monday, January 4, 2010

When Addiction Rears It's Ugly Head

Back in high school, I took a took Psychology 101. When we studied addiction issues, I remembered the teacher said that some things, like cigarettes or heroin are physically addictive, but ANY thing can become psychologically addictive, you can convince yourself need pretty much anything (the example he used was talcum powder, but I got the point.)

Years ago, way back before I was contemplating having weight loss surgery, a friend who had the surgery mentioned that she had read an article that stated that people who have the surgery frequently develop problems with new addictions. She mentioned that she herself had started working more after the surgery -- lots more. She started taking on extra projects, doing other people's work, basically becoming a "work-a-holic." I remember thinking at the time that doesn't seem like a horrible thing, it seemed more productive than eating.

A little while later we had a work event at which I met someone who sang the praises of his recent weight loss surgery. He was so happy that he had lost over 100 pounds. By the time I was ready to have my surgery (a year or so later) this person was out of work being treated for drug abuse. Now, I don't know anything about the guy, maybe his eating had been taking the place of a prior drug problem, but I do know it kind of raised a red flag in my head.

Having been way too close to people with drug and alcohol problems, I had seen first hand the damage they do and it terrified me; so I really wasn't too concerned about becoming a drug addict or alcoholic. But, when I went for the first lap band meeting, I asked about the addiction issue. I don't remember exactly how the lap band salesperson answered my question, but I do remember that my concerns were pretty much just glossed over. But still, I had faith in myself that I wasn't going to start using drugs or drinking, so I just forged ahead with my plans to have the surgery.

So, I got home from the surgery and blogged about it! I had about a week off of work for the surgery and spent most of it checking email, blogging, instant messaging everyone on the planet, reading, updating my personal web site... you get the idea.

I started back to work, thinking everything was just fine. I kept thinking that up until a few months ago... That was when I embarked upon a project to try to pull together all my writings over my life. I had a bunch of paper journals including stories, poetry, songs I'd written over the years. Then, I thought, well, I've done a lot of stuff online too, so I should include that as well. This is when things started to get a little scary...

Working on both my PC (my work computer) and my Mac (my personal computer) I pulled all my personal instant message chat logs and emails. I also pulled all my blog posts, from LiveJournal, my personal web site, Facebook, Twitter... Almost everything was time stamped -- when I began to compile everything chronologically was when I started to think there might be a problem. For almost every day, there were chats, emails, blog posts -- some timestamped with in seconds of each other -- all day long. And this was on top of reading other people's blogs and Fark and LolCats, and oh yeah, doing my actual job too.

I don't just blame the problem on the surgery. Clearly, the makings of an internet addiction were there for a while. It got bad when I started working from home full time. Even before the surgery I used the internet to distract me from eating -- "I'll just read this one news story, I'll just update Facebook/MySpace" -- then I can have a snack.

I realize that an internet addiction doesn't really sound like a bad thing. I mean, it's not like I'm spending money on gambling or porn sites, or online shopping. I'm basically just chatting, emailing, blogging, reading stuff. How can that have repercussions? Well, here's just a few:
  • Time: How can you have time to chat, read, blog, email and work all at the same time? Easy! Never leave the computer! This of course means letting other things go, but hey, who needs to clean, exercise, cook (anything other than microwave junk) etc.
  • Isolation: It amazes me that being on the internet for literally 20 hours a day can leave me feeling so completely isolated. But, I instant messaged so many people today! How can that be isolating? I mean, other than the fact that I am almost never physically in the same room as another actual, living, breathing human being...
Ok, so that's the issue. What is the solution? Well, I've tried to make a few changes over the last few months:
  • I realize the irony, but I started this web site and blog. Trying to reach out to other people in the same or similar circumstances. A big part of that is the events page. Even if no one else shows up, I am still going out and doing them. Hopefully other people will start attending, but even if they don't, it's a few hours a week that I am off my butt and not on the computer.
  • This was a big one: Just this weekend, I separated my work computer from my play computer. My play computer is no longer in my nice comfy office with the cats. It is in the cold, dark guest room. I love my Mac, and I can still go visit it at any time. I just have to walk to get there, and it's cold in there, and the chair isn't comfy, and the cats aren't allowed in the guest room, so it's much harder to stay there for hours.
  • Make it a goal to work during work hours, and play during play hours. This is still one that needs work. Because I work from home, work and play tend to run together. I think separating the computers will help with this issue. It certainly makes me more conscious of when I'm working versus when I'm playing.
It's funny, but in the eating disorder group therapy I attended, one of the things we talked about was "conscious" eating -- paying attention to what I eat, why I eat, etc. It didn't occur to me till just now as I write this that there are probably a lot of things I do unconsciously.

I think it's time to wake up...

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