On addictions, part 2

Here’s my second blog post on the topic of addictions.  Last time I defined addictions as “a compulsive habit with negative, pervasive physical and psychological repercussions whose origin and triggers lie in avoidance behavior and stress relief”.  I also detailed my addiction to gaming and how it fit the criteria of my definition of addiction.  But I ended that post at a couple of big questions:  how do I turn my life around in the face of this addiction?  How do I develop positive coping mechanisms?

My answer is some basic concepts:  time, effort, and perseverance.  I will not be able to turn my life around in a day, not completely.  In fact, I think large, sudden changes could trigger another round of addictive coping mechanisms.  But each and every day can be a step in the right direction.  And over time, I’ll get where I want to be.  But that will also take effort – not only effort in moving forward, but also fighting to avoid making mistakes and backpedaling into my addiction.  And it takes perseverance because I will fail, from time to time.  No one is perfect, and no one can be.  But I will need to forgive myself for my lapses, stand back up, and keep trying to move forward.  I can’t give up, nor can I indulge in a quagmire of self-criticism.

But these are all abstract answers.  They’re not as helpful as a concrete plan, though they’ve helped me create some.  Taking care of my physical health is important – it will improve my strength, my self-image, and my overall health.  I will have more energy, even though I’ll feel like hell along the way.  So I’m visiting the gym again.  My goal is cardio training (running) two to three times a week.  I also purchased a discount pass to a local yoga studio, and I plan on going as often as my schedule allows me.  I’m seeing a massage therapist once a month to help me recover from the strain I’m putting on my muscles.  Finally, I’m trying to set up a schedule for stretching, yoga, and exercise at home – though I’m having difficulty with that at the moment.  I’m going to keep trying to find a way to fit that into my routine.  But this is my plan for improving my physical health.  And if I stick with it and don’t give up, I will get stronger and healthier.

Improving my career is harder for me to conceptualize.  I’m less experienced and familiar with thinking about it (says the thirty-one-year-old), but the same abstract concepts should still apply, with a little modification.  I need to work on improving my current situation, as well as making plans for the next step in my career path and for the long-term (the now plan, the one-year plan, and the ten-year plan).

So step one is updating my resume and looking for work I can do right now.  I need to work on that – I’m being bad about it, and I need to do better.  There isn’t any other answer – I just need to get out there and do it.  I’m lucky enough to be in a situation where I’m merely hurried and not desperate.  It means I can be selective with which opportunities I pursue, and not just shackle myself to a new, potentially-negative situation merely because it pays more.  The next step involves where I’d like to end up in ten years (ten-ish, the plan is flexible).  I would like a career as a writer, and the only way to get there is to write, write, and write some more.  I need to study other writers’ works and writing theory.  And then I need to write a lot of crappy stories, some good stories, and a few fantastic ones.  That will all come about through time and perseverance.  But until then, what can I do to make myself more marketable?

I’m currently teaching myself The Chicago Manual of Style, a book/style of writing, editing, and notation I saw requested for several editor positions.  Learning this book will improve my writing (ten-year goal) and allow me to apply for and freelance proofreading and editing jobs in the interim (one-year goal).  I would also like to have a professional website for my writing on a custom domain, rather than a .wordpress or a .tumblr.  Those services are good for starting out, but with where I want to go, it would be good to teach myself how to own, operate, and maintain a personalized website.  Learning this would make me more marketable for technical positions (for which I already have a degree), and a well-made final product may add a level of professionalism to my writing.  Learning skills like this allows me to double-dip my time and chase two goals without the risk of losing either.  And I need to do skill training concurrently with job searching.  Focusing on either too much will sabotage my efforts towards the other.  So the plan is look for work now, double-dip my learning when possible, and write as much as I can.  This is my plan for improving my professional life and my career.

Which brings me to the final part of my planning:  leisure time, stress management, and gaming.  And I’m going to be honest with myself – playing games all the time, even if it helps stabilize me, will ruin all the plans I listed above.  I cannot fall off the wagon on this point.  But at the same time, I don’t feel like I’m strong enough to quit cold turkey.  This is a crutch I’ve been using to protect myself, and ripping it out from under me will probably cause me to fall flat on my face.  So, I think I need to slow down rather than slam on the breaks.

Meditation classes I’ve been taking like to talk about mindfulness – being aware of what you’re doing and feeling.  And I feel like this it a tool to cope with a crutch that I both need but cannot rely on.  I need to set limits, and stick to them.  I need to go to bed at a reasonable time, and pay attention to when I feel exhausted.  I need to set alarms reminding me to shut down and sleep if I must.  But I have to set those boundaries and adhere to them as much as possible.  And when possible, I need to get out of my home, socialize, and engage in other activities which will both help me de-stress and keep me away from the games.  But what about my progress in this area?  At the moment, I’m in a local cafe spending a third consecutive day writing a twenty-four hundred word blog post.  The game is here with me, and I have been playing today, but right now it’s sitting next to me while my fingers are busy building my future, one day at a time.

And now I’ve made three days of progress, taken three steps, and that’s not nothing.  And as long as I don’t give up, I can make something out of that – and out of myself.

On addictions, part 1

My break earlier this year has given me time to examine myself and my actions, and I’ve noticed I’ve got a few nasty behavioral addictions that I want to break.  So I thought I’d discuss things here – both to help myself better understand it by organizing my thoughts, and also to share my thoughts on the topic with anyone who may be looking for answers themself.  I do want to stress, however, that what I am stating beyond this point are merely my views and opinions and I have neither rigorous education nor training in many of the topics I’m discussing.  These are ideas I’ve developed based on my experiences, and I encourage you to take them with a grain of salt.

So what do I mean by addiction?  Dictionary.com defines addiction as “the state of being enslaved to a habit or practice or to something that is psychologically or physically habit-forming“.  And while that’s close, it is not as satisfying an answer as I’d like.  When we’re talking about an action like this, I feel like its definition requires three parts:  the action itself, the consequences (intended and otherwise), and the motivations behind the action.

I would define addiction as “compulsive behavior that negatively affects us”, to break it down to a simple form.  This definition holds true for habitual drug use as much as for behavioral addictions like lying or sex addiction.  The action is something we find ourselves unable to cease even though it hurts us in some way, shape, or form.

Now regarding the consequences of addiction, I’d describe them as twofold:  physical and psychological.  Addictions cause you to physically deteriorate, especially in the cases of substance addictions.  But psychological and behavior addictions are also physically deteriorating.  I believe this hold as true for things like anorexia and bulimia as well as for internet addictions (muscle atrophy) or lying addictions (via stress).  As for the psychological end, the compulsive nature of addictions makes them invasive in our lives.  You think about your addiction all the time.  You may get up in the middle of the night to indulge it.  You may talk about it incessantly.  Slowly, addictions rise to prominence in our lives like dark and terrible stars.  And we are limited in our days.  We can only do so much.  There are only twenty-four hours in each day.  We do not have time to feed our addictions and also live meaningful lives.  Attempting to do so leaves addicts exhausted and weary, which fuels further negative and destructive behavior.  We start burning our candles at both ends – and that never ends well.

Finally, I want to explore and define what I mean for the motivations behind addiction – the “why do it?”  In my experience, addictions are tied to stress and avoidance behavior.  We do one thing to avoid something else.  We drink or take drugs to numb pain or feelings of insecurity.  We lie because we want people to like us rather than risk them disliking us.  We spend all day on the internet or online games rather than job hunting or educating ourselves because we don’t believe in ourselves.  Because life is hard.  More than that, life is sometimes earth-shatteringly difficult.  And it’s easier to deal with something we can face, even if it’s painful, to avoid addressing other issues.  A familiar pain is more comforting than an unfamiliar pleasure.

So we do it once, and then again.  Then we do it a third time.  We do it every morning before breakfast, or every time we’re put in a compromising situation.  It becomes a habit, a means of dealing with the stress and the strain.  Eventually, we become so used to this pain that life without the crutch of that addiction becomes too terrible to bear.

So to go back to my original query:  what is addiction?  Addiction is:
A) A compulsive habit
B) with negative, pervasive physical and psychological repercussions
C) whose origin and triggers lie in avoidance behavior and stress relief

And while that is similar to the dictionary.com definition, I still like the depth added from the second and third points.  Because I think all addictions are negative and pervasive with physical and psychological repercussions.  Because I believe understanding where something comes from and what triggers behaviors enables us to understand how to overcome them.  And in the spirit of understanding and overcoming, I want to use the next few paragraphs to discuss the addictions with which I’ve been struggling.

I have a gaming addiction.  I play video games – all the time.  When I was younger I scoffed at the idea of a gaming addiction, but these days it feels all too real.

I started a new job in April of 2014, and a new cellphone game at the same time.  It was one of those types of games that gives you energy slowly over time, meaning you could maximize your progress with careful scheduling.  And for the following six months, I arranged my life and my schedule around that game.  It was the last thing I did before I went to bed and the first I did when I woke.  I played it on every lunch break at work.  I stayed up late playing it.  I planned every “level-up” so that I could use the energy refill to its maximum efficiency.  I played this while driving – on the highway.  I would certainly call that compulsive and unsafe behavior.

And because I played so frequently, I did not engage in activities that physically benefitted me.  I did not go to the gym.  I did not go running, an activity I used to do three times a week.  I did not even go on walks.  I rarely went to yoga.  I did not stretch when in the morning – I played my game.  I spent my free time researching information to play the game more effectively.  I looked up stronger characters and daydreamed about how having them would strengthen my gameplay.  Because I played this game with such focused intensity, and treated my own health and needs with such indifference, I remained weak, if not weakened further.  I believe this behavior contributed to me injuring my back twice in the span of four months.  I know that spending my time focused on a game meant that I did not search for new job opportunities or teach myself new skills that could make me more marketable to employers.  Playing this game kept me stuck in the same place for months, personally and professionally.

As for why I played it, it was easier to play that game than to work toward other goals.  I knew I could make progress in this game if I worked hard at it, and life made no such promises.  In the game, all the parameters were explained and spelled out in exhausting detail.  I could deal with this.  I understood this.  And whatever I did not understand, I could research and find reliable information.  It was not as terrifying as the real world.  It was a small, safe sandbox to play in.  It could not hurt me, or so I believed.

But I was wrong, and it did hurt me.  As of the time of this writing, I have spent nearly ten months working at a part-time job that does not pay enough to cover my bills.  My family has been giving me money to make ends meet.  I have not done much job searching at all.  I feel like I am un-employable, like no one does or will want me.  I have no confidence in myself.  What I have is an encyclopedic knowledge of a cellphone game and no faith in myself, and acting this way has crippled me while I struggled to stay afloat mentally, emotionally, socially, and financially.  But the game is not evil – I was the one in the wrong.  I was the one who used and misused it to cope with stress and avoid my problems.

And now I need to take care of it, my problems and myself.  I feel like it’s all a matter of looking at the problems from the right perspective and utilizing the right resources in the right order to find the solution.  So now for the big money questions:  how do I develop positive coping behaviors and avoid having them become addictions?  How do I turn my life around?

But that’s not a short answer, and I spent roughly a thousand words on it, so I’ll address that topic next time and leave you fine folks here – not with a “Goodbye” but with an “Until we meet again.”