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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? 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 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.”

Be your own best lover

I write this on Sunday, the 18th of January after spending the past three-and-a-half days at home recovering from a cold.  I am officially sick of my stomach-friendly BRAT diet (Bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), and cabin fever has settled uncomfortably into my bones.  And as I sit here, idling reading another book, watching another online video, playing another game to fill the moments until I’m finally well again, I keep coming back to the same feeling, the same question:

What the hell is wrong with me?

I scheduled a break from my writing for the month of January to work career goals:  looking for a job to better pay the bills and training for the next job I’d like rather than just resting on my current skill set.  But in the past few days I have done very little of that, almost none.  In fact, I’d wager I could probably count the minutes I’ve spent doing that with my fingers.  Today is the fourth day of this cold, but a tenth of the month of January, and what am I doing to improve my situation?  Nothing.  Three days off and I’ve done nothing?

What the hell is wrong with me?

I have a writing blog I want to return to after my write-cation, but have I spent time these past four days working on that?  Excepting the post I’m currently writing, no.  No I have not.  I haven’t written any new poetry, nor have I worked on the short story I began in December.  For somebody with the goal to be a writer, this brings to mind a question:

What the hell is wrong with me?

This past Sunday I enjoyed coffee and tea with some ladies from a local meditation group I’d visited.  One of the ladies in particular told me that she wanted to be a writer to be an inspiration to others, and I admit being a little starstruck by her.  I left that coffeeshop thinking, “I want to be a man worthy of a woman like her.”  That feeling was what got me up before work the following morning and back at the gym to run for the first time in months.  Now a week later I sit at my computer at noon with unshowered bed-head and wonder if one day’s worth of effort was all that I had in me.

What the hell is wrong with me?

But then I get to thinking, what does it mean to be “worthy of someone” in the way I meant for her.  There’s a physical attraction, yes, but I meant more than that.  I want to be financially able to support myself, with enough to spare and share with another.  I want to be skilled, talented, and successful so that I have a rich mental, spiritual, and social life to bring home and share with someone.  I want to be passionate, energetic, optimistic, confident, and a myriad of other traits that people look for in healthy partners.  Instead, I have spent half of the past week locked in isolation at home, hoping and praying that this cold goes away.  I feel frustrated and pathetic.

What the hell is wrong with me?

And as I sit here wallowing in self-pity, I remember lines from a song I’m fond of listening to:  “I want to love myself the way I want you to love me.” (“Love me” by Katie Perry)  And so I turn my perspective on the situation and ask myself a few questions.

Would this person you want to be worthy of want you to work yourself to exhaustion when you’re sick?  Well, no.

Would they want you to burn the midnight oil toiling away at an uncut story when your body is fighting off a cold?  Of course not.

Would they want you going out to the gym or work or anywhere else and risk passing this to anyone else?  No – actually, I think they’d be proud of me for staying home and trying to take care of myself the way I have been.

They would want me to nap and rest instead of working.  They’d want me to go to bed on time.  They’d be proud I’m considerate of others and refuse to spread this cold any further.  The person I want in my life would not want me to criticize myself for being human, being imperfect.  They’d want me to relax, love myself, and be happy.

So, I’m going to make a healthy lunch.  I’m going rest on the couch and nap and watch TV.  I’m going to read books and go to bed at reasonable hours.  I won’t work, and I won’t push myself.  And the next time that voice in my heart asks me that question, I now have an answer.

“What the hell is wrong with me?”

Nothing.  There’s no reason to feel guilty.  I’m taking care of myself.  I’m caring FOR myself, the way someone who loves me would care for me.  Because that’s what they would want.  And that’s what I want – for me, and for them.

Poem titles

I was writing a poem earlier today and having a hard time thinking of a good title for it.  I started thinking about the way I name poems and when and why I sometimes leave them nameless.  So here are my thoughts, delayed by a few hours.

“Sometimes I do not name poems.  I typically do this for one of two reasons:  either I cannot find a name that suits it, or I believe that naming it would diminish the poem.

Naming something defines something; it gives it boundaries.  It’s like cutting down trees in a forest and planting a sign that says, ‘This is the road to Abenforth,’ or, ‘This is the road to Tristal Downs.’

But somethings I can’t find the right words.  And sometimes, it’s like staring at trees glimmering in the moonlight.  And I just can’t do it.  I can’t cut down the forest; I can’t plant the sign.  Sometimes I try, but I just can’t do it.

Some forests do not deserve to be cleared.  Some lines should not be drawn.  Sometimes there is more wisdom in the mystery than there is in the revelation.  An unnamed poem is like a question:  it makes us think; makes us ponder.  A well-named poem will do the same, but that’s a different kind of thinking.  A name sends us wandering down a road; the unnamed leave us in the middle of a field.  The path is unknown, and in the end, we make our own journey.

And that is why I like my few unnamed poems.  Because they aren’t unnamed, not really.  Every person who reads it will try to name it in their hearts.  Others will perhaps be like me and be at a loss for a name, but some may find names they like.  So instead of a single name, that poem is gifted with a multitude.

And I rather like that.”