Addicted

Everyone has their addictions. While this is actually not true, it’s close enough for people to accept it as a valid way of telling them to mind their own fucking business when they bring up yours. We rarely have a valid excuse so any line of false reasoning that will help render the argument pointless, is welcomed warmly.

Me, I am addicted to the internet. Heavily. And music, but nobody but the worst of people complain much about that. No, its my time in front of a computer screen that is often up for debate.

And while I don’t have a smartphone that I whip out every few minutes, I suppose it’s true: I spend most of my waking hours either doing a specific job, or on the net. There is no time where I have nothing at all to do, that I don’t invest in my addiction. It’s bad.
And it used to be much much worse.

I don’t know how it started, only when. ‘Prince of Persia’ and ‘Stunts’ on my father’s computer. My father’s feverish attempts to put some kind of limit on it taught me a heck of a lot about computer logic as I learned to hack the passwords and programs he used to block me.

Perhaps I do know how it happened: My life fucking sucked, that’s how. My mother was dead and so were my school grades. I was 12 and it felt like where ever I looked, there was that mountain of expectations looming over the horizon. Things that I couldn’t or passionately didn’t want to do, like sit at a desk learning about the growth of coffee plants in Nicaragua.

My craving for escape had always been with me, blessing me with a great imagination and cursing me with a short attention span. My talents were pretty useless in school, and my shortcomings filled their places with apparent eagerness.

But then! When I switched on the computer and logged on to freechatnow.com, all of a sudden I was talking to Americans! French! Girls lecturing me about System of a Down! I had the whole world to talk to without the pressure of politeness or even physical representation. No expectations, no disappointment, no grief, no anger. What a wonderful place it turned out to be, this early internet.

Then my friend showed me the game he was playing. It was a text-only “MUD” and he was an orc living in a city, together with other players. He had to type every thing he wanted to do, and the environment was built using elaborate descriptions and a large doses of imagination. After giving it a few short tries, my desperate need to run and natural tendency towards addiction got me hooked beyond anything I thought possible.

It would become the dominant factor in my life for the next 6 years.

I would play an average of 8 hours a day, counting the days that I worked. I would get out of bed, turn on the computer, turn off the computer, go to sleep. I spent time with my virtual character more than with my girlfriend, who ended up leaving me. The game softened the pain of her departure.

I switched games after realizing that the makers (who were closely involved with the community) were basically a bunch of pricks, but that only worsened my condition. Because I was online so much, I grew respected, liked, and was given responsibility. By the end, I was co-creator of the game, programming in large areas and brand new mechanics. And I was good, delivering work vastly superior to people with English as their mother tongue.

Ironically, that work was the indirect cause of my departure.

I wasn’t given the credit for it. Someone else copied my weeks worth of work and made it his own. When I complained, much to my surprise, the creators chose the other person’s side. When I threatened to quit, they laughed (virtually) and said I couldn’t if I wanted to.

Shaking with anger, I typed “Watch me”, hit enter, and closed my game for the last time.

The days that followed were some of the most difficult in my life. Not only was the pent up, unreleased anger extremely intense, but all of a sudden I had lost the shield that had kept me safe from the world for all this time. The turmoil of emotion pulled at me violently, while at the same time, there was nothing to fill my mind with but a gigantic ball of nothing. I only managed to get some sleep, on my couch, after day 3.
I knew I was addicted, but nothing had prepared me for this.

Judge all you will, but I have no regrets. I learned to write there, I got to see how stunningly beautiful a mind can be when it opens up, and I got to create things every day- shame that they’re the ones with anything to show for it.
I met some of my closest friends there. People that I embrace when I see them. Canadians, Norwegians, Belgians, Americans. Folks that I share a fictional past with that you couldn’t fathom.

My life has gone up and down since then, but rarely has it reached to peaks that I got to experience almost daily.

So now, paradoxically, I search for those moments and at the same time, hope I never find them again. I stay away from those games now, fully aware that I will be utterly and completely hooked from the first moment. I do other stuff now, like watching Youtube videos, or stalking friends on Facebook, but for the same purpose.

Yes I still try to escape and yes I will gladly repeat past mistakes to do so. I’m sure you have your opinion ready for me but frankly, I heard it all before and I’m getting a little tired of lectures from people who don’t know what it’s like to feel drained like we do (I am not alone) after a day you would call average.

I need something to switch off the noise coming from outside. From the mailbox and its letters with little plastic windows, from the tailgaters on the road, from the millions of rules others find self-evident, from the alarm clock in the morning, and from your stupid mouth. I love you all but Sweet Baby Jesus, just back off when you’re not wanted and leave me to my silly gaming videos.

When I am alone, or bored, or uninterested, I need something to switch off my thoughts. I’m sorry (not), but that’s just the way it is.

On the positive side, I’ve been feeling this particular addiction’s grip on me lessen as I am getting more comfortable with this new situation I’m in. Not that I still don’t have the same old reflex of hitting a computer’s power button as soon as it gets in reach, but I can -carefully- let in a stray thought or two once in a while. At least now I can count on them not sending me into problem-solving mode, panicking about how I’m going to fix some financial or (more likely) social issue.

I know that it will return as soon as the stress levels rise again, but you know what, that’s fine by me. The situation is stable, if nothing else. It’s not getting in the way of seeing the world, meeting the people I want to meet, or fixing the things that need fixing. So meh.
The only real problem is the endless string of other people’s opinions but you know what?
I got just the thing for that.

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