Step One of the Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous is: “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, and that our lives had become unmanageable”. We all have different poisons. You might want to swap out the word alcohol for food, or other people, or shopping.
My favourite compulsions include sugar and overwork, but as they suggest in the fellowships, you focus first on the one that’s killing you the most quickly. I’m lucky in that my internet use doesn’t cause direct problems with my health, bank balance or the law, but it does affect me profoundly.
It distracts me from the people who are physically present, as I scroll on my phone rather than listening to my husband or stroking my cat. Every time I look online, I’m knocked from a spacious, grounded place to a scattered, hepped up state. The little hits of dopamine I get from Facebook notifications are reinforcing the wrong idea that I need to be affirmed in order to be valuable or loved. I wake up to email, and close my eyes at the end of the day with the glow of the screen still lingering.
In short, my current use of the internet is taking me further away from the life I want to live. I am not in control of it, and it is making my life unmanageable.
The first step is the most painful step, but in my experience it is also the one that brings the most hope. If I continue to insist to myself that I can control my internet use, that’s it’s ‘not that bad’, that it’s better to be natural than restrict myself, then I am stuck in the unmanageability. If I allow the truth of Step One to sink into my bones, then suddenly I step through into a wildflower field of opportunity – a place where I can hand my compulsion over, become abstinent, and be free.
Being free, for me, is checking email twice a day and Facebook once. It is the difference between choked, hungry days glued to the computer and my phone, and days with open swathes of time and the energy to pay attention to the subtle beauty around me.
Right now, I am going to begin my abstinence again. Maybe you’ll join me. What word do you want to swap out for alcohol? What does abstinence in your relationship with this word look like for you? What kind of freedom can you taste?
If you want to read more about the 12 Steps, go to the source, the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, or try Russell Brand’s Recovery. I also write about the steps in my book What Helps: Sixty Slogans to Live By.
Photo via Pexels with gratitude.