Addiction’s dirty grip

I recenshot_2014-08-21_23-18-26tly went through a spell of playing games on my phone. It started with SuDoku, then 2048, then I moved on to Dungeon Keeper, a game I was addicted to when it first came out nearly twenty years ago on the PC (oh, now I feel old!). It got to the point where I was spending more than half an hour a day playing them – on the tube, when I got a few spare minutes during the day, before bed, on the loo… Eventually I realised that they were just a repetitive and mindless way to waste time, and deleted them.

One day, a friend, having heard me enthuse on a few occasions about Dungeon Keeper, asked how I was getting on with it. He seemed surprised by my succinct response: “I was playing it loads so I deleted it”, and it got me thinking about addictive behaviour – in myself, friends and family, the forms it takes and the ways it affects you, and about how my approach to it has changed over the years, to the point where I now take such a black-and-white decision. “Addiction” is obviously a sliding scale, from full-on drug addiction and alcoholism to every day folk like me who battle to loosen the grip that various strands of their life have around their neck, and it is them that this post is aimed at.

It’s easy to dismiss advice given by (so-called) health-freaks – those of us a bit obsessed with their training and who, as a result, like to eat lots of vegetables, don’t drink too much and end up looking pretty athletic as a result, but here’s a little secret: inside most of the healthy dudes and chicks whose photos you see and blog posts you read is quite often an addictive personality. Sometimes it’s screaming to get out, sometimes it crouches whimpering quietly in a corner, and others it’s wrapped, gagged and bound in layers of sweaty lycra so all it can do is mumble, bug-eyed and drooling slightly.

Many people in the fitness industry have battled through their own demons – everything from anorexia to being overweight, from alcoholism to antisocial behavioural problems – to emerge the other side, stronger and fitter and a damn sight happier, having found that we can use our healthy lifestyle as a way to keep ourselves on track. Indeed, whilst it might seem that all those positive affirmations and recipes for kale smoothies are a load of sanctimonious bullshit, actually a lot of people are passionate about sharing this amazing discovery, albeit lack a subtle (and non-annoying) way of saying it, and also use them as a way of reminding themselves what to do (and what not to).

sugaraddiction

For me, my training helps keep me on the striaght and narrow – it reins in my somewhat all-or-nothing approach to booze, it helps me keep a sensible rise and sleep routine, it keeps my diet in check (afterall, even the most holy-than-thou biscuit-avoider isn’t averse to a crack-like sugar binge once in a while) and for the most part my desire to be fresh and sprightly on weekend mornings trounces my urge to indulge in the sex, drugs and, er, electronic dance music that I was partial to in my yoof. In the past, the training itself has become the problem too – there have been times I’ve been so in-the-zone that I’ve turned down social invitations in order to train more, or decided to go on a pointless and stupid diet in pursuit of a pointless and stupid goal – but these days I’m pretty brutal with myself in avoiding getting sucked into places I don’t want to be.

By having an addiction to something, you’re relinquishing control over a part of your life. At the most basic level you’re losing time and mental capacity to it, but you could also be losing your health, your money, and your potential to be better and happier in the future, through not having the time to develop your skills, passions and the quality of relationships in your life.

wine-iv-dripIf you drink excessively and regularly, not even to the point of what you may consider addiction, you’re not only pissing away the money that you could spend on holidays, studying, new clothes, better food or, I dunno, presents for the long-suffering girlfriend that deals with your grumpy hangovers, but holding yourself back from achieving more in life. 

If you spend all your spare time in the gym, take your food in tupperware containers to friends house, and religiously track your food intake, that’s not very healthy at all.

videogameaddiction

If you play video games for hours a day, it may seem “harmless”, you may justify it as an escape in the same way as TV (itself a very similar addiction) or reading (which isn’t exempt from being a problem either, if it stops you getting on with your life) but with all those hours wiled away, sat on your arse in front of a glowing box, you could be doing something better with yourself. You could learn new skills or spend time on a hobby. Maybe you’ve got an idea for a business that you haven’t quite mustered the balls to develop. Well, instead of shooting the enemy you could be talking it over with a friend or inspiring yourself in environments full of people who’ve taken a similar path. At the very least, you could spend time with your friends and family. I mean let’s be honest, who really spends enough time with their family? I know I don’t. I barely spend enough time with my friends!

It takes brutal honesty with yourself to manage your addictions – what I normally describe as “having words with myself”. You should by now – I’m assuming readers of my blog are adults, on-paper if not in their heads – have cultivated a reasonable sense of self-awareness. You should know when you start drifting off into the danger zone where you’re a little bit out of control. Fight it. Remind yourself of the benefits of not letting its tentacles get a thorough hold round you. Yeah, maybe indulge it occasionally – go out and get hammered, spend your Sunday playing Borderlands for four hours straight (*cough*) – but when the time comes – and that time is always very soon – get your shit in order and face your life. After all, if you can’t manage yourself, then who the hell will?

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3 Responses

  1. Adam says:

    I think I disagree with this pretty violently, for a number of reasons, but I’ll give you two of the main ones.

    I think much of it comes down to the fact that, with respect, your life doesn’t seem to be one in which work or family stress figure hugely. You don’t work late most nights, your weekends are pretty free to do as you like, you don’t (and perhaps this is unfair, I don’t know) get put under pressure regularly during work hours. Perhaps people, after 10 or 11 hours at work, and with children to sort in the morning, would rather spend an evening reading or watching TV than going out to be ‘inspired’ by interesting new people or starting a business in what little spare time they have. So denigrating other people’s lifestyle so harshly without having lived it yourself does come across as a little preachy.

    Secondly I would say that you seem to find more worth in certain things than others, but don’t say why. Why, for example, is there intrinsic worth in ‘learning new skills’ that there is not in videogames? Both involve you using your brain, both involve co-ordination, both can be solitary or social as you like, so why is one good and the other not? Why the floccinoccinihilification of videogames?

    I agree that a search for balance is worthwhile, and overindulging in anything has negative consequences, but that applies equally to dieting and weightlifting as it does to alcohol and TV.

  2. Fi Silk says:

    Firstly, sorry for my tardiness in approving this comment – I get so much spam I’ve been ignoring “comments” of late as they all seem to promote pharmaceuticals.

    Secondly, may I congratulate you on using the longest word I have read this month! Actually I was impressed a random internet commenter could come up with a word I’d not heard of, until I read of its origin and realised who you are.

    With regards to your first paragraph, I am differentiating between activities which are social, a part of relaxing to offset the stresses of the day or just a way to enjoy the passing of time – a glass of wine or two to unwind, watching a movie, drinks with friends on Friday nights, video games of a weekend etc. etc. – and those that become a problem because they inhibit the very things that you should be doing every day. Playing games in your downtime is one thing, but if they, say, interfered with your ability to do your job properly as you were tired from staying up late, or if it prevented you from moving forwards with your life (say, getting a new job or changing to a more fulfilling career) then that becomes a problem.

    You know very well that there is a big difference between problematic addictive behaviour and just kicking back and relaxing, which is absolutely a part of leading a balanced life. My point in the last paragraph is that this is a line which everyone should know within themselves which side of it they are treading. As you know, in our younger days we weren’t always the right side of that, and I know that I’m not always now, nor are many other people I care about, even when it comes to “healthy” things (perhaps I should’ve expanded more instead of just saying “If you spend all your spare time in the gym, take your food in tupperware containers to friends house, and religiously track your food intake, that’s not very healthy at all.”), and it is that kind of behaviour that I’m talking about.

    Family stress thankfully doesn’t often feature in my life (I’m pretty sure everyone has that at times though!) and work stress doesn’t any more, but that is entirely because I used to work in a highly stressful job, was pretty much an alcoholic, and depressed, doing exactly what I have said in this post is so bad: hiding from the fact I was miserable and stopping myself from moving forwards to a better place. I only broke that cycle by moving to another continent for two years! After which I swore to myself that I would take the financial hit and have a less stressful lifestyle (which I should point out, comes with more than it’s own share of sacrifices – it really is swings and roundabouts when you compare both our lifestyles).

    Anyhow, I appreciate you taking the time to comment :)

  1. May 4, 2015

    […] in my last post, there is a line which you must balance across. The line between, say, posting your weight-loss […]

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