I recently 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).
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.
If 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.
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?