Someone on reddit asked me if I would share my story on here, and since I remember reading success stories to be the most helpful in this process, here I am. Sitting at the kitchen table, my laptop in front of me - a scene so familiar to me since I used to spend up to 14 hours a day online, a screen in front of me, sitting in all kinds of awkward and hurting positions that I wouldn’t really notice anymore since I was absorbed completely in the virtual world.
This addiction came in different phases. Some were really bad (as I said: up to 14 hours a day), and I remember the strange feeling of being back in the real world, being around real people, thinking to myself: So this… is real life. It felt unfamiliar and uncomfortable to engage with the physical, non-virtual world and all I wanted to do was to get back home to my laptop so I could go back to the comfort of a world I had entirely created for myself: A tumblr blog with a hand-drawn design I had carefully made, scanned, edited and put on the blog myself, a flickr account filled with the few high-quality photographs I had managed to take despite my addiction (only about 40 pictures within almost 10 years), for a while an instagram account so embarrassingly repetitive it clearly showed the lack of a life I had (pretty much the same pictures over and over again), and numerous accounts of strangers I was following that I never will and never have met in real life that nonetheless felt like friends to me since I had been following them for years.
A kitchen table, a laptop in front of me.
What is different now about this situation, where I boldly dare to call myself a “recovered internet addict” even though I am coming to terms with the fact that an addiction is a life-long battle?
What’s different is that this, right now, as much as I love to share my story, feels like a task I need to get done. Because by now, doing almost anything that involves my laptop is something I want to get over with as fast as possible. My eyes get dry, my back hurts, and I can’t wait to close my laptop again, so I can engage with the real world around me again: A cup of coffee enjoyed in silence, a walk along the river, a phone call with a friend, a book read in bed, doing house chores, ticking off things off of my to-do-lists.
My relationship with this thing, this laptop, has completely changed. It used to be the center of my life, literally - now, it is something that I’m glad to know to be sitting in a drawer out of sight most of the time.
2005 was the year I first noticed things getting slightly out of hand. My grades in high school suddenly dropped even though I’ve been known to be a good student until then. I couldn’t focus on studying anymore because everything that happened online seemed a lot more interesting, a lot more important, I started procrastinating, and lost the wonderful mindset I used to have when it came to all school related stuff: What needs to get done, needs to get done, so don’t even bother complaining, it won’t help, just sit down and start.
I graduated high school in 2008 and felt so relieved I actually did it despite studying incredibly little for finals, I even cheated successfully on one of them (music, my favorite subject actually) since I was in utter panic that I would fail them due to my lack of study time.
Then I moved out from home, to another city, where besides my 2 sisters I didn’t know a single person. This is where things got really bad for the first time. I remember staying up all night in front of the internet numerous times, running away from feelings of loneliness and shame. In the very back of my mind, I had always known that this behavior is significantly wrong, that this is not how you do life, that I’m robbing myself of all kinds of memories to look back on in the future. But to really admit to myself that I did have a real problem and that I literally had to change my life upside down in order to get rid of it - that was the absolute hardest part.
Fast forward to 2012, another city, another country even, I had started studying Fine Arts - an absolute dream come true - after 3 years of a much better phase regarding my addiction since I had only limited access to the internet during those years and was studying photography at a small private school where I finally met a few likeminded people - but I still ended up not graduating from this school because of, you guessed it, the addiction holding me tightly in it’s claws so I ended up procrastinating on the final project that would get me a diploma so much that in the end there simply wasn’t enough time anymore to start… anything.
And then, Fine Arts, a course that would take me 5 years to complete. 3 of those 5 years I would call another “bad phase” - running away online from once again feelings of loneliness, feelings of not being good enough, not talented enough for this course, running away from all kinds of fears. The last 2 years where better thanks to an incredible teacher who saw something in me I hadn’t seen before, who made me discover my love for abstract, meditative drawing, and later thanks to a course I took where everyone got a studio space of their own - having a place to go to to only make art and draw turned out to be a life saver when it came to not procrastinating even on things I love doing anymore.
I graduated from university at the age of 29, after 6 months of writing a (in my opinion) much too short diploma thesis thanks to once again my addiction holding me back from investigating my topic any further. I left university with mixed feelings: Being disappointed in myself that I had yet again done something not nearly as good as I could have done it if only I had stayed away from the internet, at the same time immensely proud that despite the addiction and the uncontrollable mood-swings and depressed phases that came along with it, I made it, I graduated from university.
I moved back to my home country and with my 30th birthday approaching fast, I finally had the guts to admit to myself that things really, really, really needed to change drastically NOW, otherwise, I am going to ruin my entire future. And since I’ve always dreamed of having my own family one day but found myself entering my 30s being a woman who’s simultaneously a virgin, practically unkissed and never had a relationship all due to the 6-14 hours spent starring at a computer screen every single day for the past 13 years, I finally almost literally cut the cord.
Despite being in utter panic about this, I removed my home internet for 6 weeks.
I also made sure that I had a list of things I wanted to do instead. I was unemployed so I had lots of free time that I planned to fill with reading, getting to know the neighborhood, going for numerous swims, sitting in coffee shops, spending much more time outside.
Well, I’m gonna be honest, those 6 weeks were really hard and really beautiful at the same time.
Really hard was the simple fact that I had no internet at hand anymore to hide or run away from my feelings. Only then did I realize how many negative feelings I had stored up inside of me, shoved away constantly. Now, suddenly, they were all there: Loneliness, Anger, Frustration, and an unfathomable amount of regret about my past, about all those years I wasted online that I would never get back.
On the other hand, I found myself incredibly curious what a life not spent in front of a computer screen would feel like which was really the main motivating factor during those 6 weeks.
I tried to do all the things from the list I had made, I biked around the city a lot, spent hours browsing books at the library, got a monthly pass for the public swimming pool, went shopping and read a lot of books.
And now, the beautiful part: After only 3 weeks of this new lifestyle, I noticed some significant changes in my overall well-being. My mood-swings got A LOT better. I finally started feeling normal again, not this person with a rollercoaster of constantly good or bad feelings inside of them, but just normal. My optimism returned. I was suddenly able to enjoy the little pleasures of life again, really enjoy them, like watching a movie in my kitchen on a cold november evening. I got completely surprised by random waves of happiness that occurred for no particular reason, they were just there out of a sudden, and this is a feeling I had felt last during my childhood! In a way, life did seem like back in my childhood since this was a time where I was able to just LIVE and BE - before life made its tragic and exhausting aspects in form of a crippling addiction known to me. I felt like I had woken up from a nightmare, and was finally able to experience the beauty of living again.
After 6 weeks, my relationship with the internet had changed completely.
I found myself being bored by spending time online, I found myself suddenly wanting to rather spend time offline doing things I like instead of starring into a screen for hours. My eyes started hurting a lot quicker when browsing since I wasn’t used to it anymore. I felt completely cured from my addiction, had zero anxiety about a relapse anymore, I thought I had overcome everything. So I brought back the home internet.
But it wasn’t over yet.
Irony of Irony is, that since I felt so secure, I actually went on reddit to post this amazing success story (this was all back last fall).
And the fact that there was something waiting for me there again, comments to read, notifications to check, all these little things brought back the addictive behavior faster than i could blink.
What followed were another 4 months of struggling to get my addiction in control, naively thinking that I could make it through sheer willpower, not removing the home internet.
After those 4 months, my brain had finally realized that this approach is never going to work, which led to me finally buying a program (HeyFocus) so I could block all dangerous websites until basically forever (I set the timer for 1000 hours at a time, and reset it whenever it runs out). This still feels lame and embarrassing to me if I think about it - that I am just. not. able to control the time I spend online by using sheer willpower - but at the same time, by having installed this program, I am making my life a million times easier. To not even have the option to browse for hours simply forces me to do other things, to actually go out there and live my life.
I started dating again, I recently got a studio space together with 3 other incredible artists, I killed my habit of procrastination, and I feel a lot more responsible and grown-up in my day-to-day life. What I’m learning is to get out of my comfort-zone, and to really live. To make memories, to overcome my fears, to allow myself to feel every single feeling that arises.
I am learning to accept that life will always be like this: An accumulation of good as well as bad feelings and that all I have to do is to let them be exactly what they are. To stop fighting, and start living instead.
All I can say is that now, where I’m experiencing this new life, this life that is finally really lived, I would be a damn fool to get back to my old life full of wasted time, self-hatred and regret.
Because life is beautiful and I truly wish for each and every one of you that you will muster up the strength to step out of your comfort zone and get out there to do the only thing possible - to live your life, to actually show up for it.