Most of us are constantly checking our web feeds or refreshing Apps, but at what point does it become a life-changing problem?

Our Tuesday meeting had just ended, and people were dispersing. “I’m guessing that’s the new guy on his way out.” I hastened up my steps to catch up with him.

“Oh, hey there.”

“Hello!” he replied and continued walking.

“I’ve seen you at a lot of meetings lately.”

“Yeah, I, uh…”.

“I’ve been coming every day this week”

“Great, that’s really good.”

“Planning on sharing anytime soon?”

“Do I have to?”

“There’s nothing wrong with being an active listener, but talking helps too.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Can’t ask for more than that.”

I stretched my right hand out, “By the way, I’m Karl. I’m an addict.”

“I’m Kodi.” He took my hand with a smile.

“How are you doing on the steps?” Kodi made a mute response.

“Yeah, the first one’s the hardest. Admitting you are powerless over your addiction.”

He cuts in abruptly.

“Well, to be honest with you, I’m not actually an addict. I had a little problem limiting my social media usage, uh, I realized it in time and now I’m slowing down.”

“Yeah. I had a little problem too. I had it for years. It’s called “denial”; stands for don’t even notice I’m lying.”

“Wow, good for you!” He began walking away.

“Thank you. There’s another meeting here this evening if you need it.”

“I’m doing just fine,” he kept walking.

“Keep telling yourself that, Kodi,”

He turned around and threw a silent MYOB look.

I left the scene but couldn’t stopped thinking about Kodi and others like him. People refusing to acknowledge the reality of their addiction. They use denial as a defense mechanism so they don’t feel helpless or out of control. Kodi is the new guy this week but there were others before him who join our meetings and after a few days refuse to carry out the next steps.

For many people, the concept of addiction involves the hazardous use of psychoactive substances and illicit drugs such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine and heroin. However, if the rewards are there people can become addicted to almost anything. Anything that alters your mood can become addictive. It sometimes begins as a recreation exercise – the reward you get from likes, reading comments, and other social media engagements, finding the latest dress in a store, or rolling a lucky seven can make you want more. It becomes something you can't live without.

Some addictions are behavioural; when a person is excessively involved in any activity and can’t stop, that’s an addiction. All addictions interfere with your personal and work life. It can even place you in unsafe situations. It disrupts your physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing. Some behavioural additions can deteriorate into other psychological disorders and substance addictions which may include; depression, alcohol, drugs, and even suicide.

I remember about a year ago, when I was seeking a path to recovery. I was so caught up in my virtual life that I saw my actual existence as just a portal to my illusory cyber world. For years, I let my online existence dominate all my priorities. My life was gradually deteriorating. I couldn’t keep a relationship. I abandoned my other hobbies. I was constantly losing sleep. My social life was evaporating. When I wasn’t online, I was spiraling.

Any regular person who says they are “addicted” to social media alone has no idea. During the worst of my addiction, if I couldn’t access technology, I would get myriads of withdrawal symptoms – headaches, fatigue, and general feelings of discomfort. My brain would genuinely feel like it was tossed into a meat grinder. At the time, I felt ashamed to call it an addiction, because it wasn’t heroin. But there was definitely something physiological going on.

I could clearly remember a world before and after the internet. As a child, amusement arcades and screens were my delightful magical hermitage. All I wanted to do was watch TV, so my dad got rid of our cable service. Thereafter, I retracted to playing my Game Boy in the bathroom. The arrival of a home computer and then the internet ignited my gaming passion like nothing I had ever experienced. It started with a game called Minecraft – where you’d use blocks to build things from your imagination – then I graduated to maze games.

When my parents got divorced and my dad moved out. I was sort of glad because it meant I could freely play on the desktop. On a certain day at school, I’d show a girl who was crushing on me some YouTube videos in our computer lab. After the first video into the next, I looked up at her; her mouth was downturned and her gaze was half-eyed. Before I could say another word, she ran outside to play in the middle of my excitement. I still had another 30 videos to show her, but I couldn’t comprehend her disinterest.

I got through high school and graduated college somehow, but my compulsion towards technology worsened. I agree with the fact that addiction is progressive because it certainly happened to me, the older I got, the more extreme it became. At college, I once stayed up for four nights gaming, then showed up to a coursework presentation and blacked out.

After I graduated college, I became a computer programmer working from home. It was easy for me now to turn on a game at any time. And increasingly, I saw myself playing games on my devices than working— it became a problem because I was paid by the hour and I was honest in reporting my hours. For hours on end, I would play card games like Absolute Poker and Bridge Base Online, and massively multiplayer online roleplaying games like World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI. Sometimes I wanted to stop so badly – but I could see my hands clicking on another game, as if they belonged to someone else. Usually, my back would hurt from sitting down for hours, most times I would be completely dehydrated before I go get water from the kitchen, and I mostly ate junk because I’d rather not do anything else but play games. Many times, I would pee on myself while holding my bladder to complete a game.

I knew I needed to focus on my life; it was practically falling apart. I was struggling to cater for myself. I was late on my rent and every other bill. My bosses were increasingly unhappy with my work delivery. I tried resolving my addiction by myself; I started scheduling my time, I bought an internet control software, took trips, but nothing worked.

I became very desperate to ‘get off the self-lacerating cycle’ that I started thinking about suicide. I knew this couldn’t go on; my life was taking a dive and I wanted to go with it. A few days before I would get thrown out in the streets, an anonymous player sent me a link. It was an address not too far from my apartment. I actually taught it was a new game center, so I thought to check it out. It turned out to be my redemption; it was a help group. I connected with the members of the group, and commenced the long, slow process of recovery.

I gradually found solace. I have come to understand that addiction isn’t a character flaw or sign of weakness, and it takes more than willpower to overcome the problem. Ever since, I have been greatly committed to my self-awakening journey and helping others find theirs. I am learning to cope with the cravings and deal with my relapse. What matters to me the most is that I no longer feel alone.

I wish the same for Kodi. I’m hoping he comes back later today. Sharing your story is a great outlet to recovery. When people open up and share their recovery story they reveal, in an honest and sensitive way, their experience with an addiction that likely caused a great deal of pain to them and those that love them. It isn’t easy to verbalize the thoughts and memories, and then deliver your story. Being vulnerable is not natural for someone just emerging from an addiction, much less talking about such personal issues with strangers. But being brave and allowing others to know you on a deeper level can be extremely therapeutic. It shows that you value yourself, your life, and your future enough to not only be heard, but to also be cared for.