Caught in the Web: An Internet Addict's Story

Caught in the Web: An Internet Addict's Story - Page 2

By Hunter R. Slaton 03/27/12

Internet addiction doesn’t just mean hours lost to Facebook. For an early online abuser named Pauline, it meant demoralization familiar to any low-bottom alcoholic. So she started a 12-step meeting.

Internet addiction isn't only affecting online gamblers and porn addicts. Photo via

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Pauline recalls her feeling of wanting desperately to go online, “and frustration with where you are and what you’re doing—a rushing feeling of frustration that’s released by using the Internet.” And yet, those six months in which she was on the wagon with respect to the web were some of the best months of her life since she first logged onto that BBS board.

“It’s hard to explain how much clearer everything is when you’re not on the Internet all the time,” she wrote on a website (more on that in a minute). “But it made my life better in every part. Not just work, but in my social life, my love life, my experience of the world. I even slept better—not just longer, but better.”

And although Pauline wasn’t religious, and in fact more or less still considers herself to be an atheist, she found praying to be relieved from her addiction both moving and useful. “I remember feeling a huge sense of relief and gratitude,” she said. “And there was definitely some astonishment that after a few days I had still managed to not go on the Internet.”

But, as with many addicts, Pauline suffered a relapse, losing countless hours to blogs, online games and instant-messaging. She had a theory why. “Everything I knew about AA sort of pointed to the fact that it didn’t really work unless you kept going to meetings,” Pauline said. “Then I found myself having problems and I started thinking it was because I was missing that element of 12-step programs.” 

So in 2008 she decided to start an Internet Addicts Anonymous group. She spoke to her friend about the format, and about what the meeting should look like. She rewrote the 12 steps and AA “meeting scripts” that her friend shared with her to address Internet addiction.

Ironically enough, she created a website that she hoped problem users would find, wherein she wrote about Internet Addicts Anonymous, Internet addiction and her own story. And finally, she booked a room at an LGBT community center where other 12-step meetings were held—and hoped someone would show up.

A few people did, but not many. The largest meeting Pauline ever had was four people, and she only held around 10 meetings before she dissolved the group—basically because there were not enough repeat visitors to really get it to snowball.

Although Pauline wasn’t religious, she found praying to be relieved from her addiction both moving and useful. “I remember feeling a huge sense of relief and gratitude,” she said. “And there was definitely some astonishment that after a few days I had still managed to not go on the Internet.”

Further complicating the matter was that the people who attended did so for wildly disparate reasons. Some had issues with sex-chatting online, some were addicted to pornography and some struggled with an addiction to their BlackBerry or Palm Pilot. A few who attended were also members of Sex Addicts Anonymous, who impressed Pauline with their rigorousness with respect to recovery.

When she was setting up the meeting, Pauline borrowed a technique from Overeaters Anonymous, wherein members would have a set list of things they could do on the Internet—and anything else was off-limits. “It didn’t seem reasonable that people would stop using the Internet altogether because of all the stuff nowadays that requires it,” she said.

Even though the Internet Addicts Anonymous group didn’t last for long, it helped Pauline while it did, in terms of accountability. And even now, four years later—due to the IAA website that Pauline set up, and never closed down—she still gets an email every now and then, with people asking if there’s going to be a meeting, and telling her that they are really struggling.

As for Pauline, her daily struggle with the Internet has subsided somewhat, yet she still is aware of her susceptibility to its repetitive, frustration-relieving call. After the IAA meetings wound down, she found a new, more engaging job, which led her to believe that she could manage and regulate her Internet use on her own.

Later on, Pauline left New York City for graduate school, meaning that she no longer works in an office, which makes a big difference—to some extent. But the problem is still there, under the surface. For example, she said, “Just weeks ago I discovered this game on Facebook that I started to play a lot, and staying up late to play it and not doing homework, so I had to delete it.”

The gravitational pull that these online games, and the Internet in general, still have for Pauline may sound familiar to a recovering—or active—alcoholic or drug addict. The game, which is called Ravenskye City, is just “so stupid,” Pauline said.

“You’re just building a little village in the sky, and you’re doing the same thing—it’s repetitive—and I used up an entire Saturday on that. And I had to go study for a test … and I would just say that I’ll play until the next round, or wait until the next thing happens, and it’s horrible. You sort of come out of it four hours later and once you stand up and walk away you’re like, ‘Oh—I could have done that hours ago, why didn’t I?’”

Pauline is quick to admit that she should not be the poster child for a fully recovered Internet addict. “I do feel like I have it under control now,” she said. “I’m self-aware enough not to say that I’m cured, but it doesn’t feel unmanageable—except for last week when I played that game.”

She added: “I think if I was in an office, I would not be able to handle it.”

Hunter R. Slaton is the Rehab Review Editor for The Fix.