I'm posting this to find others who can relate to my experiences because I've found immense healing in connecting with others who also experience it. If you wish to challenge the idea that information addiction is real, please know that doing so constitutes diagnosing other people and denying the reality of others does more harm than good. This thread is meant for people to safely & comfortably connect.
TL;DR - I read this article about someone's information addiction the other day & it reminded me that I want to look for more people like myself. (the article: http://nymag.com/selectall/2016/09/andrew-sullivan-technology-almost-killed-me.html) If you don't want to read this whole thing and think you might be an information addict, reading up to and including the 2nd header is probably enough. Feel free to ask any questions. If you didn't read the whole thing and I already answered the question, I'll gladly answer it again because I understand that sometimes a lot of text can be overwhelming.
What do you mean by information addiction?
When I feel overwhelmed or upset, I may find myself compulsively
- gaming (offline chess included)
- doing puzzles
- binge watching shows or movies
- reading things posted on Hacker News (or anything else for that matter)
- watching porn
- listening to music
- researching things related to what's bugging me
- look for people to brainstorm with
None of these things are unhealthy by themselves and in moderation. I haven't lived a life of moderation, though...if I'm doing any of those things, I'm likely doing them for hours & not aware of how much time I'm spending. If one of the activities is short-lived, I may jump to another one. I think of addiction in terms of type theory: all those activities are of the "potentially addictive" type. What matters most is where my head's at when I'm partaking in any of them.
Practically anything can be addictive
The human brain rewards itself for avoiding harm/pain, which includes emotional pain. If an activity helps the brain avoid, reduce, or distract from pain or perception of future pain, it will reward itself. The brain doesn't care if the escape comes from the activity of taking a drug, drinking, exercising, gambling, reading, listening to music, daydreaming, etc. It just cares that it got to survive that thing it was going through or thought it might have to go through.
When I started calling myself an addict
By applying a business analysis tool to my life with some friends & family, I gathered a list of my weaknesses. I separated them into things that had improved over the years & things that hadn't. Then I drew lines between the things that hadn't to represent when one thing led to or somehow supported the other. By the time I was done, I had a graph with two well-connected cyclic subgraphs. I knew that addiction is a cyclic thing & when I saw the graph, I knew I was starting at my addiction.
How I knew for sure
I entered into a program a year ago for internet addiction (I won't name or recommend it as it's way too expensive & addiction treatment in the US lags woefully behind science's understanding of addiction due to persistent view of addiction as a disease, rather than a learning disorder). They'd had a few clients who they might classify as info addicts, but mostly dealt with people who struggled primarily with gaming and/or porn. They didn't know what to do with me in the context of my addiction & didn't really express much of an interest in exploring it with me, so I had to be the one to identify my problematic behaviors. After being in the program for 2 weeks & not experiencing withdrawal symptoms (despite quitting smoking cold turkey on day 2, no less!), I stopped allowing myself to look things up in books. For the next 9 months, I woke up 1-3 times almost every night from vivid dreams that evolved as I found more behaviors that were taken for granted by others as normal. The therapists wanted me to undergo a sleep study because they didn't think it was addiction related. How could not looking things up in books trigger withdrawal, right? In any case, my dreams became a useful signal for me to track my recovery progress through.
I'm 33 & have traced my addiction back to at least when I was 12, when I discovered text files on BBSes about hacking/phreaking & after a couple of years of undiagnosed ADHD making school really hard for me. Addiction was my escape from the judgment/shame/guilt heaped on me by my parents, peers, and teachers. I figured if learning was going to be hard for me to do, at least I could learn about the things that could help me later in life (I knew I wanted to be a programmer). Since then, I've been fired from most of my jobs. I've lived in poverty most of my life because I learned to disconnect from the world right before the time in my life when real-world skills are meant to be learned, including connecting with my emotions & others. As an adult, my addiction was too strong for me to even develop basic hygienic routines. I remember crying naked in my bathroom before work one day because I was trying to get into the habit of showering daily & I'd just spent 25 mins naked while reading a couple of HN posts with the shower running in the background; I had to turn off the shower & get dressed or else I'd have been late for work.
I'm 33 & things are improving, some quickly & others slowly. I discovered the root of my addiction: I was molested growing up & had been telling myself it didn't traumatize me. When I decided to challenge that assumption & just say out loud to myself that it traumatized me, I felt an onslaught of terror & anxiety (of what, I still don't know), as well as confusion over what was happening to me followed by relief that I'd uncovered this thing. Within 12 hours of that, I'd applied psychological tools to myself & come to a stable place about things. The following weeks, I learned how to address & walk through other fears, let go of anxieties, and empathically connect with others. I learned to connect with the other few info addicts in recovery I knew and physically felt a sense of belonging in my chest when it was happening. That feeling is one I want to cultivate further, hence this post.
I experienced a spiritual awakening that lasted for months after breaking through denial. It's an amazing thing to be going through, especially since I'm agnostic, and I'd love to talk to anyone who's been through similar things. If you've ever encountered a paradigm shift in your thinking when learning something new, it's like that, but times a billion and everything you do is likely to spark a new epiphany.
Things I've learned that have helped
I've since learned more things about recovery & addiction.
- Nonviolent communication (NVC) is the most direct path I've found to learning how to empathize with others.
- Addiction's a learning disorder, not a disease. If the brain is a neural network (or works like one, which it does), then addiction is a (mathematically, not medically) pathological set of neural pathways.
- Viewing addiction as a learning disorder opens the door for a lot of ways to approach recovery that seem counterintuitive (or plain wrong by historical recovery standards), but have helped immensely. The biggest one for me right now is how I view "relapses." I only use that word because most people know that it means "doing things addictively again." I prefer the term "learning opportunities" to describe my slips & falls in recovery; there's no connotation of shame/judgment baked in & it serves as a reminder to me to examine what I'm doing to find things to learn from the current situation.
- Addiction is found in people who are genetically (and likely epigenetically) predisposed to it, as well as people who aren't. My take is that addiction is typically a maladaptive coping mechanism learned in response to trauma, as I've yet to meet an addict who didn't undergo something traumatic (and yeah, plenty of them have yet to admit it, though it's clear to others, such as someone whose parents tied the addict to a bed as a child to keep them from scratching poison ivy).
- Trauma between two people can't be compared. I have a friend whose addiction has been traced to being shamed by their sisters at the age of 2 for liking Pokemon. My friend learned that acceptance meant finding out what other people liked and becoming that type of person. The shame they felt toward what they enjoy doing led them to only feeling comfortable in that source of their initial rejection.
- I've learned to use my addiction against itself. Instead of avoiding reading, I choose to read things that I can immediately begin applying in my life to help in my recovery.
- Audiobooks are AWESOME for minimizing the time I spend learning.
- Practicing gratitude is SO IMPORTANT. I stopped & relapse quickly followed.
- Mindfulness meditation is also critical & something I need to work on practicing more. It allows me to learn how my emotions physically manifest & helps me better identify my emotional state in the moment when I'm not meditating.
- I've started Tai Chi & it's essentially mindfulness in motion.
- Exercise & changing my diet also help WAY MORE than I want to admit. I can no longer deny the science behind it, much less the positive impact it's had on me.
- Sugar addiction is absolutely a thing. I spent 2 months in recovery treating myself to frozen fast food treats almost daily. I gained 12 pounds & decided to stop before I broke 200 lbs. I got a headache every afternoon for the next 3 weeks.
- Humans can, without intending to or being aware they're doing it, transmit emotions. The same goes for receiving them. And awareness/intent isn't binary, so someone's intentionally transmitted anger may be unintentionally transmitted along with their sadness & received by someone who's aware of the anger, but not of the sadness.
- We can only partially control the impact receiving others' emotions has on us.
- Spirituality is synonymous with social resilience, not religion or god. To be spiritual simply means to recognize that we are interconnected in some way that's beyond our control. The previous 2 points directly imply this, so it's not even a belief system for me. It's just a thing that is.
- The words "Higher Power" (used often in 12-step groups), when literally interpreted, can be used to describe our ability to be unconsciously influenced by the emotions of others.
- Way too many other things...ask for more if you want to read about more.
I suspect this could've been shorter, but I probably needed to hear/read some of these things from myself. I think that because I'm currently coming out of a 2 month long "opportunity for learning & growth." I'm glad to be slowly coming out of it & grateful for the experience.
I hope someone finds this helpful and can connect with any part of it. Addiction is a lonely hole to live in & it's nearly impossible to climb out of it without help.