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Not every addiction ends up with the discovery of your corpse in some abandoned warehouse by the river. No, some forms of addiction sneak up on you, slowly draining your life’s potential like a succubus or vampire. We might call these lesser forms of addiction vices. Gaming, porn, sexting. Nobody’s ever died from a porn overdose, at least that I know of. But plenty of new research points to over-consumption of porn as a cause of erectile dysfunction. So, your vice hurts you, even if it doesn’t kill you.
Your friends and coworkers might not even realize you have a problem. In the end, though, we all have to deal with our vices if we want to become who we want to be. We’ve read plenty of self-help articles on confidence, drive, motivation, and time management. Everyone has their weaknesses. Me? I’m great on those fronts. In fact, making room for my vice has given me outstanding time management skills. So maybe I owe it thanks? (Fuck, I’m confusing myself in my own self-help post.)
We stereotype people with addictions and vices. We think we’ll see track marks on their arms if we pull up their sleeves. Or we think they’ll show up drunk one day and let their demons fly about like bats for everyone to see. For every clear case of addiction, there’s three more quieter addicts who just won’t enjoy a full life.
One of my college professors collected violins for decades. He bought them from local music stores, pawn shops, students, and Ebay. One day, his wife did some accounting and told him he’d amassed almost a hundred violins. That meant tens of thousands of dollars they could’ve spent on home repairs, tuition for their kids, or even just a fucking vacation somewhere. My professor finally wised up and dedicated himself to refurbishing and selling those instruments. It took months, but he did it. With the money, he bought his daughter a car. Not bad.
I’ve accomplished a hell of a lot so far. In fact, I’ve achieved everything I’ve wanted despite my own vices. But now I need to raise the bar. There’s a next level for us: the things we didn’t even imagine we could do. To get there, we can’t continue as victims of our vices.
A lot people could practically attain X-Men status if we could just manage our shortcomings. Think of all the great innovators and artists we’ve seen undone by their own hands. We tend to think that somehow their faults made them great. But what if that’s bad reasoning? What if these people simply attained greatness despite their faults? That anger, rage, trauma, or whatever, what if they’d always managed to channel that into creation and productive effort, instead of into self-destructive behaviors? Imagine what they could’ve done with a little more strategy.
I’m one of those people who struggle with vices. Mainly, I have to keep a close eye on my gaming and Second Life. I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on my avatar — dresses and shoes and outfits that I’d never afford in real life. She’s like a virtual Barbie. Last year, I did the math and found that I’d spent a fortune on accessories for her. Not good for someone trying to pay off debt. At times, it was immense fun. I mean like Christmas morning tingle fun. Imagine cigarettes and sex and chocolate and wine sent straight to the right part of your brain. That was my experience.
I’m not blaming Second Life. It’s a great world. I’m blaming me. Something about me — my neural wiring and brain chemistry — made me unable to stop transporting to different realms, endlessly exploring and shopping and fucking strangers without consequence. Oh yeah, I banged a lot in SL for about six months. Until I managed to get a handle on it.
Stress triggers my Second Life vice. For example, the night before a big job interview, I stayed up until almost 4 am flirting and fucking in virtual reality. I woke up at 7 am, and through sheer will knocked my interviews and presentations out of the park. After a faculty dinner, I promptly fell asleep at 8 pm and slept for 13 hours.
The university offered me the job a week later. Yeah, on three hours of sleep, I’d impressed everyone for 8 hours worth of interview and given a pretty kick ass presentation with a pretty Prezi cherry on top.
But it was hard. Very hard. My job interview didn’t have to feel like a battle campaign. I could’ve just enjoyed a good night’s sleep and then sailed through my campus visit. If I’d been stressed and insomnial, I even could’ve just drank myself into a comatose state. Almost anything would’ve been better than how I coped at the time.
My problem started to become clear last year: I work my ass off for several days, like to the point of sobbing, and then I binge on Second Life as a reward. This is not a healthy cycle for someone who wants to eventually start a family and move up the administrative ladder.
One day, I’d like to become a dean. I’ll never get there if I don’t deal with my vice. I’m trying. My goal for now: get my ass to sleep by 3 am, and then get to my job by 10 am. I don’t have to be at my office, but I know that going there will force me to work on a semi-regular schedule. We’ll see how that goes for a while. Sometimes, I’ve backslid. But I’ve improved a lot over all.
If you’re dealing with a vice, here’s a list of tips. Let’s imagine I’m giving advice to someone who watches too much porn:
- Understand your triggers. The next time you watch too much porn and feel guilty, sit and think about why you felt the need. At least for me, there’s always a reason — some task or meeting I’m dreading, some problem I feel powerless to solve.
- Realize what a vice actually is. A vice is some activity that gives fleeting pleasure, followed by an immediate desire for more until some moment you “snap out of it” and then have that “fuck what have I done?!” crisis. For me, that’s gaming and role play. Sure, I’ve spent upwards of 10 or 12 hours working on research projects. That’s a very different feeling compared to my emotional state after 8 hours of Second Life.
- Manage those triggers. Take a nap or something and then deal with that problem. Do that laundry in the corner. Organize those files, or write that report. Maybe not all of it. But break off a piece and get that piece done. You’ll feel better, and maybe your need will fade.
- Allow yourself actual rest. For me, endless work leads to endless Second Life. So I’m trying to organize my work schedule. No more work marathons. I’m capping myself at 8 hours. Sometimes, I’ve found I can even get everything I need done in less time.
- Stop using your vice as a reward. I’ve fallen into this strap many times. I’ll get a shit ton of work done, start feeling better, and then go right back to Second Life or some other game. Next thing I know, it’s 4 am and I’m fucking exhausted, but I have a meeting at 9 am.
- Find other rewards. Your vice isn’t the only thing you enjoy doing. Surely, you like music or naps or TV shows. Me? I enjoy reading and writing. Unlike my Second Life vice, these activities have an end point. It’s late right now, but I’m about to finish this article. When that happens, I’ll sleep peacefully for six or seven hours.
- You’ll always be broken. Most of us have some deep-seated reason for our vice. For me, I’m sure my craving has something to do with my upbringing, my abusive family with a schizophrenic parent. The deep pain and anger I feel over that will never just magically vanish. I just have to learn how to invite those demons over for tea and enjoy their company.
That’s a pretty simple strategy. Essentially, you’re rewiring your brain to reduce the craving for your vice. On top of that, you’re learning to deal with the issues underneath them. Along the way, I’ve engaged in some reflection and grown as a person. That helps, too. The less time you devote to your vice, the more time you have to upgrade yourself.