Here’s a conundrum - what sometimes looks like addiction, feels like addiction, sounds like addiction, but isn’t? Answer - autism.
How so? Well, take, for example, my perennial problem with the internet. Regular readers might already be aware of my on-going struggle to reign in my obsession with it, and may be bored out of their brains with my seemingly constant references to it - as I am myself. But bear with me: this time I may actually have had a genuine epiphany.
As usual, I have not posted for so long because I’ve been stuck on the web. In between bouts of trawling, I’ve been tying myself in knots trying to work out why I can’t seem to stay away from it, and how to manage my use of it (which, ironically, is all part of the obsession - so even when I’m not on there, I’m worrying about how to stay off there, etc).
This time around, I finally determined that it’s an addiction - that I’d been “in denial”, minimising and rationalising my behaviour (for example, by blaming it on my ADHD). After all, did it not fit within the simple AA definition of addiction in the Big Book:
‘If, when you honestly want to, you find you cannot quit entirely, or if when drinking, you have little control over the amount you take, you are probably alcoholic. If that be the case, you may be suffering from an illness which only a spiritual experience will conquer.”
Substitute internet use for drinking, and it described perfectly what seemed to be the problem - inability to choose to stay off there (away from my compulsive web-trawling, as opposed to my “responsible” use of the internet for things like communication, or blogging) for any decent length of time even when I wanted to, or needed to in order to get anything else done; and lack of control over what I would do once I got on there, which not even extreme tiredness, or physical pain, could induce me to stop.
And, also as described in the Big Book, I have tried all ways to control it (egs setting up rules, using a timer, hiding the router AND the computer at times) - and failed. All that’s done is driven me round the bloody bend, obsessing about how to stop being so bloody obsessed with the bloody thing!
I’ve tried fear, I’ve tried guilt, I’ve tried coaxing; and I’ve done what I do with everything, which is to compartmentalise it into two distinct and extreme camps (because I really don’t do middle ground) - those being my responsible, sensible, creative, productive use of it; and my unproductive, wasteful, negative use. They haven’t worked.
The unfortunate effect of categorisation is that, by extension, whenever I ‘give in’ to my compulsion, I judge myself to be choosing to be irresponsible, unproductive, and slothful; that I could stop myself if I really wanted to; that I just need to ‘pull myself together” (like a pair of curtains), and pull my socks up (as if having droopy socks are responsible for me not applying myself, or trying hard enough?!)
Yet Step One of the AA programme says that, when it comes to addiction, we are unable to exercise free choice when we are in the grip of an overpowering mental obsession and physical compulsion to use whatever substance or behaviour it is to which we find ourselves enslaved, no matter the damage it may be causing.
So, having arrived at what I thought was the right conclusion, I set about applying the solution: part of which involved the practical first step of trying to ‘detox’ (AGAIN) from my compulsive use of the internet. Only this time (I thought) it was going to be different, because I believed I’d got to the root of my dilemma - finally identifying what the problem actually was.
Then I had a conversation with my sponsor/best friend, who mentioned that we’d been here before (with alarmingly frequent regularity) - having an obsessive conversation about my obsessive use of the internet; and that perhaps it wasn’t an addiction after all. Did I not recall that being obsessed is part of being autistic, she asked (for probably the ten thousandth time since I’d been diagnosed back in 2010)?
And something clicked. Perhaps she was right? And perhaps it was time to try to make a wholesale shift in the way I think about myself, because I still seem to have some vague, unconscious idea that there are still parts of me - like my alcoholism, for instance - which are the same as the neurotypical version, and aren’t influenced by my autism: as if I have a brain that is separated into two halves (one being the autistic part, and the other the neurotypical), and they operate in tandem; and I just need to find a way to tap into the NT side in order to overcome the influence of the autism/adhd. Fuck’s sake! I thought I’d got over this ‘split personality’ business already!
I realise I haven’t gone into any specific details about the confusing similarities between autism and addiction, which I intended to include here, but this post is already long enough, so I’ve decided to split it up, and (hopefully!) I’ll write a second one about that stuff, soon. I’m just relieved to have finally got something written.
May you find clarity and truth about your own life.