What Quitting the Internet Was Like – Part I


In late September, disgust overwhelmed me as I tried to run this website the way you’re “supposed” to.

To avoid my unethical to-do list, I defaulted to a Pavlovian interaction with all things internet, which left me in an exhausting cycle of internet addiction.

internet addiction makes users feel like they are on a hamster wheel says top travel blog half the clothes' author jema

“Whoa – 45 new emails. Two article requests. Oooo! Stacey email – yes! And Jim tagged me on Facebook? Hmmm… what’s this? ‘8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 a.m.’ I wonder if I do any already. *click* Yep. Been there, read that. I’m not doing that cold-shower shit. Stupid. Oooh. ‘Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.’ Hmm… not getting married. But people are f’ing up marriage left and right. I’ll bite. What does my buddy the New York TImes think? *45 minutes later* Crap! I still haven’t emailed Beth about today’s meeting. #facepalm.”photo: peggy marco

Addiction battle plan?

I decided to quit.

Everything.  The externally created and unethical to-do lists, the hamster wheel of email and Facebook and Twitter, the checking of analytics and accounts… all of it.

Now that I’m back, for the sake of those also regularly numbed by internet overdoses, I’m sharing what it was like.

Soon, I’ll also write up my Sober October realization about how events in my life primed me for internet addiction.  When I finish designing my lifetime “sobriety” plan, I’ll publish that, too.

The Addict Just Before Rehab

A weird combination of relief and dread filled my final internet hours.

Relief because I couldn’t wait to have the freedom to go do real world things.  Didn’t I already have said freedom?  Technically, yes.  In practice, however, my enormous, endless to-do list left me feeling like I couldn’t afford to spend the kind of time away from the computer/work that it takes to go to the movies with my family, head into the mountains for camping, spend an evening with my neighbors, or explore real life opportunities.  Every minute out in the real world was a minute that internet-world things fell even further behind.

top travel blog Half the Clothes author Jema talks about what it was like to quit the internet

“No. No, I don’t have time to go to coffee with you. I have 3,000 unread emails. I have reports to write. I have social media updates to schedule.  No, I can’t go next week either.  I’ll give you a call when I get caught up.  Yeah, look, I just got another ten emails.  I gotta go.”photo Alon

Dread?  Of course.  I’d spent months being driven by and getting my primary sense of relevance from chipping away at an externally-dictated, ever-growing, and unfinishable to-do list.  Like many modern women who are socialized to derive self-worth from successfully meeting the demands of others, I dreaded the social rejection reserved for women who dare to say no, for women who have the gall to put their priorities first.

Women don't really do it all... the give up doing things for themselves says top travel blog Half the Clothes' author Jema

“How do I do it all? I don’t. I barely eat, am never alone, and spend every spare minute trying to catch up. But it’s wonderful to hear I’ve got you fooled!  Why, yes, I’d love to volunteer at the bake sale.  Sure, I’d be happy to contribute five batches of cookies.”photo: counse

What did I feel in my final internet minutes?

Guilt.

Immense, immense guilt.

Guilt about the just-arrived emails I’d ignore for an entire month.

Guilt about all the messages that would go unanswered in my absence.

Guilt about all the requests for my time and attention that would be instantaneously denied by my auto-bitchresponder.

Day One: Withdrawal

I woke up and immediately wanted to check my email.

Long gone was the relief I’d felt leading up to disconnecting.  Now I was a cigarette smoker 12 hours into “quitting,” facing my commitment with virtually no emotional conviction.

quitting an internet addiction has parallels to quitting cigarettes says top travel blog half the clothes' author Jema

“Ugh. Maybe I should switch quitting to after I finish this pack. That seems like a way better idea.  I don’t enjoy my addiction consequences, but I’m not as repulsed by them as I was last night before withdrawal…”  photo: Lindsay Fox

As I completed real-life tasks that had gone undone for weeks, some revelations presented themselves.

The constant urge to tick items off my to-do list often resulted in fractured focus, leading me to seek redirection and relief via the dopamine hit of clickbait.  Like never-ending funhouse mirrors, the clickbait led to further fractured focus, which landed me back at square one: ad infinitum.

Looking back over several months, I now saw just how muted my desire to go out and see the world or pay overdue visits to friends had become.  I remembered sitting on loved ones’ sofas, so riveted by my unachievable to-do list that outdoor and interactive possibilities felt like bothersome obligations.  I cringed, recalling my lackluster participation.  I’d acted the way a smoker does at the end of a long-haul flight, giving lip service as required, barely concealing the underlying one-track mind.  In my case: the urge to get back to my crushing to-do list.

internet addiction leads to social isolation says top travel blog half the clothes' author Jema

“Yeah, guys. I’d totes love to look for bananas with you. But I really need to schedule some reciprocal tweets and work on long overdue search-engine-optimization of my top 20 pages. Raincheck?” photo: Ah Wei

Sure, my servitude resulted in some positive achievements.  But sprinkled among the accomplishments were massive dopamine hits spurning me toward permanent and constant screen attachment.  Numbness pervaded my waking hours.  I remembered regularly wondering when the depth of passion with which I formerly pursued goals would return.

By the end of day one, I realized the harder I’d “worked” in the name of getting my former self back, the further I’d moved away from returning to the woman I want be.

With that insight, my faith in the importance of quitting returned.

From my day one notes: “Feels so good to be THINKING again!”

Day Two: Joke is On Me

Again I woke with an instant longing to check my email.

It brought on a realization: my pride in a nearly life-long avoidance of caffeine addiction was unearned.  I’d turned down coffee for decades aIroncially, the reason I started drinking coffee was to please external forces… do you see the theme developing here? to avoid the wake-zombie-coffee-human cycle I saw around me.  I thought my au naturale success proved just how smart it was to avoid the morning crutch.

My day-one + day-two desperation to know the contents of my inbox proved the joke is on me.

Caffeine’s got nothing on adrenaline produced by attempting to meet an endless stream of demands.  Or on dopamine hits sprinkled among the onslaught in the form of friend-emails, peer praise, fascinating articles, and tedious clickbait.

The urge for a pick-me up reared its head throughout the day – especially while typing up notes for a book club discussion.  Every time my brain was in a lull even for a second, the dopamine tug gnawed at me.

My final day two observation: “Want dopamine SO bad!”


Story continues – “Nightmares + The Itch…” in Part II

References   [ + ]

a. Ironcially, the reason I started drinking coffee was to please external forces… do you see the theme developing here?


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