One would think that I could manage to stay away from my computer for at least 24 hours in gay Paris, but no....Like millions of others in the world, I could not travel without my laptop this recent trip to Paris, France and Essen, Germany. As life would have it, two days into the trip my hard-drive crashed beyond repair and I discovered I had an addiction.
Initially, I managed to handle being untied to my computer without too much distress. Having access to my friends' computers, I experienced only intermittent anxiety when I longingly gazed at them surfing the net and playing YouTube videos, or when it was my time to go to sleep and I did not have my Spider Solitaire came to numb my brain. I otherwise occupied my time socializing and exploring, spending five glorious days in Paris with wonderful friends, delicious food, and mouth-watering wine.
The next stop for me was going to prove to be more difficult. After Paris, I traveled to Essen, Germany, where I was scheduled to lecture at a conference for several days. As I had traveled by myself, for the first four days, I was essentially alone.
When I wasn't lecturing, I found I had little to do. I had no access to cyberspace. I could not work or write, as I am so used to typing. When I tried to write with a pen, in fact, my hand hurt, so I stopped. I had no Spider Solitaire came to numb my brain.
I meditated, several times, which literally got tiring after a while, as I managed to fall asleep. I read, two books in two days. I played Sudoku with a pen.
In between, I walked around a bit, ate by myself and otherwise, twiddled my thumbs and stared out the window, contemplating my loneliness.
I sat for long periods, allowing myself to be flooded with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and aloneness or disconnectedness. Outside my window, I could hear laughter and conversations in a language I could not understand. It only made me feel more alone.
My anxiety reared its ugly head -- something I hadn't experienced in quite some time as I had become so adept at using my self care skills like meditation or exercise to counteract it. This time, these particular self care skills weren't enough to relieve my anxiety. I started craving my computer -- craving the chance to pour out the overwhelming feelings within me into work, typing, instant messaging, or playing my spider game. I wanted to numb the loneliness and I wanted my computer to do it.
'Wow," I realized, 'I am addicted. I must be going through withdrawal. When did this start?" I wondered.
Looking back at my life, I saw that my addiction to the computer and my card game started back in 1996, when I had experienced the devastating event of being stuck with an HIV+ needle during my residency training at a Boston Hospital. For six weeks I had to take a cocktail of 14 medications to prevent myself from converting to HIV. For 6 weeks, I thought the end of my life was near. I was a physical and emotional mess -- from the medications and from my distressing and ongoing thoughts. The only thing that got me through this was the love I received from friends and family. When they were with me, I felt better. When I alone, I threw myself into my solitaire game so that I could numb, not think.
Six weeks passed and my blood work turned out negative for HIV. Perhaps if I had stopped playing my game then, the addiction would not have started, but the next four months of my life turned out to be just as stressful, with deaths in the family, my father's heart attack, (which he survived) and the absolute destruction of all my worldly possessions in a house fire.
My spider game was all I had for coping at that time. I didn't meditate yet, exercise, eat healthy, pray, or sleep much for that matter. The only outlets for my anxiety were being with friends or family, and being on the computer -- involving playing my card game or working/writing.
As my life evolved and I developed better coping skills, I found my anxiety was much better controlled. In fact, if I did ever experience it, it was short-lived and I used it as an opportunity to work on myself, reach out for help and work on developing The Love Response®.
But all the while, I still had my trusted computer.
So now, alone in a foreign country, I felt abandoned without it.
And this, this belief that I was alone, unsupported and abandoned, was one that I was familiar with. I thought I had "fixed" it, but here it was again. It appeared that funneling my anxiety into work or numbing it with card games allowed me not to deal with this distorted belief completely.
Well, I had to deal with it now, in Essen Germany, or my misery would get the better of me. I called on my Love Pyramid -- social love, self love and spiritual love -- to help.
1. I called my family in the States and told them how lonely I felt: Talking to them and admitting I was not okay was a big deal. Advice: ask for help and connect with others.
2. I went for a walk around the lake and appreciated the incredible beauty of nature around me. Advice: Get out of your head and connect with nature. When you appreciate, you get out of the stress response, which will pull you out of negative beliefs and attitudes.
3. I prepared myself colorful, delicious and healthy meals. Advice: Love and nurture yourself by eating with appreciation, foods that nurture you and make you feel good (thus comfort food).
4. I meditated with The Love Response® by using my imagination to create the experience that I was surrounded by those who love me, like divine parents and friends. I imagined, for instance, that I was being rocked, cradled, nurtured and held by my divine mommy until I could feel my entire body and mind relax into her love. Advice: Use your imagination to create a connection to something larger than yourself, that you may not necessarily be able to see with your physical eyes. This is spiritual love.
5. I paid attention to the negative thoughts and beliefs that were causing me to feel more stressed, namely the belief that I was not loved and supported, and all alone. Advice: When you feel more quiet, pay attention to the ongoing negative thoughts and beliefs that make you feel that you are not enough of or have enough of something -- loved enough, smart enough, good enough or have enough money, support, friends, etc.
6. I began to repeat my positive verbal command over and over again -- even though I didn't believe in it -- "I trust that I am loved and supported enough." Advice: Repeat a positive verbal command to reset the thinking and unconscious beliefs in your unconscious mind, even if you consciously do not believe the words are true.
I think all or the majority of us, in today's high-tech age, have some sort of addiction to the computer or phones that keep us constantly connected to something or someone. The problem is that this virtual connection has managed to replace the real connections we need to live a happy, fulfilled and loving life with. The connections that help our hearts and minds feel truly alive cannot be found on a computer or iPhone. These connections involve actual experiences--real people, real trees, real food, real sensations of touch, smell, taste, sound and sight.
So my last words of advice are these: Take some time away from cyberspace and connect. Appreciate. See life and yourself as small miracles and allow yourself to experience awe. You will feel more alive and you will be reminded that indeed, you are not alone.
After a while, the computer can become something you do and work on, not something you need.
Follow Eva M. Selhub, M.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/DrEvaSelhub