I never fell into a rabbit hole, but I fell hard into the Internet. There, I found a strange world where forbidden things were freely available—even celebrated. At first, I enjoyed this secret place where there was no right or wrong. What I did there, stayed there. So I stayed there longer and longer each day. Soon, my daytime life lacked the intrigue of my secret underworld. Before long, my seemingly harmless online meetings turned into face-to-face infidelities. I cheated frequently, after more than 15 years of faithful marriage.
My wife initially tolerated my online misbehavior, expecting me to outgrow my Internet “phase.” Five years later, I hadn’t outgrown the phase, but she had outgrown marriage to an addict. I soon found myself raising our two kids largely by myself. My new “wife” was the Internet. I crossed all sorts of lines in my online life. Things that at first revolted me eventually had to be tried. Still, I was fiercely proud of one thing: my online life never affected my kids. Or so I thought.
Although my online insanity was not directed at my kids, they surely felt its effects. I remember one Saturday morning when I quickly logged onto the Internet “just to see who is on.” When my kids woke up, they begged me to cook breakfast.
“Just butter yourselves some toast,” I yelled, stalling to prolong an online chat. “We’re still hungry!” they yelled shortly.
“Cook yourself some eggs!” I shouted back, irritated. “But it’s lunchtime, now!” I glanced up and realized four hours had elapsed. “Heat up some pizza; I’ll be right there,” I pleaded, “I’m really busy right now!” Soon they whined, “You said you’d take us to the pool, but now the pool’s closed.” I snapped angrily, “The pool doesn’t close until 6:00!” A glance at the clock told me what I didn’t want to admit. I had lost another entire day to my addiction, and had deprived my kids of another day of normal life. “I’ll make it up to you, kids,” I would swear, “You’ll see. I’ll get caught up with my work soon and things will change.”
I prayed they would believe my non-stop claims of “important work” on the computer. But their bare closets and empty pockets told them my work wasn’t earning any cash. “I’ll make it up to you,” became a familiar and hollow vow.
Until I got into recovery, I couldn’t see the insanity. My online life was no life at all. If I met a new person online, I quickly grew bored and moved on to the next unreal friend. My “real” life became my nights at the computer. My days became pale ghosts of my past. My home, marriage, and business, all slipped away right before my eyes. I would gripe to my online friends about how crazy the offline world was. Anyone who didn’t agree with me was replaced with another friend.
One day, my daughter caught sight of some online chat I had forgotten to erase. It was brief but terrible. I doubt she wanted to believe that those words came from the father she trusted—but they had. She left my life due to her vigilant mother. My sickness destroyed my daughter’s belief that she had a good father. Some people don’t hit bottom until after jail, an asylum, or a divorce court. For me, it came when my secret underworld collided with the fragile reality of someone I loved with all my heart. Like many people in recovery, I have since become grateful for the disaster that brought me here. The worst day of my life turned out to be a life saver.
Ironically, I now work on the Internet nearly every day in my profession. Thanks to my Higher Power, the Internet is not the automatic trigger it used to be. After I found sobriety, one day at a time, I realized that the web was never my real problem. My problem was a physical craving and a mental insanity within myself. The Internet was only a trigger. My real enemy was my addiction. I worked the Steps, came to meetings, and took directions from my sponsor. When I finally worked the program—and worked it every day—the program worked.
Just today, I talked on the phone to my daughter for an hour and she told me all about her move to a bigger city. She attended my recent wedding and I came to her graduation. I don’t know if she’ll ask me to escort her down the aisle at her wedding someday, but I think she might. After some Ninth Step amends, that low point we both went through has been replaced by one High Powered day after another.