It’s been barely an hour, and I’m already in the throes of withdrawal. My body’s tense, my muscles jumpy. My heart is racing, and I’m finding it hard to catch my breath. I’m feeling wired, with an unaccustomed energy that threatens to morph into a panic attack.
What’s the addiction I’m fighting? Is it booze, cigarettes? Maybe drugs, prescription or otherwise? No, it’s Spider solitaire. The spell it’s cast over me is relentless, and I’ve finally come to admit I’m powerless to resist. Just one game, I tell myself, or maybe twenty minutes. But inevitably, those minutes morph into hours – how many, I’m ashamed to admit. I could probably have cranked out a novel during the countless hours I’ve wasted on Spider in recent months. My blog has been one of the casualties; so has my housework, which is dubious at the best of times.
This toxic addiction mushroomed along with my depression, beginning last summer, and by now it’s hard to sort out cause and effect. Do I play too much Spider because I’m depressed, or am I depressed because I play too much Spider? Probably both. But when I’m playing, all sense of time fades away. I lapse into a state of suspended animation, on autopilot. As Pink Floyd would put it, I become comfortably numb – neither happy nor depressed, just vaguely anaesthetized. I’m capable of playing right through meal times, ignoring hunger, thirst, and urgent promptings from my bladder.
What’s going on here? In an effort to find out, I Googled “computer solitaire spider addiction” and came up with 864,000 hits. I was delighted to learn my blog post “Addicted to Spider solitaire?” from September 5, 2009 was fourth on the list. It contains my poem “Skinner’s Last Laugh” and you can find it in my archives.
Countless folks share my addiction. I read accounts by people with problems far worse than mine, some who played up to ten hours straight, who missed work because they’d been playing till five a.m., or who played on the job till they were fired. All agreed that Spider is powerfully addictive, perhaps more so than any other computer game, but for the most part, they couldn’t explain why. One woman had a valid excuse for guilt-free playing – she’s 74 years old, immobilized and housebound, on oxygen 24/7. For her, the game may be a godsend. For the rest of us, not so much – one writer calls it “Satan’s spider game of death.”
Some say the neurotransmitter dopamine, which controls craving and anxiety, is the culprit. Joss Earl writes, “Some theories suggest that dopamine developed as a survival technique for siege-like situations. If a monkey is sitting in a tree with a lion prowling around below, then being patient is essential for survival. Dopamine calms down the monkey and allows him to outwait the lion. . . . almost by definition, addictive drugs are ones that raise dopamine levels.” Research has shown that computer games raise dopamine as well. Certainly Spider alleviates my own anxiety, but it damps down my motivation and enthusiasm as well, and I can no longer tolerate the waste.
So I’m going cold turkey, effective today. Since clicking on the Spider icon has become my automatic response as soon as I log onto the computer, and since I’ve proven time and again that there’s no such thing as “just one game,” I asked my husband to hide Spider deep within the innards of my computer so that I can’t find it. He’s not deleting it entirely – not yet – but he swears he’ll do so when and if I relapse.
He did the dastardly deed while I was watching the soap opera “One Life to Live,” another of my addictions. True, it consumes less than an hour a day, but it falls mid-afternoon during what would otherwise be my prime writing time, and I’m too technologically challenged to tape it. Soon I’ll be deprived of that guilty pleasure as well – ABC has announced plans to cancel the series in January, replacing it with a life-styles reality show. Sorry, but I’ll boycott the new show – my life’s too full of reality already.
So, assuming I don’t freak out, what will I do with all my newfound time and energy? Maybe I’ll finally get around to cleaning up last year’s dead detritus from my garden. And maybe I’ll even get back to writing.