Alcohol, smoking, gambling, speed, adrenaline, food, prescription drugs, illegal drugs, video/computer games, online games, internet, pornography, sex, plastic surgery, risk, sugar, shopping, inhalants, stealing, power, money, . . . the list of things one could become addicted to seems endless. It reminds me of what King Benjamin told his people during his great discourse at the temple: “And finally, I cannot tell you all the things whereby ye may commit sin; for there are divers ways and means, even so many that I cannot number them” (Mosiah 4:29).
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My husband has an addiction and we got him into rehab in rancho cucamonga for treatment, one that many might not think of when they hear the word “addiction.” But it is an addiction nonetheless, one that is placing in jeopardy everything that is most important in this life. My husband is addicted to electronic games, specifically online games – even more specifically, to World of Warcraft. He disagrees with me, of course. “I need to be able to relax, to have some downtime. It’s just a game. I work hard all day and I need time to unwind after work.” I understand the need to relax, to have downtime, to unwind. But there is downtime and there is addiction.
My husband is also a workaholic. I used to hate the way he worked 12+ hours a day, many times six days a week. But now, I would rather have him be at work six days a week than working five days then home, glued to the computer screen, for two. I can barely stand the one day plus 5-6 hours every night that he plays now. When he gets home from work, typically about the time I’m putting the kids to bed, he comes in, changes his clothes, gets something to eat, then pulls up his game. I’m generally asleep when he comes to bed but the times I groggily open an eye to peer at the clock it is usually between 1 and 2am. There are days we hardly say 10 words to each other.
Oh, I know that playing electronic games doesn’t seem to be one of the big addictions. You can’t die from playing electronic games, can you? Well, it seems that you can. There have been reports in the news of people becoming so obsessed with their game that they forget to sleep or eat or drink. And they die. Not a lot, but some have. And that’s not counting the ones who kill themselves when the virtual world they accept as being more real that reality, is taken away from them. It’s scary. There are websites dedicated to people trying to wean themselves from WoW. It’s serious stuff.
But it’s not the fear that the gamer will die (that’s fairly rare) that makes electronic gaming so hard. It’s the disassociation, the neglect – time spent away from spouse and children. It’s the priority the game takes over church and family. It’s the immersion of the person in a virtual, fantasy world to the exclusion of reality. My husband hasn’t been to church in months. Before he stopped coming all together he only came because I had a very stressful calling and really needed help with the kids. Even then, after Sacrament Meeting he’d get the kids to their classes then spend the rest of the block dozing in the van, listening to jazz. Now Sundays are spent playing his game and taking five hour long naps – catching up on the sleep he has lost by playing late all week. Even during those times he decides to spend with us, he is on a short fuse, easily angered and annoyed.
I’ve never experienced the pain of knowing that my spouse has broken his marriage vows but I have felt the aching loss of self worth as I walk past our office to hear my husband laughing and talking with people he has never met face to face, never had interaction with outside of a virtual fantasy world. “What is wrong with me,” I ask myself, “that my husband prefers, night after night, to be with those people rather than me?”
The last time we went on a family vacation was in July of 2004. I’ve taken the kids on four camping trips, by myself, since then. If we go to the park, it’s without Dad. We do a lot of things without Dad. Frequently, on those rare nights when he is home in time from work, our dinner is without Dad as well. He’ll load a plate with food and quietly disappear into the office, back to his game.
Sometimes I can hardly bear the pain this causes me. I feel like I am raising the children alone. I feel like I bear all of the responsibility of teaching them strength of character and gospel principles all alone. I worry so much about the example my husband is setting for our sons – often the only interaction they have with their father is when they stand behind his chair and watch him play the game. Do I call them from the room and take away even that time they have with their dad or do I let them stay and eventually become him, set to break their wives hearts too? How will they learn that men have responsibilities around the house too? Many times I’ll ask my husband to help me with something around the house, he’ll ask for a minute to finish up something on his game, then hours later I’ll do it myself because he has never emerged from his fantasy world. How will our sons learn the importance of and how to honor the Priesthood? The importance of faithful gospel participation? How will they learn to be good fathers, good husbands? How will our daughter know what to look for in a good husband? These are only some of the hurt, angry, bitter thoughts that roil around my head too much of the time.
In the July Ensign there is a wonderful article entitled, “Hope, Healing, and Dealing with Addiction.” I have read it several times and not only has it given me strength and hope but it has validated my decision to get counseling. I have my first session this week. I’ll be going alone. My husband says he’ll see how I like it before he decides to go. Hummm . . . . But as Michael D. Gardner says in his article, I can’t change my husband, I can only change myself. I can learn to take care of myself, to control the way I react to his behavior, to forgive him and accept any steps he takes in the right direction.
My husband really is a good man. I believe he loves us and would be devastated if he lost us. But right now he is lost – lost in an addiction that is taking a great toll on him and his family. I hope we can all make it through.