Dear Lauren,

How do I stop my Internet addiction? I feel lost. I'm not sure how to stop my habit. I want to use my time more wisely but I just keep going further and further! I want to go to God on Yom Kippur and tell Him that I reached my goal and used my time wisely: more giving, more kindness. There are days where one video leads to 1,000,000,000,000, and I don’t even leave the house. Help me, I don’t know what to do??

Thank you,

Lost

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Dear Lost,

The fact that you want to stop is your greatest weapon against your addiction. Your other greatest strength in fighting a habit you don’t want is the fact that you admit that you have a problem.

The best way to overcome an addiction is to follow The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous. Any addiction follows the same pattern, so the process of breaking any addiction is the same. Whether it’s eating more than is appropriate, drinking more alcohol than is appropriate, using drugs, engaging in bulimic behaviors, a shopping addiction, a gambling addiction…any habit you don’t want to do but keeps sucking you in…The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous can help.

Here are The Twelve Steps:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

If you read the steps, you’ll see that you already have a lot of the elements the steps direct you to do. You already admit that you have a problem. That’s huge. You already want to make amends before God. That’s also huge. And you already want to extend giving and kindness to others. I think you are well on your way to healing.

I would read The Twelve Steps every day, and create your own prayer, as well. It could be something like this:

God, please help me. I know I have an addiction, and I want to do my best today not to give in to my cravings. Please help me help myself! I need strength. Please give me strength. I am committed to staying clean today.

I would say your personalized prayer every day, morning and evening.

I think breaking an addiction takes being very very kind to yourself, and treating yourself with discipline, too. What I mean is, breaking an addiction necessitates treating yourself like an ideal parent would treat a child: with love and respect, and discipline and boundaries.

The first thing I would do is write a letter to yourself—a loving and respectful letter, like an ideal parent would to a child—detailing what the problem is, why you want to stop the addiction, and any motivational ideas that might help you personally stay clean. You know yourself better than anyone else knows you, so your words, written to your own self, really might hit home. Read that letter every day.

Just like an ideal parent writing a letter to a child, the letter should be loving, respectful, and encouraging, not demeaning or angry or vindictive. You can, in your letter, express disappointment, along with total confidence that you are better than you’ve been showing yourself to be. Just like an ideal parent would. Something like: “I’m disappointed in you; you are stronger than your actions show. I know you’re much, much better than how you’ve been behaving, and I know you will do better today.” But the first part of the letter should just be love and acceptance. Something like: “Dearest, dearest Self. I love you and respect you. Here’s what I love and respect about you: [List those things.]” Then you can move into the convincing phase: “Please please do this for me—for us—for your future and present happiness and fulfillment.”

The key to beating any addiction is to remember that you want to break the addiction. Those two words are critical: “you want.” You can help yourself resist temptations by reminding yourself that stopping addictive behaviors is (1) for you, and that (2) you really want to stop. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work to try and break an addiction for someone else. You have to really really want it. The good news is, in your case, you really do want to stop. As I said, that’s your greatest weapon. The second part is reminding yourself, especially in the heat of the moment, of what you really want. What you really want is to be clean, not to engage in the addictive behavior.

Visualization is another great tool you can use. Sit in a comfortable place. Take a deep breath, and close your eyes. Imagine yourself having the temptation. Really see yourself, feel the feelings, as if you really were having those temptations right now. Now see yourself withstanding the temptation, getting up, doing something else. Feel how wonderful it feels to be clean and victorious. Do those visualizations a few times a day—maybe every hour. You’ll be training your brain to derail your addiction.

Lost, you are in a place where many, many people have been. In fact, you’re in a place where many, many people are right now. In fact, a vital part of Alcoholics Anonymous is becoming part of a support group where everyone tries to help each other beat their addiction. I highly recommend you find an AA group near you (If you want, you check if there are Jewish AA groups available in your area), and go to meetings as often as you can. Let the group help you help yourself.

I’m really proud of you for wanting to be the best you that you can be.

Visit aa.org for more information.