She heard the alarm go off at 6:30 a.m., signaling time to get up and go to work.
Only she wasn’t asleep. She was still at the computer keyboard, reading another long fictionalized story about Buffy, The Vampire Slayer.
“Aw fuck,” she muttered under her breath. She’d stayed up all night, reading stories on a “fan fiction” web site. Another night of no sleep. She headed for the shower and wondered if she would make it through the day without falling asleep at her desk.
She emerged from the shower to the smell of coffee from the kitchen. Her husband was up, making a fresh pot. She gulped the coffee, washing down two Tylenol to fight the headache.
“You didn’t come to bed.”
“No, I was working.”
“Bullshit. You were on the goddamned computer reading more of that trash.”
“So maybe I was. So what?”
“So you’re addicted. Why don’t you admit it.”
She dressed quickly and left for work, too tired for the same old fight on the same old subject.
Two hours into the workday when the managing partner stuck his head into her office.
“Got time for a cup of coffee?”
He handed her a cup and closed the door to her office. Uh oh.
“We need to talk.”
“About you. I’m worried about you. You’re work is off, your billable hours are shit and you look like hell.”
“And good morning to you too.”
“Look, I’m serious. It came up at the partners meeting earlier this week. Six months ago, your name was at the top of the list for the next partner. Now you’re not even on the list.”
The news took her breath away. She had always been the bright and shining star. Everyone, including her, assumed the next partnership would be hers.
“You mean I’m not going to make partner?”
“Not this time around. And if things don’t improve around here, you might not have a job either. Take some time off. Get some rest. Get your life in order.”
He handed her a business card.
“And give this woman a call. You need to talk to her.”
She looked at the card through bleary eyes. It was a therapist.
“What the fuck is this. I don’t need a shrink. I don’t have time for this.”
“Make time or clean out your office. The choice is yours.”
She went home but, tired as she was, she couldn’t sleep. So she logged on to the computer and went to a fan fiction site that featured stories about the old Highlander TV series. Her husband found her asleep in the chair when he came home from work.
The next morning, she woke up in bed alone. She smelled coffee and assumed her husband was in the kitchen. He wasn’t. The coffee pot timer had kicked on and made a pot. It was 6 a.m. He normally wasn’t gone this early. She took a shower and had just gotten dressed when the doorbell rang. A courier handed her an envelope from her company.
“This is to inform you that documentation procedures are underway,” the letter said. “Failure to comply with the procedures outlined herein will lead to termination of your employment.”
The first “procedure” directed her to submit to a 30-day rehab program for something called “Internet Addiction Disorder.”
Screw this, she thought, and she headed for the den. Some time on the computer would clear her head.
The computer was gone. So she went to her briefcase for the laptop. It was gone. Instead she found a note from her husband.
“You have an addiction,” it said. “I’ve tried to talk to you about it. You may lose your job because your employer tracked your computer actions at work and found you spend most of your work days on the fan fiction sites.
“I love you,” it continued, “but I’m not coming home until you get help.”
She dropped the letter and screamed. She grabbed her car keys and headed for the garage. Her car was gone. She headed back into the house to call a cab when the phone rang.
“A car is waiting outside,” her husband’s voice said. “A suitcase is packed in the hall. Please bring it and go to the car.”
“Go to hell. I don’t need your help.”
“Yes, you do. There’s no money in your purse. Your credit cards are gone and the bank will not honor a check. Please, for your own sake, bring the suitcase and get into the car.”
For reasons she didn’t fully understand, she complied. The driver held the door for her as she got inside. When it closed, she noticed there were no handles to open the door from the inside. The partition between her and the drive was closed.
“Where are we going?” He didn’t answer.
“What is going on?” He still didn’t answer.
“Will somebody tell me what the fuck is happening?”
He drove for two hours, into the mountains West of Washington, before pulling up to a large estate. As the gates slid open, she looked for a nameplate or address. Nothing.
At a large, stately mansion, the driver opened the door and she was greeted by a woman in her 50s.
“Where the fuck am I.”
“You are at a place where we can help you.”
“Help me with what?”
“What dependency? I don’t use drugs. I don’t even drink for Christ’s sake.”
“There are many dependencies.”
“I want to go home.”
“That’s not up to me. It’s up to you.”
“Then take me home.”
“When you’re ready.”
Resigned, she walked inside and was shocked to find her husband and her firm’s managing partner waiting.
“What the fuck is this?”
“It’s called intervention. The people who love you have take a drastic step to start you on the road of recovery.”
Her husband came forward and started to speak. She slapped him and started screaming. Two orderlies suddenly appeared and led her away.
“What have I done?” The question wasn’t directed at anyone in particular.
“You did what had to be done,” the managing partner said. “Let’s let the professionals handle it from here.”
A recent study by Stanford University finds millions of Americans suffer from “Internet Addiction Disorder.”
“Internet Addiction Disorder, a psychophysiological disorder involving tolerance; withdrawal symptoms; affective disturbances; and interruption of social relationships, is a presenting problem that is becoming more common in society as on-line usage increases by the day,” says Jennifer R. Ferris, a psychology professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.
“Some say that the Internet can be addicting, to the point that it disturbs one’s life and the lives of those around him,” Ms. Ferris says. “Others say that there is no such thing as Internet Addiction Disorder– getting pleasure out of a computer is not the same as getting pleasure from cocaine or any other drug. Whether there is or is not a bona fide disorder, the Internet is disrupting many people’s lives.”
The addiction has become so pervasive that Dr. Kimberly S. Young, a clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, started the Center for On-Line Addiction (COLA).
In January, 2000, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) hosted a workshop on online addiction at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia.
In 2001, tennis star Serena Williams sought help for what she admitted was a compulsive online shopping habit.
“In light of the recent story about Serena Williams on admitting her compulsive online shopping habit, it is important that we recognize the addictive power of the Internet,” says Dr. Young.
Internet addiction can take many forms — online shopping, excessive time on bulletin boards, nonstop web surfing or a compulsive need to stay up all night reading “fan fiction” sites.
A month later, she returned home, this time with her husband. For 30 days, she interacted with others who shared her addiction, talked with therapists about the need to interact with people, not a computer screen. When she left, the therapist told her this was just the first step on what would be long, tough road to recovery.
“Alcoholics and other drug addicts have it easier,” the therapist said. “They can avoid taking a drink and stay away from drugs. But computers are now part of our lives. We can’t avoid them.”
Dr. Young says Internet addition is so new that even the professionals are still learning how to deal with it.
“Internet addiction poses a serious clinical and societal threat to our healthcare system because we do not have adequate treatment systems in place to deal with the influx of new cases as we do for alcoholism and drug dependency,” Dr. Young says.
When she got home, there were a few awkward moments. She walked into the den and looked at the computer.
“What,” her husband asked, “would you like to do?”
She smiled and grabbed his hand.
“I got into this mess because I let a computer fuck with me. Come with me. I’m gonna screw your brains out.”
January 16, 2004