Sunday, February 17, 2008

A worthy trade

My husband has issues. A year and a half ago (give or take) he started seeing a therapist and on his first visit he attempted to answer the question of "so why are you here?" and it took him the whole hour - and even then I don't think he got through everything. It isn't that he's a complete disaster, and I'm not going to go into all the details here, but my first statement pretty much sums it up - issues.

One of those issues is that he's an online gaming addict. I don't use the "a" word lightly, nor jokingly. If they had the equivalent of AA meetings for online gamers, I'd be finding out where the meetings are held. Probably online (a little irony for you). But seriously, it started years ago with Everquest (which many people came to call Evercrack) and culminated in his obsessive playing of World of Warcraft.

A year ago things were at their worst. He was literally playing WoW 40-50 hours per week. And yes, he works full time. He'd log on at any opportunity, played evenings, nights, weekends; during the day at work he'd spend half his time on IM to his gaming friends, planning the next "raid". He barely slept for months on end, except for some weekends when he'd finally crash and sleep for like a day; only to be up until 3am that night, gaming. The stress it put on our marriage is something we're still trying to recover from, and the full extent of which I think he's only now beginning to understand.

This is going to sound awful, but there was this day when I walked by our computer room after putting D to bed (by myself, of course) and I stopped and looked at him and realized something horrible. I didn't like him very much. It wasn't that I didn't love him, or wanted to get a divorce or something stupid and dramatic. But I looked at this guy sitting at that computer, and I didn't like him a whole lot. He was overweight and out of shape, badly in need of a haircut, sitting at a desk peppered with empty diet coke cans, dirty dishes and various wrappers and crumpled fast food bags. He wore a headset with big headphones and a microphone, because you know, typing to your friends while you're gaming just doesn't cut it. I stopped and I looked at this guy, this person who had become a stereotypical "gamer" and there wasn't much about him that I liked. He was angry and defensive with me much of the time, rarely spent any time with me except when he wanted sex, would fall asleep on the floor while playing with our son because he was so sleep deprived and continually went into work late because he couldn't pull himself out of bed. Yet he'd never miss a "raid" or an opportunity to game.

So, in a nutshell, things pretty much sucked.

Then, on Feb 19th of last year, he woke up in the early hours with chest pains. I knew exactly what was happening. He was having a flare up of his chronic acid reflux and it was giving him a panic attack (something he started suffering from after nearly losing his life in a fishing accident - see, I said issues). He was terrified he was dying (a classic symptom of said panic attack). He wanted to go to the ER, so we went. Because their policy is to always treat patients complaining of chest pains as cardiac patients until proven otherwise, we found ourselves sitting in the ER with him hooked up to goodness knows how many monitors, with nitro glycerin dripping into his veins. You know that stuff is explosive? Yeah, bad news.

But the kicker wasn't that his heart was ok (which I already knew), nor that an upper-GI scope found his esophogus and stomach looked like "hamburger" (which didn't surprise me given his eating habits and diet coke addiction), but his blood sugar was 300. I remember a nurse coming over to him and asking if anyone had ever told him he was diabetic. Nope. Why he was shocked, I have no idea. I'd been telling him he had symptoms of diabetes for weeks - constant thirst, peeing all the time, sudden weight loss despite his bad eating habits. So what started as an ER trip due to his chest hurting became a three day hospital stay while they got his blood sugar stabilized and educated him all about diabetes and how to control it.

That proved to be something of a turning point for him. Not that I'd ever wish for him to be diabetic, it was probably one of the better things that had happened to him in a while. For years me and others around him had been warning him that something was going to go wrong. Finally, something did, and he stood up and took notice.

The second day into the hospital stay, he quit playing WoW. I was ecstatic. Two days prior I never would have dreamed he'd actually quit. My hope was always that I could somehow convince him to play less. But quit? Unthinkable. But he actually did. He even sold his account, which contained the characters he'd spent so many hours building and "leveling". I thought this was it - things could only get better from here.

And you know, he did make some good changes. He started working out and eating better. He lost some weight and some of those habits are still in place a year later. But a few months into things, he started playing WoW again. I don't think he even told me at first, which was my first red flag. When I did mention it, he said he was just "messing around with his friends". Right. As I predicted it would, things escalated. He simply cannot play that game "a little" or "mess around". He's an all or nothing guy with most things, and this was no exception.

Finally things came to a head again a few weeks ago. He got in an argument with our best friend (who is also our next door neighbor and his business partner). The next day they went to lunch together to hash things out. I don't know what was said there, but I do know they spent over 4 hours talking, and my husband once again quit WoW that night.

I think he has a better idea now of why he can't play. He realizes that no matter how much he likes it, he does not have the ability to control himself. It always escalates into something that interferes with his life. Over the last year he tried to justify his return to gaming by saying he wasn't playing "as much" as before - but it was still a problem. And if you have to justify something, maybe there's a reason. I think it's finally starting to sink in how his gaming was affecting the people around him. Last year it was all about him, all about how it was affecting his life. But it hadn't occurred to him how much he had hurt the people around him. It sounds like he's finally beginning to understand that.

Do I think this is the end? I don't know. I've thought that before and it always comes back to haunt us, so I'm skeptical. Will I have something to say about it if he tries to start playing again? You can bet your ass.

So what is the worthy trade? He had two WoW accounts that cost him about $34 per month, in total. He cancelled both accounts. With that extra money, we're going to upgrade my YMCA membership to include the whole family, so we can go swimming together or participate in other activities as a family. It's as much a practical consideration as a symbolic gesture, and one that I hope has some meaning for him as it does for me.

His selfish time traded in for family time; a worthy trade indeed.

1 comment:

Mandy said...

I'm having trouble with how to phrase this, but I'll try. That tangible benefits of this trade are really cool, but the symbolic aspect, what it really MEANS is really great and I hope with all my heart that it has now totally sunk in for him.

I didn't realize this was going on again, and I know what a source of stress this is for you. ((hugs)) I know I've been pretty preoccupied lately, and I'm sorry I wasn't there for you about this.