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Recovery Mode: One Game At A Time

By Nathan Bailey

I am not a gamer – not in the traditional sense. I have only recently gotten into gaming, particularly PC gaming. I am 36 years old with a career and a family, and I thought I just did not have time for video games. I enjoyed them in my youth, spending hours upon hours maneuvering Mario and spinning Sonic until I was blue in the face. Then at some point, I just outgrew it. I was putting the ways of childhood behind me, or so I thought.

I outgrew a lot of things well into my adulthood; I outgrew things most people don’t. I abandoned values I once held dearest to my heart. Things that used to be the most sacred became as important as cheap trinkets hanging by a gift-shop cash register. At one point in my life I drew a line in the sand, but then I crossed it. By 2016 I had crossed that line so many times I couldn't even remember where the damn line began.

I have a sickness. It affects my mind, body, and spirit. It is a progressive and fatal disease for which there is no cure. I suffer from alcoholism. I am an alcoholic. It took a long time to first say those words.

Coming to that realization meant recognizing that I stand out from my fellows. Since I started drinking as a teen to fit in, being different was not a dream I had sought. I didn’t want to admit it. Understanding alcoholism is not an easy task for anyone. I mean, by definition you are trying to understand a mental illness. Trying to get your head around how another mind functions can about as useless as a red light in Grand Theft Auto.

I thought that being an alcoholic meant that I was weak – that the armor I had crafted was flawed – and if I could just find the right loot box, I would be whole.

The truth is, I just dug a hole. I dug a hole inside myself and tried to fill it with booze and anything else that would change the way I felt. The hole just got deeper and deeper, and I became a shell of myself.

Last year, after almost losing my career, my family, my freedom, and quite frankly my life, I had an epiphany. (If I called it a "moment of clarity," the alcoholic cliché police would lock me up.) I realized that I could not overcome this by myself, and I sought treatment. It was one of the best decisions of my life, but it was not always unicorns and rainbows. My fight will truly never be over. I will trudge this road until the final Game Over.

In sobriety, I learned that I spent a lot of time drinking. I spent a lot of time being drunk. I had no idea how many seconds, minutes, and hours of the day I wasted on whiskey. But the blessing of all this new time slowly became a curse. I had to fill my excess time with something that was healthy, constructive, and nowhere near a bar.

The first month of sobriety is a strange time. It happened to coincide with my wife's birthday. Looking back now, perhaps I should have gotten her some nice jewelry; after all, she deserved a medal for sticking with me. But my newly sober mind said that I should get her a nice laptop. If anyone deserved something good, it was her, but my only experience with computers up to this point was Microsoft Office. How the thing ran was beyond me. With all this new “free time” I had on my hands, I started to research laptops so I could get the Mrs. a good one.

While researching, I had a crazy idea. I would build a computer. Not just any computer, but a gaming machine. In my kitchen, with just me and YouTube, I built it. Something happened to me in the kitchen that day. When I plugged in the machine and pressed the power button, I had a feeling I just can’t describe. It was something that no amount of booze or mind-altering substance could match.

First there was nothing, and then there was something.

I had spent my life tearing down everything around me, both metaphorically and literally (I was a clumsy drunk). And now I had actually built something – something I don’t understand. I know the parts just snap together, and that the girl at Micro Center made sure they were compatible at purchase. I understand that building a PC is not some mystical science, but for me, at that time, it was exactly that, and that was what I needed.

Since my first PC, I have built several other machines. You might be surprised by this, but I have an addictive personality. I built a home server to run Plex, and a PC for a buddy’s kid. I even built my 3-year-old son a PC out of a pretty cool Spiderman case. He does not know how to read yet or how to work a mouse, but his Steam account is waiting on him. I have taken the liberty to fill his library whenever I come across something fun.

When I was drunk, it was who I was. Drinking became me. Drinking defined me. But now, when my son’s eyes light up as we play Ori and the Blind Forest, or as I watch him get past a level in Sonic, those are the moments I become a true me. It is amazing that an idea to play a silly thing – something I had thought was for kids – would now define me. Gaming helped me find myself when I didn’t even know I was lost.

I am not a hardcore gamer. I don’t play hours every day ... well maybe 2 hours every day. I have a busy life with family, friends, work, and my program in sobriety. Those are the things that are sacred for me now. That is where the line in the sand is for me today. Instead of drawing a line and saying I will never cross it, I draw a new line every day and say “I am not gonna cross the line today.”

I am an alcoholic, that’s who I am. I am a gamer, but that’s not who I am, it’s just something I do.


Powerful article, thanks for taking the time to write it and share

Thanks for writing this article. I, too, suffer from alcoholism and have been sober just over two years (March 14, 2016). I have thought many times about writing a piece very similar to what you have given us today, but have never set ink to paper, as it were. The only difference, really, is I have been here before, having gotten "sober" back in 2008. I use the quotes because, although I went to meetings for a year and a half, I never did the steps, never really cleaned up my side of the street, and ended up going back out for another 6 years of (often miserable) research.

One of the things that helped me get through the early days of my recovery was the community here at GWJ. I posted in the Loathe thread when I realized I had a problem and the support that I got from a bunch of people that I have never met IRL was amazing. I was very fortunate in that I had the support of the fellow alcoholics at meetings as well as the support of my "peers" here. When I celebrated my one year anniversary last March, I posted an update in the loathe thread.

I have not ever hid my disease from anyone here because I feel that the "price" that I have to pay for getting better is to be available to help anyone else who asks for it. If anyone in our community has a problem with addiction, or has a loved one with a problem, please know that you can reach out to me at any time and I will do all that I can to help you out.

In all seriousness, congrats on your sobriety today, and thank you again for posting this. Games can be a powerful escape, and with folks like us, they can be very powerful (in moderation, of course). Please don't hesitate to shoot me a PM if you ever feel the need to talk to another alcoholic gamer.

My name is Marwan, and I am an alcoholic.

Nicely written. Thank you for sharing and good luck with your journey.

Thanks for taking the time to share this. And congratulations on the progress thus far. Well done!

There was a recent episode of "Moms" you might find interesting. (it is a really good show)
I felt it really explained the difference between "addiction of the week" and something like alcoholism. That no amount of empowerment will cure you of alcoholism and you can't do it alone.

Thank you for sharing this. I wish you many years of sobriety, one day at a time

Thank you for sharing!

Awesome article - thank you for writing! As someone who has struggled with drinking in my 20s and also had an alcoholic dad, I applaud you for fighting the good fight. My dad got sober when I was about 11-12 and I really wished it had been earlier.

Also, this community is one of the reasons I still define part of myself as a gamer. If you want to keep exploring that side of yourself, stick around!