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.