YouTube addiction, one month soberFebruary 13, 2023 -
Today marks my first month clean from YouTube. It was the right choice, but that's not to say it was easy.
Let's talk about it.
When I decided to do something about my addiction, I had a few choices:
- Cut back the amount I was watching
- Quit cold turkey
They both have their pluses and minuses, but by the time I figured out what was going I was done with being hooked on it. I was ashamed of getting caught up in it so badly. I chose going cold turkey.
Would I choose that path again? Good question, let's explore it.
It was pretty soon after I decided to quit that I blocked YouTube on all my devices. For most things, that meant finding the
/etc/hosts file or equivalent for the OS, and adding a line to set
127.0.0.1. That effectively shuts you out of YouTube the site.
On my phone, I used
AppBlock to block the website. I would have preferred to edit
/etc/hosts like I did with my machines, but unfortunately that part of the filesystem is read-only, and can only be modified if you jail-break your phone. App it is.
Once I blocked it everywhere I could, I tested it a few times to be sure it was working. Satisfied, I settled in to see what would change.
A few things changed right away. Now that I wasn't obliterating myself for 8-10 hours a day, I started noticing a lot of things. One was that on an average day prior to quitting YouTube, I consumed a lot of sugar. Multiple desserts, plus sugary snacks in between meals, that kind of thing.
Before, when I was watching hours of YouTube, I'm guessing I would get up and find something to snack on and sit back down. Now, I don't have that kind of "permanently distracted" frame of mind, I notice that I eat fewer snacks and cut way back on the sugar.
I also had time to walk more - something I've always enjoyed. I started doing a 5km (3.1 mi) walk every morning. It takes me almost exactly an hour, and it's a nice way to start the day.
But the real changes started happening with my mental health.
One of the things that made me try to find out what was wrong with me was my declining mental health. Part of me wanted to become a shut-in and lose myself, and another part of me wanted to fight this. I felt worse as the weeks passed.
Once I stopped YouTube, I knew I needed a few things: I needed to understand why I got addicted in the first place, and I needed to work on healthier habits.
This is still very early on for me, but I wanted to mention a few things I did:
I talked to my doctor, who put me in for addiction counselling services. Here in New Zealand, you can get five free visits with an addiction counsellor as you begin your recovery.
I put in for the services, but I didn't know how long it would take to get into the system, so I also looked around locally for a therapist who could also give some support. This was a private therapist, so there are costs associated with it.
The contrast between the two could not have been more stark. The therapist was very gentle and sympathetic. The counsellor... well, let's say they have a specific task at hand.
Why are you addicted and what can you do better?
Addiction counselling, as best as I can figure, has a different goal that general therapy. They're trying to hold up a mirror so you can see something very important for you to see: you are not taking care of yourself.
More than that - your brain, in your current state, is not your friend.
These are some hard truths to swallow.
You work on habits you can change: how to make small changes each day, how to think about rewards and how you've been making bad assessments of what rewards are for and what you should do with them.
Did I mention that's all in the first half hour?
Then we started talking about the "why", in the same way of holding up a mirror and talking through ways of working with this stuff. I won't share the personal details here, but we covered a decent bit of ground. In the end, as best as I could understand, is that while you may have past experiences that caused your instincts to protect you, they're just that. We all try to protect ourselves from pain and danger. This is a good thing, unless it goes too far and we lose the ability to take normal daily risks and live a healthy life.
In a sense, the goal of building new habits isn't to only have new habits. It's to start rewiring the brain to process risks, pain, and danger in a healthier way. There will always be risks, like crossing a street, and we re-learn how to work with them.
To some folks, that might sound like total common sense. If it does for you, that's great. For me, it got surprisingly easy to create a safe illusion that turned into an unhealthy way to cope. I needed to see my way out of that.
After talking with my doctor, I also started cooking more. I'm not a particular good cook (actually I'm pretty bad, though getting better).
The act of cooking and eating your own food, though, is therapeutic. You can see how healthy (or not) the food you make is. You know the ingredients that go into it. You can make enough for leftovers.
By the time I knew I needed to quit YouTube last month, I'd given up on cooking. I might make a pizza here or there, but almost all my lunches and dinners came from delivery food. Now, this is reversed. I'll still get the occasional delivery, but almost all of what I eat these days I make.
You may wonder how the actual quitting part is going. The short answer is that I have good days and bad days.
It's surprisingly easy some days to fill a day with fun things to do, so that I don't even notice it passing. Other days, I might do some work on the computer and then lay in the floor thinking about stuff I want to watch, scheming ways I could justifying watching some YouTube. That voice that says "watch a few hours to scratch the itch".
This, I know, would be a bad idea(tm).
Content as an addiction
In talking with lots of folks, at this point I'm convinced we've got content wrong. At least, how it's delivered to us.
You can take most of them and understand the business model as "retention = profits". The more time you spend on the site, the longer your eyeballs are taking in the ads and related, the more money the site makes off of you.
The way sites like TikTok and YouTube give you a feed of content means you can consume it in an unbroken fashion. It reminds me of the people you see at slot machines in casinos, pulling the lever to see what will happen. Maybe you'll get lucky and come across something awesome.
The content also keeps you in a kind of trance - a state where you don't have to think if you don't want to.
I feel like one of those people complaining about how televisions make us zombies.
I chatted with my addiction counsellor about about social media platforms, and I'm sure you're not at all surprised that they're also addictive.
I don't want this post to be just about the dangers of these platforms. There's more to it than I can really cover here, and those platforms can be used for good as well. The main thing, for me, is how they interact with our brains. Are we still able to live healthy lives? Form deep healthy relationships? Take daily risks of being our complete selves? Are our brains staying healthy?
Probably the most important thing, though, is to directly target what I needed most of all. Addiction is isolating. The particular addiction, YouTube, is a lot of wanting to connect to others in a very safe way. So, to combat this, the goal is to "reach out". To connect to real people. To get my 'cup' filled with real intimacy and connections with others.
What in the world that means is something I'm trying to figure out. I know that my cup was very, very empty. Despite having so many friends, fun online interactions, game nights, etc. Those things are great, but they don't meet the need for real connection.
I'm signing up for meetups, volunteering, and going and chatting with random people where I can to get face-to-face interactions again.
Step at a time
That's it. That's where I'm at. Figuring out what I can, making changes where I can, and learning as I go.
To all the folks who reached out with their stories of struggles and recovery: thank you. Sincerely, thank you. The suggestions and words of encouragement have helped. Thanks for that.
Here's to the hope my cup, and yours, will be filled.