This is my story of addiction. It is the most difficult thing I have ever written.*
In sharing this with others, I hope I can help those with similar problems.
It started off innocently, as these things always do.
The year was 2005, a little over six years ago.
I was at a party with some people I didn’t know very well. Not friends, not acquaintances, just some folk who I’d met in a bar. They seemed OK.
After drinking a few more beers at somebody’s house, an older guy cornered me and pushed a small brown envelope into my hand.
“You’ll like this,” he said, as he winked at me.
“No thanks, I’m not interested,” I said.
“Just try it once,” he said. “A little bit won’t hurt, and you might even enjoy it.”
I was drunk and my resistance was low. I took the envelope into the guest bathroom, sat on the pan, and carefully opened it up.
Inside was a battered copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends And Influence People.”
I had heard about books like this, but I’d always been hesitant. That all changed in one evening.
I’m ashamed to say that I read almost all of it in one sitting. There, on a toilet, on my own, at a party. I didn’t speak to anybody else that night.
It was a terrifying harbinger of the years of antisocial misery that would take over my life, which I will tell you about below. These events and the years of enslavement continue to haunt me today.
The problem, you see, is that Carnegie’s book was good. He was one of the best mind-porn-peddlers ever born. His book spoke to me directly. In a few short chapters he furnished me with tools that had a direct impact on my state of mind and made me believe that anybody, even I, could win friends and influence people.
The shame factor was immediate. My friends at the time (I have lost all of them now) were high-flyers: a collection of expensively-educated and multilingual expatriates who had their shit together. Had I told any of them about my new “hobby”, I would have gone down in their esteem.
I hid my new “thing” from everybody, even my family.
After all, anybody who needs that kind of help is weak, right?
But I didn’t feel weak. I felt strong. I felt empowered. When I was reading his book, and for a few hours after each sitting, I felt that I could do ANYTHING. I was Superman.
After the initial rush, though, the novelty started to wear off.
From Dabbler To Full-Blown Addict
After a month of repeated book abuse, I made what I thought was a conscious decision to increase my dose. The initial readings weren’t enough for me. They triggered a host of new questions, and I couldn’t get the answers from this slim volume alone.
I hit Amazon like a man possessed and paid for rush delivery of Carnegie’s How To Stop Worrying And Start Living. For good measure I threw in Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People and Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.
They kept me going for two weeks. It was exciting to try something a little different. I still hid them from my family and would stay up late at night to read them under cover of darkness.
But I was confused. They said different things. They contradicted each other. These anomalies began to pre-occupy my thoughts during daylight hours. I needed more answers. I needed more specifics.
And so I kept looking. And I kept spending. And things got out of control.
The Downward Spiral
With each new book I read, I would decide it was time to “implement”. But implement what?
There were so many suggestions, so much conflicting advice.
I drilled down into the harder stuff. No more generic happy-books for me, I needed specific, niche happy-books. I spent four hundred dollars in one go on diet books, and after the initial rush, ended up feeling more empty than before.
One book said fasting was the quickest route to physical perfection, whilst another said that missing meals was the surest way of getting fat. One book told me to load up on protein, another told me to load up on fats. One suggested no fruit at all, another suggested a diet of nothing but fruit. There were no-carb, low-carb and slow-carb options. Where to begin? I was frazzled.
The 240 dollars I spent on exercise books were no better. They inspired me, but to do what? Perform repetitions to failure? Only work out to ninety percent capacity? Train daily? Train once a week? Lift weights? Never lift weights?
These internal debates ran over and over in my brain.
By now, I was exhibiting the first displays of mental imbalance and my work was suffering. Like a damn fool I took solace, once again, in more books.
The One Minute Manager was the first work-related tome I picked up, and devoured it in an hour. Then immediately after, it was books about moving cheese, picking parachutes and finding strengths. I looked in results-only work environments, LEAN goal-setting, SMART goal-setting, Getting Things Done and outsourcing to the Philippines. It never ended.
By this stage I was reading a new book every two days. I had stopped going to parties or even leaving the house. I was no longer making love to my wife (despite the forty-seven books I had read on sex and relationships) and I was doing, almost literally, nothing but reading. It was costing me thousands and thousands of dollars each month.
I was fucked.
Self-help was ruining my life.
Books were no longer enough. I started going to seminars. To this day I still find it tough to talk about the stuff I sat through in pursuit of spiritual and emotional freedom, but I’ll try.
I traveled the world to feed the demons inside me. I learnt about Emotional Freedom Techniques, Neuro-Linguistic Programming, tapping, Reiki, tantra, chakras, Transcendental Meditation and yogic flying.
I listened to people talk passionately, but with hollow-eyes, about spiritual sensibility, guardian angels, positive manifestation, conscious creation, speaking in tongues, thought field therapy, biphasic sleeping, polyamory relationships and distance healing.
Each seminar was inspiring.
I was mainly inspired to sign up to more programs, mastermind courses and inner-circles.
And then, inevitably, I had no money left.
Jobless, broke and with my wife on the verge of leaving me, did I stop?
Of course not, I was addicted.
I started stealing to fund my habit, and looked for the cheapest, nastiest, quick fixes I could find.
I got those fixes on the internet. I’d sit for hours outside McDonalds, tapped into their wireless connection, reading blogs and forums on lifestyle design, personal development and freedom of expression.
Freedom my skinny ass.
I wasn’t free, I was trapped: a slave to the endless cycle of self-improvement. The ubiquitous silhouettes of flexible women doing yoga at dawn laughed at me. They “expressed” themselves so that I could depress myself.
The internet fed my addiction for months and months. My RSS reader flashed with new content every two minutes. Each article uncovered a new problem I didn’t know I had, but which needed an immediate solution.
I had stopped thinking for myself.
I had traded happiness for the pursuit of happiness.
Self help had destroyed my life.
The Road To Recovery – And A Cure
Now, a few months since my lowest point, things are a little different. I still think about self-improvement on a daily basis, but with the help of my family I have countered the worst of my problems.
I am eating again.
Every new morning is a struggle and I take one day at a time. I will always be an addict, but I believe that I am starting to make progress towards leading a normal life.
In making progress, I believe I have found a cure to self-help addiction for the many thousands of you who are suffering from it.
The cure is my 288-page paperback book that deconstructs the myths around self-help and lays out in very simple language the steps you need to take to quit being one of life’s punching bags.
How To Get A Grip is the antidote to self-help. It is the only book you will ever need.
* in the interests of full disclosure, this post is based only loosely on fact. very loosely on fact, in fact
** with not a small amount of photoshopping