I did not fully understand my addictive tendencies until I found myself on a hospital gurney with nurses bustling around me and the medical monitor blaring warning sounds like a fire alarm.
I stared at the ceiling and asked myself, How did I get here? Like most people, I ignored the warning signs. I was too busy with the intoxicating feeling of false joy from my addiction.
A false joy to me is in outcomes that fill me with euphoria that I want more — bigger and better of the same thing. A false joy is where I dropped everything else in my life: my writing, hiking, reading, even my relationships to go after that feeling. A false joy urges me on. I tell myself: Just five more minutes or just one more game and then hours later I feel the exhaustion that physically shuts me down.
The stock market fed my addiction, the New York Stock exchange where thousands of stocks trade. Making $600 my first trade hooked me. The false joy I felt from making easy money gave me a rush I’d never experienced before in my mundane life.
I decided I needed to learn more,4 about stocks, so I scoured books about the market, the trade strategies, and the memoirs of those that hit it big. I told myself I needed to watch and experience the market more. So, I awoke at 4 a.m. when the market opened and traded in the pre-market and during the day and then the aftermarket. I traded 10-15 stocks a day in search of that now elusive easy money that gave me a rush of false joy.
All those green and red lights twinkling up from the screen enticing me to play the game. The rush of dollars into my account made me want more. Unfortunately, what goes up eventually comes down. My accounts were no different.
Well, fast forward five years, and my account is down $15,000. I awoke before dawn one morning and felt something wasn’t right in my chest. I went to the hospital and found my heart racing at 150 beats per minute, my blood pressure extremely high.
I made promises to myself that I would change. I would turn my back on this false joy. The doctors pumped me with medicine; my heart rate and blood pressure came down. They released me with an assortment of multi-colored pills to swallow daily. The medications keep my heart in check.
“The false joy I felt from making easy money gave me a rush I’ve never experienced before in my mundane life.”
I stopped playing the market for a few days. Then, I wondered how my Boeing stock was doing and regretted that I didn’t buy American Airlines. Other stocks kept calling me back. So, I’d peek at it and then closed the screen. Nothing happened. My heart was okay. Then a few days later I opened my account screen, again, looking at the blinking red and green lights. I made one trade — nothing happened, my ticker still worked.
A week later, I checked the stock market. I stayed on for a couple of hours and that’s when it happened. I could feel my chest pounding. I sensed something was wrong. I quickly got off the computer, but the damage had been done. I took my blood pressure. It had shot up way passed my normal rate as did my pulse. I took myself for a walk in the forty-degree predawn air. I did some chores. Drank lots of water. Eventually, the blood pressure came back down.
I asked myself, “When will I learn I am addicted to gambling in the stock market?
Well, I’ve been clean now for a few weeks.
My urges to glimpse at the market have subsided. Occasionally, my mind says take a peak, but I haven’t so far, and I’ve learned a lot these past few weeks.
What I learned from my experience.
I took time to think back about my actions both pro and con in hopes to avoid future mistakes and learning how to recognize my addictive behavior. This is what I learned:
I learned to distance myself from the stock market and activities, objects, and even people where my mind says, “Oh, just a little longer.”
I deleted my access to the market. I restarted my journal. I wrote stories, letters, and blogs. I hiked the hills and marveled at nature. I walked into my neighborhood and stopped to talk with neighbors. I read many books. I spent more time with family and friends. My wife and I go out to eat more with people we connected with. We babysit our grandchildren three days a week.
I learned to recognize my addiction signs: avoidance of activities that I enjoy doing; emotions that rise and fall acutely; urgency in my behavior toward an activity, person, place or thing and when I’m more tied to the getting that next rush than living my normal daily — which is actually a pretty good life.
I learned false joy comes with a price tag. The cost is my health, wealth, friendships and everything else that brings me true joy.
I learned that expectations of some end result, like making money, winning something, getting something, or reaching for something is not true joy. Once I felt the rush I wanted more and bigger rushes and expected that same level of “high” again and again.
I learned that genuine joy comes from the journey and not the result.
I learned that the simplest actions can provide distractions from my struggle. Sometimes when I concentrate on these everyday moments, whatever I am doing at that moment, and give myself fully to it, whether I’m creating through words or listening to a friend, there is great joy in these moments — true joy.
I learned that my addictions begin with urges, pulling me toward the addictive behavior.
I learned urges are like ocean waves that build inside me but then the wave passes over me and subsides.
I learned I have actions I can take to fight the urges until they pass: I can engage in conversation: call it what it is, “an urge” and tell myself I know it will pass like a wave; I can do meditation/breath; I can redirect the urge to positive activities (walking, art, writing, a game, etc); I can change rooms/settings (new studies show that changing my place, going through a portal such as a door alters your mind’s focus).
I learned addictions come in many forms besides drugs, alcohol, gambling. I never knew I could even get addicted to a person, place or thing. I knew I could become addicted to a video game, but I never knew I could get addicted to a sport like pickleball where I tell myself, just one more game.
I learned that true joy is found in the process and not tied to an outcome that can be a false joy. My true joy soars when engaged in my talents, abilities or passions and the outcome is just a secondary benefit.
“Desire and ignorance are the root of all suffering.”
I learned that when I fixate outcomes or end results, I miss the opportunity to experience true joy.
I learned that true joy has no time limits. In Robert Pirsig‘s book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, he mentions the clock. Time constraints are the killjoy any interest. If there is no time element involved in an activity, then the activity can become play. If there is a time constraint, then the activity may become work.
I learned that sometimes it takes hitting “rock bottom” where the pain of the world far exceeds the false joy felt from the addiction before I make better choices. Lying in that hospital bed was my “rock bottom.” I am grateful for the second chance at enjoying this bountiful life.
That’s where I can pull myself back to the things that bring me the genuine joy of life.