Most addictive academics have prodigious powers of concentration. While engrossed in reading or writing a book, they can shut out all potentially distracting background noises, including spouses calling them to dinner, children asking them about homework, dogs barking to be let in or out, cars honking, trucks rumbling, sirens screaming, incoming missile detonations.

(The one significant exception to this rule, of course, is an electrical storm, which the computer addict always hears because of the danger that lightning poses to his/her computer, and that a power outage poses to what s/he has written since the last automatic backup.) In academic terms, these powers are a great boon; without them, few books or articles would ever be written. In terms of academic addiction, they are a terrible ravaging sickness; without them, many a life would be fuller, richer, healthier, and infinitely more satisfying.

Raul J. came to his first A.A. meeting a broken man. His wife had walked out on him six months before, taking his beloved children with her, and he had no hope of ever getting her back. His life had gone sharply downhill since her departure. He had poured himself into his work, and for a while that had helped him forget; but he also forgot to eat, and soon was so dizzy and weak that he could hardly sit at the computer. Three doctors and seven courses of medication later, he was fat and yellow and completely without energy. Worst of all, he could no longer concentrate on his work: the writing that had given him so much joy, that had seen him through the darkest time after his wife's departure, was no longer possible. He sat around the house all day in his bathrobe, watching TV. He could not summon up the energy to go to work; his dean gave him sick leave until the end of the semester, but the new semester was starting in a week and he had no more energy than before--and the dean had said his next leave would be without pay. He had no savings, and had exhausted his insurance. He had not paid his bills in months, and collection agencies were breathing down his neck, threatening to garnish his soon-to-be-nonexistent salary. The mortgage company was threatening to repossess the house. This was the state in which he wandered in through the doors of an Academics Anonymous meeting.

Who knows what kept him there that evening, and brought him back the next. Certainly he never said anything, never gave the slightest sign that he was interested. On the third night he gave his name, but had nothing else to say. On the fourth night it finally came out: the history we've given above. At the end of it a crackly and somewhat sardonic voice came from the opposite corner of the room: "So why'd your wife leave?"

Raul looked bewildered. "If I knew that--" he began, then trailed off with hurt in his eyes.

"Did you ever have your nose in a book when she wanted to talk to you?" another voice asked.

"Well, yes, sometimes."

"Did she ever comment on that fact to you?"

"I don't recall, exactly. She may have."

"But you're not quite sure, because you had your nose in a book."

"I--I guess so."

"And did you ever shut her out while you were working at the computer?" a third voice piped up. It was a familiar litany at meetings; everyone knew the routine.

"Well, yes, quite often, I suppose. I mean, I had my work to do . . ."

"And she never minded?"

"I suppose she must have."

"Did she tell you she did?"

"I don't recall, exactly."

"She may have. Yes. In fact, she probably did. Many times. Quietly at first, then more insistently. Finally at the top of her lungs."

"Now that you mention it, yes . . . But what, do you know my wife?"

Knowing looks. Rolled eyes. The fellowship of academic addicts.

"No, can't say I do. But I've gotten to know my wife lately, and she had many of the same problems with me."

"And my husband with me," said a woman in front.

"And my lover with me," added a gay man. The rainbow coalition of Academics Anonymous.

Raul looked around, light dawning. "You all--?" he began.

Nods. "We all." Grim memories. "We all fled the company of our loved ones into books, into writing at the computer. We fled their company, Raul. It wasn't just work. We were afraid. Emotion, human contact, the complexities of relationships, transference and countertransference, who needed it, right? So much easier to read and write about life than to live it--to live it with a real person whose needs so often conflicted with our own."


But we won't bore you with the sordid details. Suffice it to say that Raul turned his life around, paid the bills, got back into the classroom, went cold turkey, had a relapse or two, but finally stayed off the computer and the books for 90 straight days, then another 90, and then began to relax a little. He was lucky: his wife still loved him, and after two months of cautious phone calls, a few tentative meetings, and a tearful reconciliation, she and the kids moved back in. Don't cue the violins, though: it's a happy story but no happy ending, because the ending ain't been written yet. Raul just takes it one day at a time, doesn't read or write, and counts his many blessings. We see him at meetings faithfully, every night of the week. He knows, and his wife and children know, just how important the fellowship has been in helping him turn his life around.

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Copyright 1993 Doug Robinson and Bill Kaul