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Quality Control

“Why don’t you just yell at me? Tell me I’m wasting your time? That I’m a horrible mother and wife, and I should just get divorced and leave everyone well alone?”

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Goals: To help Sarah overcome her Internet addiction

Tools used: Reality Therapy

Recap from Toolbox 7: Prompted by her husband, Sarah came to therapy for her technology addiction. She scored high on the Internet Addiction Test (IAT) and eventually came to accept that her phone and Internet use were making her life unmanageable. She joined an online 12-Step support group and was committed to trying to maintain sobriety, one day at a time. Sarah’s husband, Chaim, joined a Codependency 12-Step group, and sought help from a therapist. Sarah commits to regular therapy as part of the process of understanding what fueled her addiction.


One day, about two months after I first started seeing Sarah, she had a relapse.

“I don’t understand. I work so hard, I do the stupid meetings, I’m coming here, I’ve made tangible progress, and this happens!” she said. Her chest heaved from emotion and her fists were clenched. “It’s ridiculous. I know tons about addiction. We’ve spent so much time talking about it. And I saw it coming, but I couldn’t stop it. I told myself it wouldn’t happen, that I’d be fine.”

“Sarah, why don’t you back up? Start from what happened since I saw you last.”

“What happened is that I got a flier in the mail with an amazing offer on a new phone. I hid it, but it felt like it was burning a hole in my purse. So I went to the kiosk in the mall that had the promotion, and I got a new phone.”

“Okay…” I ventured.

“Then I told Chaim I was having a one-day training workshop for my job and checked into a hotel so I could surf uninterrupted. I barely brought enough food, but I didn’t care — I didn’t need anything else. I felt like I had my oxygen back. I was up the whole night. The only problem was that my coworker called looking for me in the morning for something stupid, and she totally blew my cover.”

Sarah paused, waiting for my reaction.

“Oops. What happened next?”

“Chaim called me all hysterical. We got into a huge fight. He’s barely been speaking to me since. And I had to get rid of the phone, and pay a huge penalty to get out of the contract.”

“Okay. Then what happened?”

“Abby! When are you going to react? Tell me what I deserve to hear?”

“What do you mean?”

“Why don’t you just yell at me? Tell me I’m wasting your time? That I’m a horrible mother and wife, and I should just get divorced and leave everyone well alone…?” Sarah’s voice cracked, and for the first time, I saw she was fighting tears.

“You know what the literature says. You’re sick, not bad. You’re struggling with an addiction, and you had a relapse. I honestly don’t think relapse has to be part of the process, but it’s certainly not anomalous. All your hard work didn’t disappear in those 24 hours.”

“Then why does it feel like that?”

“Does it?” I challenged.

“Yes. No. It doesn’t actually, but the shame I feel is suffocating, and Chaim’s being disgusting to me. He barely acknowledges when I walk into the room. He told me he’s ‘detaching for his serenity,’ but he could try to be nice!”

“It sounds like you feel rejected.”

“Rejected. Embarrassed. Worthless. Yup, that’s me. A real loser.”

 (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 659)

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