Tangled in the Web
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“Tangled in the Web,” Ensign, Aug. 2001, 48–51

Tangled in the Web

I had allowed the Internet to take over my life. It wasn’t unusual for me to spend seven hours a day online.

“I just need to get control of my life—the Internet has run my life for months,” I wrote in my journal. I am an active member of the Church—with knowledge of gospel principles and a desire to do what is right. I have a good husband. We were married in the temple and want to raise our six children—ages 2 to 14—according to gospel principles.

Yet when I first logged on to the Internet, I didn’t know the effect it would have on my life. I simply found a site where I could play chess with others. I didn’t foresee getting into trouble or developing a negative habit. The game room had a chat feature so I could talk with other chess players, but this didn’t worry me. I tried to find people who were polite and who respected my wishes to have appropriate conversations.

Playing chess in and of itself wasn’t the problem. The real problem was twofold: first, I could play any time and for as long as I wanted; and second, chess is more popular with men than women, so I was continually competing with and conversing with men.

It wasn’t unusual for me to spend four to seven hours in a day online, usually when my children were asleep or busy. The time flew by as I sat at the computer, engrossed in playing chess and chatting with my new friends. I had started out just playing in the evenings, but as time went on, I found myself online in the morning or afternoon also.

Soon after I began playing, my husband had to work out of town for a couple of months. This gave me the perfect opportunity to spend my evenings on the Internet. At night after my children were in bed, I began staying up very late.

Even after my husband returned home, I continued to keep late hours, which led to sleep deprivation. He would go to bed, and I would stay up—online. My husband sometimes suggested that I cut back on the amount of time I was spending on the computer, but I enjoyed the social aspects and improving my game skills.

My game did improve over time, and my online friendships with men got closer. My habit was becoming a destructive addiction. I allowed myself to be distracted from nurturing my marriage because of other friendships. I became more emotionally involved than I intended with a couple of these male friends. There were times when I would think I was spending too much time online or being influenced too greatly by the people I played with, so I would try to take a break by cutting back. However, I would do so only for a few days or a week. Then I went right back online, playing and conversing into the night and neglecting things such as scripture reading, time with my husband, activities with my children, and cleaning the house.

Though attempts at cutting back lessened my drive for chess a little, they did not reduce my social needs. Soon my drive to fuel my friendships became more important than my drive to play chess. The lives of my chess friends, with their problems and activities, became my life. What they were thinking, saying, and doing affected my moods and thoughts. When I wasn’t online, I was thinking of them and their lives. Many times I found myself depressed because of my emotional involvement.

One relationship in particular was affecting my spiritual well-being. My religious discussions with one friend caused me to question the gospel. Not only were we playing chess and chatting, but we were corresponding daily through e-mail. We found it so easy to open up to each other online and in writing about our personal experiences and feelings even though we hadn’t actually met in person.

I knew that my Internet experiences were affecting nearly every part of my life and that I was becoming addicted to it. I wanted to get out of it, but I didn’t know how I was going to do it. In spite of everything, even knowing that the situation was not a healthy one, I still chose to be online with friends rather than quit.

By now, others could see I had a problem and were worried about me. My long hours at the computer and my online friendships were harming my relationship with my husband. Since much of my time online was after the children went to bed, I sometimes missed our joint nightly prayers. My husband felt left out, but he was very patient with me. I am grateful he didn’t nag me. At a time when he needed comfort and help for his own feelings, he tried to be understanding. He was willing to talk to me. He listened when I got upset or depressed about things that happened with my online friends. I’m sure it seemed unbelievable that I was allowing them to affect me in such a negative manner. I know he was concerned about the effect my online friendship was having on my testimony, and it was disturbing to him to hear of my doubts. Yet his willingness to talk with me about my online friendships and about my doubts helped me.

The turning point came for me when my stake president requested an interview with me because my Internet activities had been brought to his attention. He asked me about my Internet activities and counseled me to discontinue my online friendship with the friend who was having a negative effect on my testimony. I knew ending this friendship was the right thing to do, and because of my belief in following the counsel of Church leaders I gained the strength to make the necessary changes. I had to accept that my behavior was seriously affecting me and my family. There was the possibility that if I continued, I would endanger everything that was precious to me, which could include eternal consequences.

I felt that though it would be hard to do, it was right to end the friendship. I felt at peace about the interview and knew what I needed to do. I went home and recorded my feelings in my journal in order to preserve what I felt at the time. In case of a change in my feelings or difficulty in keeping my resolve, I knew it would be helpful to have those things recorded.

Since for some time now, this one friendship had been the driving force of my online addiction, breaking it off played a big part in giving me back control of my life. After taking that step and getting that negative influence out of my life, I turned to strengthening my testimony. Interviews with priesthood leaders have been a blessing to me. I have benefited from the inspiration of my bishop. A counselor in our stake presidency counseled me to read and study the scriptures 15 minutes a day. My study had not been regular, but now, as I have recommitted myself to the scriptures, I have gained a greater love and appreciation for them. Prayer, fasting, and reading the scriptures have helped my testimony grow in ways it couldn’t have when my mind and energies were so focused on the Internet. I am so grateful for my growing testimony.

My husband gave me two priesthood blessings that helped me by providing counsel and inspired thoughts. Throughout, he has remained close to the Spirit and prayed for me. One of the most amazing things has been his ability to forgive. Even knowing that my feelings for an online friend weren’t as they should be, he forgave me. Because of his forgiveness and because of the changes I have made, our marriage is back on the right track and has become stronger.

It is a blessing to have my normal life back. Now I can clearly see how anyone can gradually go from harmless Internet use to addiction, choosing to ignore warning signs or better judgment. I am grateful I was saved from situations that could have brought heartache and pain. I never met any of my online male friends in person, but I’m uncertain of what might have happened in three months or six months or a year.

I am grateful for a Heavenly Father who hears and answers prayers—not only mine but those said on my behalf. I know He can intercede in personal ways to help us. I know that our leaders can receive inspiration for our benefit and that if we choose to listen to them, we can change our lives.

Becoming Addicted

Elder L. Tom Perry

“The Internet is a new source of information that offers tremendous opportunities as well as another potential—becoming addicted. … Worldly influences enter our homes in new shapes and forms to challenge our resolve to use our time wisely and for the Lord’s purposes.”
Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, “A Year of Jubilee,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 76.

More on this topic: See James E. Faust, “The Power of Self-Mastery,”Ensign, May 2000, 44; Russell M. Nelson, “Living by Scriptural Guidance,”Ensign, Nov. 2000, 17; Mary Ellen Smoot, “We Are Instruments in the Hands of God,”Ensign, Nov. 2000, 91.
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[illustrations] Illustrated by Cary Henrie; posed by models