Discovering My Addiction

Photos by Jenn Stone 

An addictive nature is not a characteristic that I would use to describe myself. Sure I love red wine, but I am not an alcoholic. When I drink it, I only drink about 2 glasses; and if there is any hint of a pending headache, I don’t touch it. I love good food, but I am a reasonable eater. I don’t eat when I’m not hungry or if the food isn’t good. Junk food is rarely on my list, except when I get the urge for kettle-cooked potato chips on a road trip. I love watching baseball, but I don’t stay up to watch late games and will go to bed in the middle of a game if I get sleepy. And I refuse to give up a beautiful sunny day outside to watch a ball game on TV. Addictive is also not a trait that people in my circle would attribute to me because they think I am too stubborn and strong willed to give in to an addiction. Up until a few of weeks ago, I would have agreed. So you can imagine how surprised I was  to discover that I had an addiction. And how surprised I was to discover what it was.

Whenever I visit my friend Sue for a walk and water, because I don’t want tea after we walk, she always has a jigsaw puzzle on the go. It is one of the many things that occupy her table. Sue has much more energy than I do. She is a busy woman who likes to do many things. Some of the other things include rug making and dabbling in the market. There are strips of wool and fabric for her latest creation and an iMac also vying for her attention.

The particular puzzle that caught my eye was a 1500-piece Jan van Haasteren cartoon called The Kitchen. It depicts a busy restaurant kitchen in hilarious detail. There were so many things going on in this image that you could look at it for days and still see something new the next time you glanced at it. When she completed the puzzle, Sue offered to lend it to me.

What better use for a dining room table that only gets used a few times a year than to house a jigsaw puzzle. Once home, I dumped the pieces out of the box, flipped the them right side up and began looking for straight edges. It had been years since I had done a jigsaw puzzle, years and years; but it was like riding a bike. Techniques I didn’t know I remembered came back in seconds and I was snapping edges together and sorting as if I had completed my last puzzle the day before. I love a good challenge, especially one that I get to work on at my own pace. This puzzle was going to be just that.

Whether standing or sitting, time spent doing a puzzle is time spent with your shoulders and neck hunched forward. My shoulders and neck are my Achilles heel. I have spent a lot of time, health benefits and money trying to keep them in good shape, meaning trying to reduce the pain that they ultimately cause when I don’t treat them right, when I keep them in the same position for too long. The problem here is how long is too long. In my case it can be just minutes. A few minutes looking at my phone can result in days of discomfort. So I don’t look at my phone very much. I try to use my iPad or my laptop, which is plugged into a large monitor allowing me to look straight ahead as opposed to downwards. I also don’t knit for long periods of time and I read propped up on pillows in bed or in a reclining chair so that I am leaning back not forward. I have an office chair and a sofa with lumbar support to help the cause. These are all very conscious decisions.

Why am I telling you all this, because it only took a short time before my neck started to ache once I began this puzzle. Walk away, I thought, just walk away. I looked at the puzzle pieces spread across my dining table. I looked at the final image on the cover of the box. I looked down and fitted another piece into place. What I didn’t do was walk away. The pull was too great. The challenge too tempting. My desire to work on this puzzle was greater than my desire to drink red wine or knit or watch baseball.

When we think of an addiction, we usually think of things like drugs or alcohol. In reality, addiction isn’t limited to these substances. Humans can become addicted to anything. Usually things that make them feel good by providing feelings of happiness or euphoria. Often things that provide immediate gratification. People have been known to be addicted to fast food, sex, exercise, internet gaming, gambling, plastic surgery and now, thanks to me–jigsaw puzzles. To me, there was nothing more gratifying than snapping another piece in place. Usually something is considered an addiction if the person constantly continues to do it even though it has harmful consequences. In my case, it was literally a pain in the neck.

For the next couple of weeks I hovered over my dining room table, often with a hot pack draped around my neck, for hours at a time, reheating the hot pack whenever it cooled down. Every morning, I would take my tea and make my way back to this puzzle just after breakfast and long before starting anything else. I would finally pull myself away when I needed a break­–not because I was in pain, which I usually was, but because I couldn’t find any more pieces at that particular moment. I would find my way back there later in the afternoon, sometimes with a glass of wine in hand after I had put dinner in the oven, and again after dinner, frequently with my hot pack fresh from the microwave. If this doesn’t define an addiction, I don’t know what does.

Of course I finished the puzzle; and like ending a good book, I hated the moment because the experience was over. I wanted more. With a jigsaw puzzle it is the journey that possesses you and draws you in. The challenge. I know I will start another one very soon. I am chomping at the bit to do so. I just decided to give myself a little break before I get consumed again. I have to prove to myself that I can manage a little control over this addiction. As soon as I feel like losing that control, my friend Sue has a nice stash of other puzzles that I can borrow. Plus I have ordered a couple online that will be arriving before the end of the week.

In the meantime, my brain is going full tilt trying to come up with a way to do them that won’t torment my shoulders and neck. Perhaps I can think of something that I can have The Doc build or something I can purchase. I have a raised table in mind but no idea where I would put it. It certainly won’t fit in my dining room or my office. Perhaps I have to do more yoga or go for more walks, something to counter the time spent bent over a puzzle. I could put a timer on to tell me to take a break, but the weak-willed version of me wonders whether I would actually take that break. I am open to suggestions because there is nothing wrong with admitting you have an addiction and asking for help.

Thanks for reading.

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