My journey, as a parent has taken me down many paths, and from each of these experiences I take away valuable lessons. The most recent journey took me to a mental health forum in Ottawa where I bore witness to a poignant moment with my son, Jake.
While Jake has struggled, fought and worked hard to overcome his video gaming dependency, I have been the solid wall for him to lean into. Even through his addiction and recovery process I learned a great deal from him. I came away with a better understanding of who my son is and why the dependency was such an enormous force in his life. I watched him grow, as an individual into a better version of himself, as he let go of the insatiable need to play multi-player, combat, online video games, and create a healthier lifestyle. I admired his courage and his tenacity. I also watched him suffer emotionally and I felt privileged to be a part of his willingness to be vulnerable and to feel through the pain and share his feelings with me.
Last week, my son and I flew to Ottawa to speak at the Problem Gambling and Addictive Behaviour Provincial Forum run by the Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). We addressed a room of 140 therapists, sharing our personal story, and creating awareness for video gaming addiction. We were the poster family for the “lived experience” aspect of the forum, and we willingly shared with a no nonsense delivery. There was no need to candy-coat our struggle; we were there to help these mental health workers understand this disorder, for them to better help others who suffer, or possibly prevent more suffering for the gaming addict and their family members. That morning, before we spoke, the World Health Organization announced recognition of Gaming Disorder as a mental health disease. The synchronicity of this moment was not lost on us, and in fact gave credence to the message we were about to convey.
But the most interesting aspect of the day was that neither Jake nor I had ever heard each other speak, on a stage, about this subject. As a professional speaker, I have delivered my talk several times but Jake was never in the audience to hear it. Jake was sharing for the first time, and he had only agreed to do so if it were a one time thing. He has a full time job, and told me that speaking was not on his radar as a second gig. I agreed to his terms and was happy that he was willing to take time off and speak at this one forum. I have to say that it was an intense and emotional undertaking for both of us to hear each other share so candidly. Jake’s talk was powerful, as he bared his feelings, and spoke from his heart center. When he was finished, the entire room stood and applauded him, commending his hard work and his first year of gaming sobriety. Jake openly wept in response. It was a compelling moment to witness, the room embracing Jake in his success; a culmination of the years of battling through the addiction, and arriving at this place, as an advocate for recovery, change and personal growth. I have never felt prouder. Jake was overwhelmed by the reception.
Immediately following the question and answer segment, Jake and I were approached and asked to share and speak at other forums and mental health centers. We were also asked if we would appear for a television interview with the CBC later that day. Of course, I said yes. As a speaker, these are the doors you hope will open following a talk. I was grateful. This should have been the end of the journey for Jake, but it didn’t stop there. Jake agreed to speak again. He also agreed to be interviewed and appear on The National news that night. And he has since said yes to a CBC radio interview. He has had an obvious change of heart on the subject matter.
While I don’t expect that speaking will become Jake’s newest career, I do recognize that what he experienced in that room, in Ottawa, was the awareness that goodwill can come from a bad situation. It felt good for him to share his story and then answer the questions. It felt good to know his struggle could reach and help so many others. It is a message that I have tried to convey since writing my book and speaking to parents, teachers, students, and therapists. We help one another by being charitable with sharing our struggles and our stories, and that, in turn, fills us up. Jake understood this, to a certain degree, and willingly encouraged me to share his story. But full recognition of what that meant didn’t occur for him until he spoke out, on his own platform. There is a Chinese saying that goes: “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” I didn’t just see a champion who overcame his addiction that day, I saw a young man feeling true happiness.