Jim Shelley with the chilling story of one man for whom the party line’s over
My name is Jim Shelley and I’m an addict… With these words I began to break the spell, began to conquer the problem, the problem of my addiction, my telephone frenzy.
From waking to the darkest, deepest hours of night, I wait to be phoned, I want to phone.
It started socially I suppose – a few calls each day. It seemed harmless, just innocent chat. Soon it was frequent use, then compulsive calling, until, finally, habitual addiction – phone fever.
Gradually, it began to affect my work. I was spending all of my lunch-break calling. Within weeks, I was arriving ar work early, to start the day with some phoning. During the day, I would disappear for a quick fix, a swift hit.
People ask why I became an addict. I suppose it was boredom, insecurity, attention-seeking. My counselor says it was really a cry for help. I think any other excuses (pressure
of work, disturbed childhood, alcoholic parents) are just excuses: I have to take responsibility for the problem.
The only time I felt alive was when I was on the phone. I was charming, warm, generous and handsome; everyone liked me and I actually liked them. I had no misgivings and no inhibitions. Life’s pressures disappeared. In no time, my best relationships were phone relationships, I became inept in the social graces. I was more at home talking to people who were like me, addicts. I developed a hatred of other users – particularly people who were phoning a lot at home, or in their jobs, people who were rich enough to phone whenever they liked. Stockbrokers and telephonists were the worst.
I spent days waiting for the phone to ring. I got agitated. In my mind I heard the first ring, heard the silence break. I concentrated on that sound, tried to make it real, but no call came. In the end, I would ring someone. Then someone else, telling myself “just one more”, but in the end, ringing everyone. In really low moments, I would call international. Peak rate. I felt I belonged to the world.
Slowly things began to deteriorate. I was calling people and leaving messages to guarantee enough calls to see me through the day. I would arrive at friends’ homes and before the door was closed, head straight for the phone with the words, “Is it OK if I just use the phone…?”. Some nights, I thought I could hear the phone ringing downstairs. I would leap out of the bed and race down, only to find it hadn’t rung at all.
I’d end up lying there, wondering whether the phone had become unplugged. What if all my calls were going to crossed-lines? Being intercepted? What if the exchange had been hit bu a power cut?
The panic attacks and paranoia grew so bad I would ring people and ask them if they’d been trying to ring me. I stopped going out in case people called. I had a business line and a private line installed. I borrowed money and bought an ansaphone. I bought a pager and portable. I bought a car to put my car-phone in. As my addiction worsened, I no longer spoke to people at work. I became hostile an violent when colleagues attempted to stop me from phoning in an attempt to get me to do work. Finally, my superior took action. I hit him (with the phone) and ended up slumped in a corner, sobbing, clutching the Yellow Pages. I was dismissed and offered redundancy or one week’s free calls, which I accepted.
My body had begun to suffer. My head tilted to one side, from the hours of cradling the phone on one shoulder. One ear was inflamed and bruised.