The Blurry Line of Obsession vs. Addiction

I watched a documentary the other night called The Crash Reel.  My better half actually had to watch it for her traumatic brain injury class–and we’re big fans of documentaries anyway–so I joined her.

It was the story of one of the best snowboarders in the world, Kevin Pearce, as he trained and prepared for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Kevin was childhood best friends with arguably the most recognizable and best halfpipe snowboarder on the planet, Shaun White.  He started to beat Shaun at events…as they pushed each other to perform bigger and bigger aerial tricks.  Heading into the Olympics, they were ranked #1 and #2 in the world.

At a training session in Park City, UT, however, he caught the edge of his board coming down from a trick and went face-first into the ground.  He barely survived.

In the ensuing days, weeks, and months (he spent a month in intensive care alone), Kevin had to learn how to talk, walk, think, you-name-it…all over again.  While he recovered most of his mental capacity – his career was over.

He spent his time giving inspirational speeches to other traumatic brain injury victims; and longing to get back on his snowboard.

His entire family, not to mention his doctors, told him that one more fall (not even that bad of one) could incapacitate him forever.  Or worse yet…kill him.

And so you have this person, who has snowboarded his entire life and risen to be one of the top two snowboarders in the world, being told he should no longer snowboard.  When he told his family that he wanted to get back on the mountain, they reacted with horror.  Kevin’s special needs brother wept.  They all told him how much he meant to them and how much he was loved and how they didn’t want him to experience something so awful again.  How much time his family (especially his mother) dedicated to his recovery–they didn’t want to see that genuine investment and love get squandered in what could be a blink of an eye.

I thought to myself…this is like an intervention.

Except Kevin didn’t abuse drugs. Or alcohol.  He didn’t gamble.  He was a snowboarder.

That’s where things get blurry.

Merriam-Webster defines “addiction” as:

– a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble)
– an unusually great interest in something or a need to do or have something

And it defines “obsession” as:

– someone or something that a person thinks about constantly or frequently
– an activity that someone is very interested in or spends a lot of time doing

Tough to draw a distinction there.  I would whole-heartedly admit that I’m obsessed with sports…(or writing, for that matter), but I would not classify my condition as an addiction.

Was Kevin Pearce addicted to snowboarding?  So much so that his family had to intervene?  Perhaps a qualifier in the definition of addiction is the word “harmful.”  In continuing to snowboard–much like someone who abuses hard drugs or gambles–there was the very real possibility that harm would come of it.  Whereas, if Kevin was merely obsessed with snowboarding, he…as they say…would know when to say when.

At any rate, Kevin did get back on his snowboard.  While it wasn’t in full-fledged competition…he made it down the mountain and came out unscathed.

But his story makes me think.  Much like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Kevin Pearce…or even Steve Jobs or Jordan Belfort for that matter– people who have almost unhealthy obsessions with competition–the very fact that they are so obsessive and competitive made them the best.  But their competitive nature, their obsessive nature with their craft, also bordered on addiction.

Sometimes it’s very difficult to differentiate between the two.  I can’t fault a man for having such a passion and wanting to do the only thing that he may have been put on the earth to do.


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