Sometimes I hear people talk about addiction like it’s something that happens to other people. Addiction is still this wildly misunderstood thing, mostly because of old-school bullshit stigmas of “weakness” and “low moral integrity.” I’ve got a bit of a different view: I think we’re all addicted to something. It may not be quite on the same level as drugs or alcohol, but I think the underlying situations in life that lead some of us to abuse substances also cause others of us to perform some other disruptive forms of behavior. Whether it’s serial monogamy or engaging in emotionally vapid Tinder sex, excessively working out or excessively eating; we all have our own drug of choice. It’s that thing that we do, even though we know it’s not the best for our mental or physical health, that removes us from the pain and suffering that is a part of life.
For me, that escape is social media.
When I’m embarrassed because I’ve realized the guy I was seeing for a few months benched me, I flip my phone to Instagram. When I can’t sleep because of too much coffee, Facebook is there. I’ve got plenty of snaps and tweets to look at while waiting for my train, and youtube videos to watch while I eat my breakfast. Social media is my panacea for being alone.
Here’s the thing that everyone knows: indulging in social media actually makes us feel worse about ourselves. I see status updates from my high school friends talking about that cute thing their kid did this morning. Ex-boyfriends posting adorable pictures with their new girlfriends. There will always be at least 20 perfectly photoshopped images of Instagram-yogis doing handstands who are therefore prettier, smarter and better humans than me. I know that comparing my life to the projected lives of strangers on the internet is terrible for me, and yet I keep indulging. Incessantly indulging. It’s like a mosquito bite that I can’t help scratching, even though it’s turning into a painful welt. It’s a reflex that manifests every time I open my phone or computer. This is not a problem with other people or the social media platform. It is a problem with how I’m using it.
The way I use social media feeds that angry drunk Tom Waits voice in my head that says “You suck.”
Obviously, the reasons behind substance abuse and substance addiction can be much more complex and insidious than this, and I don’t mean to be downplaying the impact it has on peoples’ lives. Furthermore, I’m completely open to the possibility that this view will change once I begin to learn more about addiction and the underlying causes and conditions for addictive behavior. I’m simply saying that there is a bit in all of us, in our human nature, that motivates us to push away the unpleasant and seek the pleasant. And though this is a part of human nature, it still comes at a very real cost– the pleasant never lasts.
This girl who participates in the book club I facilitate was talking about addiction and pain a few weeks ago. She was saying that for the first time in her life she wants to actually know what pain feels like, without rushing around to cover it up with something. Not to torture herself, but just to really understand what suffering feels like, to meet it with curiosity and sobriety instead of running scared or trying to pulverize it until it disappears.
I want to be a human who is ok with being uncomfortable.
The weird thing is, I wasn’t always this way. I used to be awesome at being alone. I’ve traveled the world alone, twice. I used to love quiet moments, and I’d actively refuse to go out to have a few quiet hours at home with my thoughts. I can’t remember when or why this became so scary.
Regardless of the how or why things are the way they are, I’m going to run toward the thing I’m scared of. No, I’m not going to intentionally isolate myself (the opposite, hopefully.) I’m going to try and break this cycle of negativity and the need for external validation. I’m going to stop participating in a behavior that promises to give me pleasure, but really makes me feel worse AND miss out on all the interesting things going on in the real world. The uncomfortable never lasts either.
I’m going to attempt to train myself to stop reaching for the idiot box every time I’m bored or uncomfortable.
Step one will be social media cessation for 4 months. I really only compulsively use Facebook and Instagram, so these are the two platforms I’ll be abstaining from. I’ll still post on this blog, and yeah, you can still email/text/call me. I considered using a website/app blocker to help me on my way, but I’m feeling bold and want to just see what I can do out of sheer willpower. After that, if I’m feeling good, perhaps I’ll attempt moderation, where I will see if I can change my relationship to the platforms. But one step at a time.
Full disclosure, this is in part inspired by my Substance Abuse and Addiction class at Pepperdine. It is also in part inspired by my amazing sober friends who are consciously making their lives better. But mostly this is something that I need to do for my health. I need to stop comparing myself to other people, to stop seeking out evidence that supports negative thoughts and excuses negative habits.
The average American spends an hour on Facebook every day.
Though an hour may not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, if you’re like me and it’s filled with negativity and validation-seeking, an hour is plenty. That is an hour you could spend reading a book. Or climbing some rocks. Or playing with puppies at The Dog Cafe. Or maybe even just sitting by yourself and drinking a nice coffee while people watching.
If you were given an hour per day of your life back, what could you accomplish? I intend to figure that out.