Okay, folks. This is it. I am getting sober…from social media. Wish me luck—I know it’s not going to be easy.
This isn’t the first time I’ve written a blog post like this. I have, over the past few years, deactivated and reactivated my social media accounts numerous times. My relationship with the social media beast is so similar to my relationship with alcohol that it’s frustrating.
Despite the fact that Facebook and Instagram can’t render me unable to drive (unless I’m Facebooking and driving), damage my relationships (unless I spend more time with my phone than my significant other or friends), cause me to feel shame or embarrassment about past behaviors (unless I look at the “Timehop” app or “On this Day” feature), zap my motivation (unless I use it to procrastinate when I should be doing other things), give me anxiety or depression (unless I read political news or compare myself to my picture-perfect friends), ruin my sleep (unless I stay awake late at night scrolling/scroll my feeds first thing in the morning) or make me waste my days away (unless I literally waste my days away using them instead of doing something productive), or damage my self-esteem (unless I keep posting in order to feel “heard” and “seen” by someone, anyone), or make me feel like I’m doing worse than my peers (unless I start counting how many people are engaged, buying houses, having babies, etc.), or…
Okay, wait. Wait wait wait.
I honestly started writing that list as a way to differentiate the effects of social media from the damages of booze, but it seemed like there was an exception for every statement.
Certainly, social media isn’t an intoxicating substance, but it is itself an intoxicating experience. It’s a cornerstone of communication for millions of people, every single hour, every single day, and although most of us probably aren’t addicted, it becomes habitual and intertwined with multiple aspects of our lives.
For those of us sucked into the mix—myself included—there’s a tiny thrill in posting something to your networks and watching the little notifications pop up. So much so that we’ve been trained to go back multiple times to refresh and check for more. We scroll and scroll looking for new content. We go back even when we know nothing new has happened, and we’re instantly rewarded when there actually is something new, even if it doesn’t really interest us. We search and silently lurk around the profiles of old friends, lovers, coworkers, etc. We create bubbles for ourselves where things we like stay in, and things we don’t like—things we hate, even—get forced out.
I’ve tried so many times to loosen the hold social media has on my life. I’ve tried at least once a year over the past 6 years, and perhaps more frequently than that since I got sober. In a way, I feel beholden to it. I feel like stepping away is willfully giving up inclusion into the world’s biggest club. Like my friends will soon forget that I’m around and willing to grab a coffee, or that people from my past will soon forget me forever.
At least for me—and really, I can only ever speak for myself—social media has become more evil than necessary and is starting to echo the relationship I had with alcohol: repetitive, dulling, frustrating, obsessive, and mentally draining. I have felt trapped by it. In the past, after really getting away for some time, I’ve convinced myself that I could return and moderate my use successfully. I’ve set up rules and created parental blocks on my own browser to force myself to moderate. I deleted the Facebook app from my phone and accessed it only from my phone’s mobile browser—a crappier experience, but an experience nonetheless. I debated on and off, time and time again, whether getting rid of social media was really necessary, or if there were other things I could do instead to moderate how frequently I used it. I didn’t want to cut myself off and cut myself out of the social sphere. I didn’t want to miss out.
Ah, yes. The fear of missing out, or FOMO as we most lovingly call it these days. It’s a well-documented phenomenon where the simple act of being more connected has paradoxically made many of us feel more disconnected. We’re more fearful than ever of missing out on whatever big thing is happening in the world, even if we wouldn’t have gone to that thing anyway. We want to know about everything going on around and we want the option to opt-in or opt-out as we see fit. Rather than being blissfully unaware of our old friend’s vacation to Mexico with her fiance, we’re now checking in to see pictures and posts of what they’re up to next. Things we never would have known or cared about are now important to us in a way that is hard to describe or justify.
I have FOMO. I do. But it’s getting less and less all the time. The fear of missing out on important social events becomes less and less pressing for me, as I realize that I was never really the type to enjoy high profile social events anyways. The people with whom I am closest have my number and I have theirs. My ex-boyfriends have no reason to know what is going on in my life, nor I theirs. I feel less inclined to check in on folks I used to know to see how their babies are doing today, or what they’re up to on their European vacations.
I’m not 100% disconnected. I still use RunKeeper to track my exercise, but I don’t have any “friends” on there. I write here, anonymously, to get these kinds of thoughts out of my head and into the nebulous world of sober blogging. I still visit meetup.com regularly, more to organize my writing group events and communicate with members. I read and very occasionally comment on /r/stopdrinking. My Facebook account is deactivated but I still use Messenger to chat with folks as needed. I’m part of a couple of group texts that just don’t seem to end.
But for now, at least, I am steering clear of the sites that have caused me most frustration. I’ve set up a social media sobriety counter clock on my phone—yes, I’ve really done that—and so far I’m on day 12. This spring I went a full 3 or so month without logging in, until one day I just… did it again. I just went back online. I told myself I was going to be cautious and not use social media as a time waster—and for the most part, I was cautious. But it wasn’t any fun. I was very aware every single time I used it of how I felt gross being on there. Save for a few instances—like when I raised $550 for a birthday fundraiser during my birthday week—I didn’t enjoy it much or see much benefit in it at all.
So here we are again. Again. I am Facebook, Instagram and Twitter-free. This is attempt #5674, or something stupid like that. I’ve been here before and I am aware of my own psychological pitfalls. I’ve got a handful of books, group texts, and my running shoes at hand. Here’s hoping I can make it stick.