Sometime in the spring of 2014, after much hand-wringing and mental gymnastics, I decided to go to a happy hour with my colleagues. I’d been on the fence because I didn’t want to drink. But I did. But I didn’t. But I did.
I’d been taking stabs at sobriety since the summer prior and the stakes were as high as they could be. Getting sober wasn’t a thing I should probably do, it was a thing I had to do if I intended to keep my daughter, my job, or anything else that mattered. But, I was still in the process of letting it go, and so, I still wrestled with decisions like whether or not to go to a happy hour.
For the first fifteen minutes I pretended I was listening to people talk, but all my headspace was occupied by the committee in my head screaming about whether or not to order that fucking glass of wine.
I ordered it.
A Pino Noir. Lukewarm and acidic from sitting next to a running refrigerator and I did not care.
I took the first sip and felt it hit my stomach, setting that warm fire ablaze. My skin relaxed. Everyone’s faces filled in and their conversations sounded like music. My friend Steve smiled at me and tipped his glass to mine in cheers. I had been working so hard to resist this, to push it away all the time, and I finally got to set down my heavy bag and be a part of the world again. The rush of euphoria was so overwhelming and complete that a knot of grief filled my throat.
I thought, How am I supposed to give this up?
This memory came to mind the other night as I was laying in bed, flipping through Instagram in the dark while my boyfriend was asleep next to me. I’d recently come back to Instagram after a brief break, a few weeks, and although I had promised to only install it when I needed to do a live video (after which I would uninstall it), and although I had promised I would never check direct messages, and although I’d promised to make my room a phone-free zone, I had somehow blasted right over all those boundaries…again.
But! I told myself, This was important and totally worth it! Someone prominent had commented on one of my posts and also messaged me. He told me he’d been sober for a year and that my work had really helped him get there. I wrote back, thanked and congratulated him, and asked him if he’d liked me to send him a copy of my book. He replied, “Of course, please!” and gave me his address. I felt validated, excited about the connection, and hopeful he’d share my book with his half a million followers when he reads it.
Just like in 2014 at the happy hour, I thought, How am I supposed to give this up?
I eventually did give up drinking, of course. It’s been six years since alcohol has crossed my lips and although some of the fears I had about giving it up were true—for example, I would no longer belong in some places, or with some people—and although that was painful at times, the net result across time has been infinitely, infinitesimally positive. In ways I couldn’t have predicted at the time. I’m starting to wonder if the same thing could be true of social media.
The same tug-of-war.
Over the years, the same tug-of-war I went through with drinking has been mirrored with social media.
Social media seems like a lot of fun, but my hangovers tell me otherwise. It feels like an essential, even necessary, part of getting by and succeeding in my line of work. I use it to the detriment of my relationships. It owns my attention even when I’m not using it. I rationalize using it for all kinds of reasons. The more I use it, the more I want to use it. I’ve even almost crashed my car multiple times because I was checking Instagram or trying to reply to a comment that felt urgent.
I’ve gone through many cycles of overuse, taking breaks, re-entering with new rules and boundaries, and then eventually breaking those rules and boundaries and finding myself stuck and strung out again, usually worse off than before.
This is not a new topic for me. Since I switched careers in 2016 and went from working for a company to working for myself, where the product I am selling is essentially me (even though I don’t think about it that way exactly, it’s true), I’ve struggled with this. I wrote about it at length in both 2018 and 2019.
So, what’s new now? Essentially, nothing (re-reading those posts from 2018 and 2019 was almost laughable; kind of like reading my journals from my 20’s where I talk about drinking—I knew it all back then, too!). But I do have some further insight about why it’s so problematic for me.
The social media world distorts my perception of the real world.
Study after study has shown that social media use decreases empathy. I’ve noticed a truly scary blurring effect on my sense of reality when I’m spending a lot of time on social media. For example, I’ll start to feel like the way people (including me) act on social media —reactionary, adrenalized, and often non-human—is a reflection of the real world.
More than once, after spending too much time online, I’ve actually been surprised to see people smiling at each other in the grocery store. Obviously, people can be assholes in the real world too, and we do atrocious things to each other every day, but if you were to use social media as a barometer for the state of humanity as a whole, it makes it seem like we are far more terrible, and far more terrible to each other, than I believe we really are. This is just one example of so many.
It tanks my mental health.
When I am using social media too much (and I’m still not sure if any amount is okay for me) I start to feel truly mentally ill. As someone who has struggled with anxiety disorder, severe depression, and alcohol-induced psychosis, I mean that literally. It alters my perception of reality such that I can no longer distinguish between what’s real and what’s not. It makes the circle of concern—the people to whom I am accountable, and can provide feedback on my life—so large that I become paranoid and cannot function properly. Even when it’s going well (and sometimes especially when it’s going well) it pulls me into a scarcity mindset that tells me there’s only a certain amount of attention available, and if I don’t hustle for it and work to keep it constantly, I will not survive. It disrupts my sleeping and eating patterns, steals my presence and peace, and more than once has made me want to not be here.
Just because it’s okay for others doesn’t mean it’s okay for me.
I’ve talked to so many people in the same profession who agree with me about the downfalls of social media but aren’t impacted to the degree I am. They’ve found ways to manage it. They aren’t tempted to read comments, or if they do, they aren’t agitated by them. They see social as a marketing tool and only that. I’ve tried to adopt their ways, but so far have been unsuccessful. So, just like with drinking, I have to resign to the fact that my experience with it is what matters. I’m a highly sensitive person. Energy really affects me. I have a proclivity toward extremes. I’m highly distractible. I’m a creator and my work requires periods of deep focus. These things do not bode well when it comes to social media.
She’s twelve and has grown up on devices, so the online world to her is even more ubiquitous. Although her dad and I have a strict no social media policy, it’s impossible to distinguish now between “social media” and the rest of the online world. Almost everything has a social component, whether we’re talking about YouTube, phone games, or her school’s online classroom.
I realize this isn’t going away and that it’s not all bad all the time, but it is terrifying to me. She talks about famous TikTokers and YouTubers as if they are her friends. Twice in the past year, she’s been lured into a conversation with a stranger while playing a game on her phone.
I can’t stop it all, but I can definitely be a better model for her, especially at this tender age.
My intuition has never been wrong.
It’s been years and years of receiving the same message now. I know enough to know I have to listen.
The confirmation I needed.
About a week ago, I had a two-hour session with an intuitive. I’ve only done this once before in my life, and it was one of those hokey walk-in things with lots of incense and beaded curtains in Salem, MA. This woman was recommended by my coach, who I’ve talked to about this at length, and she was a total professional.
I told her I was in the process of writing my second book, among other things, and was struggling—that I’ve been struggling for a year or more in a way that’s hard to describe.
We met on Zoom and within the first five minutes, she said, “I see that you are stuck in a bouncy house. Social media or the online world is a bouncy house, does that make sense to you?”
“Yeah, you need to leave. This is a no-no for you.”
“Just leave?” I said.
“Yes, just leave. There’s a door, you know.” She smiled.
It was actually one of the most affirming, confirming messages I’ve ever received. I wanted to cry. My whole body exhaled.
Since our session, I’ve given real thought to what she said. I mean, first of all: is there a more perfect metaphor than a goddamn bouncy house? There is not. As we all know, even the far corner of the bouncy house isn’t really safe. If some shithead wants to propel you towards the middle with the force of a really big bounce, they can. Even if you curl yourself into the fetal position in the corner, you can still feel the motion ripples from everyone else bombing around. The only way to feel like you have any control in a bouncy house is to jump bigger and deeper than anyone else, but you can only do that for so long before you’re gassed. Ultimately, no matter what strategy you take, if you spend too long in the bouncy house, you’re going to take a knee to the eye socket, toss your cookies, or both.
I could go on, but we all get it. It’s genius.
She went on to say, “I’m gathering that the work you do is to leave bouncy houses and show other people how to leave them, too. This isn’t the first time you’ve left one.”
I believe I just blinked for a while after that.
I knew immediately that I would follow her guidance, but it’s taken me a few days to sort through the reality of what that looks like. I have real concerns, namely that I’m launching a new podcast in June (more on that below) and leading a community, of which my Instagram account is the key driver of awareness.
Nonetheless, I’m pressing forward.
- As of today, I’m leaving social media (Instagram and Facebook, the only two accounts I have).
- The social media manager for TLC will occasionally check messages and post on my Instagram account. These will include things like announcements about the new podcast and content for The Luckiest Club.
- At the end of August, I’ll evaluate. I’ll be sharing my thoughts as I go in my newsletter.
What I’ll be working on.
- My second book. 🎉
- My new podcast, Tell Me Something True. I am so excited to be back in the podcasting game. I partnered with the co-producer of Radiolab, one of my favorite shows of all time, and we’ve really put our back into this show. We’re in the middle of recording our pilot episodes now, which include my conversations with Cheryl Strayed, Yung Pueblo, Africa Brooke, and Peter Rollins. We will launch in June.
- The Luckiest Club - the online sobriety support community I started last year.
- (Note: right now, I do not plan to teach any courses until the fall. If that changes, I will announce it in my newsletter.)
Where you can engage with me, if you want.
- My newsletter. I send out weekly emails that include what I’m thinking about or working on, updates on my offerings, and a “Dig List” of books, podcasts, and people I’m loving. I read the email responses and although I can’t always respond, I do love receiving them. Subscribe.
Some closing thoughts.
It would be bullshit not to acknowledge that I am now in a place professionally where I can afford to do this. Over the past six years, I have built a solid email list, hosted two podcasts, wrote hundreds of blog posts, run dozens of retreats and workshops, made innumerable professional connections, and published a book, all of which has been helped and fueled by social media. Could I have done these things without it? I don’t know. There are people who have done it successfully, but I’m not one of them. If you are someone who is trying to build an online business, launch a blog or a podcast, publish a book, build a coaching practice, or even keep a restaurant going, opting out of social media may not be an option.
Lastly, I know this will elicit a big “Who cares?” response from some people. I sometimes cringe when I see people making announcements about taking a week off of social media. But the reasons I feel compelled to talk about this are the same reasons I felt compelled to talk about drinking so long ago: I simply cannot stop thinking about it. With drinking, I knew there was so much more to it than “Laura has a problem” or “Laura is addicted to alcohol.”
I don’t see people in my line of work talking about this publicly, but when I get them 1x1, we go on for hours. Whether it’s that we don’t want to admit our struggles, or we see social media as a necessary evil so what’s the point, or we haven’t really wrapped our head around what “it” is and how deeply it’s impacting us, I don’t know. Probably all of those things. Either way, I can’t leave it alone, so I won’t.
That’s all for now.
I love you. I root for you. Keep going.