“The next day the shadow of my shitty pants hung over me like a shadow of shitty pants that I shat.”
As a consequence of having lost my father when he was twenty seven and having grown up with a dream of becoming a rock star, at some point I became convinced I would die at that telltale age. In fact I had planned on it. Most of the human maintenance which normal adults did to preserve themselves far into the future were things I decided were not worth my trouble. I would die young and leave behind a neglected body and credit score.
By the time that I actually turned twenty seven I had fully failed to become a rock star, but I had completely excelled in the hedonism, neglect and self-harm that go with it. I was drinking the equivalent of a bottle of whiskey a day.
A week after my birthday and several days before the New Year I was drinking at the bar next to the dormitory style housing unit I rented a room in. My ex-girlfriend called it The Lonely Bachelor Hotel and was exactly right. Fifteen minutes before the clock struck the end of alcohol sales, I left the bar to grab some after hours libations at the gas station down the hill.
As I plodded back up through the ice and snow my stomach became unsettled. Before I could even figure out what my body was doing I felt an explosion and hot gooey shit running down my leg. I quickly shuffled myself up the hill and proceeded to fucking wreck a shared bathroom shower stall before returning to my room, drinking my beers and falling asleep with a profound sense of shame and depression.
The next day the shadow of my shitty pants hung over me like a shadow of shitty pants that I shat. I decided that I would walk my addiction down over the next few days and then go cold turkey all of January.
During that month I began sewing and drinking Snapple Apple while watching indie films. I made pouches to go with the glass pipes I sold at the head shop I owned, Shasta Mountain Trading Company, in the Hall Mall of Iowa City. I began to feel better about myself and the world and started looking forward to something other than joining the 27 Club as a non-rock star honorable mention.
I didn’t quit drinking. Over the years it ebbed and flowed, sometimes returning to a daily routine, but never for years at a time. For a decade I would revisit sobriety during the month of January as a reminder, but as I moved further away from having a profound habit I no longer required the tradition.
A drinking problem is pretty easy to recognize. Even those in denial of it recognize that it is happening to them, even if they believe they are in control of it. Signs like shitting yourself on the way home from picking up a bumper fix make the issue pretty clear. But not all addictions are so easy to see.
Drinking had robbed me of a lot of things, but never really my time. I am capable of binge drinking pretty quickly so as to condense my drunkenness into a 2-4 hour window. I didn’t wake up every morning and check how much liquor I had in the house, or do so just before going to sleep, and the hours in between were not spotted with drinking and its maintenance requirements.
Facebook, and social media in general, has been filling my days with compulsive behavior for over a decade. As 2017 drew to a close I began to realize just how deeply I had become addicted to it, and just how much of an impact it was having on my sense of well-being. The cycle of expectation/reward/disappointment kept me locked in a constant loop, always trying to unlock some new achievement, despite the fact that there is never any achievement to be had. Just an endless feedback circle of desperate, ill-fated attempts at social transcendence.
Today is my sixth day off social media. I have taken longer breaks before, but my earlier abstinence had always been partial and never intended to last. This time, I might just quit for good.
The first 72 hours were the hardest. During that time I was filled with a constant sense that I was going to miss out on something. That the golden moment of online connections would occur just as I decided to walk away. Over the next three days that has began to fade significantly. In fact my general sense of anxiety has also decreased. And although I still feel a little lost with what to do with myself, I also feel less like there is something that is supposed be done.
When I decided to walk away I left a post with my blog and email address. As I was writing this paragraph I got my first contact from someone who I felt I had grown close to on Facebook. I hope to hear from others. I have made many great friends online. In fact many of them have been a bigger part of my life the last several years than my IRL friends. However I suspect that many of them will fade into the past. Not because they were never really my friends, nor because they never really cared, but because that is the nature of the game.
On social media you are an avatar of yourself interacting with other avatars of other selves. The medium in which these interactions takes place becomes part of the nature of those relationships. When you leave the medium, the nature of those relationships change. You are no longer two interacting parts in a machine. Like being co-workers, there is a context which the social media relationship is built on. Outside of the office, outside of the machine, interactions are no longer effortlessly inevitable. And new parts, or proles, quickly move in to take your place.
As a writer I have also forsaken the most stable source of promotion I have had over the years. Not only did it help to get my stuff out there, it got me noticed enough to get some writing opportunities. This is probably the reasoning I clutched onto it, even as I began to suspect the destructive possibilities of social media. I could justify it as a necessary means to the end of getting my work read.
Perhaps one of my biggest motivations to finally quit were several of the interactions I had in the end, like many I had all the years prior, in which I was accused of shameless self-promotion. Was I really supposed to feel guilty for using a medium of sharing for doing so with my own efforts? How was that unacceptable? Was I missing some point? Was the goal to become a link in a chain of promotion for other peoples work? And in a place where what gets rewarded is what is already popular or agreed upon, what was the point? To just be a tool to help reinforce the status quo?
No thanks. If my choices are digital isolation, decreased social life and loss of promotion for my writings -or- being just another avatar for validating norms while having my emotions manipulated by the medium itself; I chose the former.