One day after my 8-year sober birthday, I decided to do a social media detox for a month (or as long as I could). In the beginning, there really wasn’t any end game in mind. My motivation: I realized that somewhere along the way I started caring what people think. And this started to affect how I felt about myself. Oh, and also: I was spending way too much time checking my phone.
I wish someone could have taken my picture and posted it as I contemplated what it meant to erase the Facebook and Instagram apps from my phone. I held my finger on the screen and the icons did that little dance, that shaky “please don’t delete me” dance. This continued on for probably an hour.
“Should I? Shouldn’t I?” I’ve wanted to do a social media detox before but haven’t. I’ve tried to place limits on myself—only on the weekend or not until five o’clock. “I should. Wait…but then I won’t feel so connected. How will I know about (fill in the blank)? And I will never remember all those birthdays!”
Reaching for my phone has become almost automatic.
What have I learned so far? In the past month, I feel like I’ve learned quite a bit—or better, quite a bit has been revealed. I’ll give you my top five.
Breaking up with social media has taught me that over the years I have grown uncomfortable with silence. There is so much that exists today to fill the space—and so much right at our very own fingertips. We can’t just say it’s a Millennial thing anymore, either. Even my parents, one of whom is well into his 70s, reach for their smart phones as soon as there is a lull in conversation or a moment of down time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a holiday, a special dinner, or if a very important conversation has just occurred.
And as much as I’d like to be (well, maybe not), I’m well into my 30s and too old to be considered a Millennial. I can actually remember when the scenery and fashion choices looked like Stranger Things.
2. I need an answer for everything.
If I have a question about literally anything, I can reach for my phone and have an answer or at least someone’s interpretation of an answer or comment on that question instantly. I love how Google knows, before I do, how to accurately complete my question or sentence. So basically, you don’t have to actually know anything. The internet knows it for you.
Remember the time when there were questions that we had to sit with, struggle with, and reach out to actual human beings or go to a library and page through countless encyclopedias to find? Yeah, me neither.
3. Comparisons are silly (and destructive).
A lot of women I’ve talked to have mentioned that social media makes them compare themselves to others. I know when I was pregnant with twins, this was true for me. Can I just say that there are a lot of skinny pregnant moms out there? You know (and you may be one of them), the soon-to-be moms who are still wearing bikinis and vacationing in exotic places?
Many Insta-moms are skinnier pregnant than I was before twins. Especially now in the age where everyone has an online business or brand or label that’s color-coordinated or fashionably mis-matchy.
Sometimes I scroll past the moms with perfect haircuts and perfectly dressed children and perfectly smiling faces and do one of those internal eye rolls. I scroll past but there is something that can feel yucky inside if I let it. Not love. I don’t like the fact that social media can bring this out in me.
I have a photo-worthy moment and my first thought is (often) not gratitude. My first thought is, I better grab my phone quick and post this. Or, I have a revelation—you know, the one that is so profound that I need to tell all of my followers exactly what it was with a clever caption and cute selfie.
Why can’t I have more of these moments in solitude? Why does everything need to be displayed and perfectly staged like I am an actress in someone else’s screenplay?
5. Social media does not always create community.
In the recovery community, social media is often used as a tool to help reduce the stigma of addiction and recovery, a tool to create community. In my past working life, much of what I did and tried to encourage others to do via social media was talk about the good stuff: don’t just live the transformation and break through, show the transformation. Because people need hope. And we all want to feel like we belong.
For many, social media is the place where people see for the first time that recovery is possible for anyone with an addiction. What a gift and blessing! It is also a place where we can meet others with common interests, issues, and causes, and feel connected to them from the safety of our own living rooms.
The down side, however, is that we can get trapped here, too. Because recovery, just like life, is not always pretty. Maybe those people we are trying to help behind the screen would be more helped by me saying, “I’m having a bad day.”
Maybe meeting in real life and having a real conversation would be more helpful? Could you imagine if we posted about real life? The good, bad, and not so IG-worthy?
Picture: A woman (me), hands down on a rainy road with a bag of dog poop, a wily German Shepherd and eyes welling with tears.
Caption: “Going for a run.”
Hashtags: #blameitontherain #poopyrun #outofshape #fallingfacefirst
Picture: Two 5-month-old babies crying, woman (me) otherwise alone for 10 hours a day, woman (me) in the kitchen.
Caption: “The best days.”
Hashtags: #thisisparenting #mommascrycorner #help
Kind of ridiculous, no? But this is life, too. And why do we have to hide this and only share the pretty stuff? Why don’t we want all of us to be seen?
The Empty Space and Quiet Moments Have Purpose
As in recovery, I think I’m finding there is a spiritual solution to all of this. The empty space and the quiet moments—maybe they are just supposed to be this. Maybe instead of scrolling through social media, I can embrace the stillness. And maybe instead of just sharing the pretty pictures I can be real with the people who are really in my life. I can spend time connecting in a way that is life-giving and authentic.
When I told a good friend of mine about my social media detox, her response was one of anxiety. She told me the thought of getting rid of those apps on her phone made her heart almost skip a beat and she had a sinking feeling, like someone was holding her under water.
How about you? Would you be able to delete your apps? This might be the time to think about what you’re taking away from social media, or, more aptly, what social media might be taking away from you.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life: Women and Judgment: Why We Do It and How to Stop – 057