relieve me of the bondage of selfie

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How do I look?

How do I look when I’m struggling?

How do I look when I’m happy?

How do I look when I’m grocery shopping?

How do I look when I’m dealing with family members, cleaning up cat barf, watching reality TV or cooking dinner?

More importantly do you think I look?

Luckily for me, I have the magic mirror of narcissism that is social media which answers those questions with bubbly hearts. When illuminated several times over, I have won at the game of self-worth. The numbers can even tick up in front of my eyes like flashing beacons that say, “You’re doing amazing, sweetie.” Conversely, when nobody gives a damn these bubbly hearts stay clear, invisible, with no numbers beside them to alert the world that my likeability has confirmed kills. Yet recently, I reached the very bottom of the mirror and stared at the whole thing. Yes, that’s correct. I really feel as though I’ve read all of what Twitter and Facebook has to offer. I’ve heard the opinions. I’ve had my opinions. I’ve seen their opinions become my opinions.  I’ve seen them take my opinions.  In fact, I’ve now heard and read so many opinions that none of them matter or stand out anymore. Even my own. Yes, I truly think I’ve read it all. And what I’ve learned is, to quote Jon Bon Jovi, it’s all the same, only the names have changed.

This is okay. I mean how many things do we all have to actually talk about? It’s normal that we’d ramble on and ramble and repeat crap again and again. Besides, humans and their ability to have different spins on the same topics is one of the best things about humans. The “best things about humans” would be a great hashtag, by the way since it appears our collective qualities are harder and harder to celebrate these days and therefore should be gathered as evidence. It would be a great hashtag if I was doing those sorts of things anymore. But I’m not. In fact, I’m not really doing any social media anymore.

Or should I say “for today” I’m not doing social media. In case you didn’t know, “for today” is that give a way phrase we addicts use to signal that for hopefully 24 hours we won’t engage in something that is addictive and unmanageable. And by “not doing,” I mean I’ve cut back on Twitter and deactivated my Facebook for like 2 days so far. I know. I’m practically a monk. As someone who has worked in digital content and social media for the past seven years, I guess this is the part of the post where I should talk about the virtues that social media does have. You know– the ability to bring people together from around the globe, the ability to share information quickly and the ability to make you feel bad about you had for lunch– those types of things. And they are all valid and worthwhile. But I’m not going to talk about those virtues. Because my problem with social media is (wait for it) me.

Sometime over the summer after I had spent entirely too long styling a selfie for an author photo a website that I  contribute to, it hit me maybe my relationship with all of this is too intense. Putting my self-worth in the hands of others is something I’ve done for decades. So much so that if the folks at MasterClass are interested I’ll gladly share my knowledge with the world for the low, low price of $90.00. Us ninja level codependent people pleasers didn’t need no stinking social media to wrap our self-esteem in the approval of others but it sure the fuck makes it a lot easier! Now, instead of calling people or walking to their houses or showing up to their events that I don’t want to go to but will go to in hopes of them liking me more, I can just post witty, wise crap that will endear me to their hearts. In my pocket at all times, I hold the power to turn over my power to faceless others in 140 characters or less. Weeee!

I’m making light of this because that’s sort of what I do when a behavior of mine has become problematic. Like, “Ha, ha, ha! Isn’t it a hoot how much cocaine I can snort?” But the reality is my relationship with social media started to feel problematic. More than once, I’ve ignored my husband or missed what he was saying because my face was stuck to my iPhone like a fly on the windshield. Not a cool thing to do to my literal favorite person to talk to. Also troubling? Something about my dependence on it felt odd. Like here I was preaching the gospel of being sober and present in my life but all the while I had gleefully become my iPhone’s bitch. Uh, what?  I at the very least don’t use my phone or text during meetings. I mean honestly if I can’t live without looking at it for an hour, I really need help. But nearly everywhere else I’m glued to it and that’s primarily because of social media.

Even worse, I’d committed the cardinal sin of social media, the one I’d warn clients about, the one every article back in 2009 would caution against: I started to take it too personally. When the tweets of others start to feel like attacks or the vague online personalities of people you don’t actually know in real life start to affect you, it’s time to get a grip. After all, it’s all for entertainment purposes only which I fundamentally know. Yet somehow here I am. But it also kind feels like something else. Like it feels hallow and immature for where I am right now. Worse for a snob like myself, my dependency on it is shamefully basic. I’m no better than our president or Taylor Swift. Look what I made me do.

So what? I grab a stack of novels and go live in the woods? Not really an option especially since I have real life commitments and hate mosquitos. Like my other addictions, I have to figure out how to treat it. Listen, I’m my motto has always been “Why do something you enjoy when you can turn it into an obsession?” so I’ve been down this road with booze, drugs, cigarettes, tv, sugar, people, sex, ad nauseam. By the way, if you’re struggling with drugs and alcohol and this sounds like some trivial-ass bullshit, that’s because comparatively it is. Nevertheless, I know I first need to admit it’s a problem, which I guess what this 1200 word declaration is all about and then I have to take action. For me, action looked like deactivating my Facebook account and taking Twitter off my phone. The obsession, as the sober kids say, has not been removed just yet and I’m really starting to see how much time I was actually spending on it. Yikes. It’s becoming clear how much of a crutch it actually is.

Suddenly, I don’t aimlessly scroll like a zombie in search of little bubbly hearts. Suddenly, I don’t have you to tell me how I look. And now I have to look at myself.

I will survive…but not alone

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On dancefloors. Under discoballs. Next to thumping speakers and kids in furry backpacks. Thru fog machines, cigarette smoke, and puffs of glitter. In empty, burned out warehouses suddenly transformed by day-glo foam sculptures of mushrooms and hearts, evoking a modern Alice in Wonderland. This is where I felt like I showed up. Like this was my moment. It was 1992 and I was 19 years-old and rave culture had caught fire across the United States. By this time, I had already cycled through teen goth clubs, shady underage gay bars and high school parties and all of the drugs that accompany those events. I always had my eye on the next cool thing to walk around the corner. Not because I had my finger on the pulse but more out of an insatiable desire to make the party never stop. So thank god when rave culture showed up. Here were hundreds of other kids who all felt the same way. The music was the draw. I could link videos to rave classic songs for days but really 20 plus years later the truth is revealed: that music? It was pure and simple dance music. A road forged by disco culture nearly 30 years earlier was now being paved by house music, techno and everything else with a drum machine. Back then, it was rave music, now it’s EDM, tomorrow we’ll call it something else. But the appeal, whatever generational version of it, remains consistent. It paired well with drugs, with escape, with sex and with dancing with others who wanted the same things. I took so much ecstasy and danced so many hours it stopped working but I’m persistent, dammit. I rode the rave thing until the wheels fell off. When that party ended thanks to an unwelcome appearance by crystal meth, I moved on to the next which I burned out from and then moved on once again to another party, this time in Los Angeles at age 23 and one that would have incredibly high highs and crash with the worst of lows. And that so-called party lasted until I was 36.

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Spot me in this crowd! Hint? I’m the raver in flannel!

The thing I loved about raves or trashy glam clubs in LA or gay bars, in addition to the music, was the feeling of belonging. With considerable effort and dedication to the craft of going out several nights a week, I became enough of a club presence to usually get on the guest list, maybe score free drinks and a bump or two in the bathroom. I was a minor celebrity among club friends and known in a tiny microcosm which was good enough for me. I slid naturally from clubs and guest lists to dive bars to drinking nightly at home. Formerly sparkling and social became sad and the part I loved, feeling like I belonged, vanished along with the smoke and glitter. So then what? What happens to a disco diva when the lights come up, the free drinks stop and the club friends vanish in thin air upon hearing a whisper of the word, “sober”?

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For this disco diva, life got real/real depressing. Things like health, debt and broken relationships were waiting in line outside the club like I used to and just like me they were gonna get in, even if they weren’t on the guest list. In addition to waking up to the shit storm that was my existence, I also had to remove a huge chunk of my social drinking circle if I wanted any semblance of success at staying sober. It had never occurred to me in the 600 other times I tried to stop drinking that by hanging out with daily drinkers I wasn’t exactly giving myself a fighting chance. Well, it sounds obvious when I put it like that but as I’ve mentioned before I’m a slow learner. So fine. I did that. I lovingly detached from the old crew but now what? Turns out the recovery world was filled with people just like me. I didn’t take too long to find my people. They certainly didn’t look like me but honestly the world only needs a handful of valley girl voiced Moby look-alike alcoholics. What was important was they knew how I felt and knew what I was going through. They even nodded their heads when I shared horrible, crazy, unspeakable things. yea-uh-huh.gif

2816 days later, I’m still finding my people and in delightful and unexpected places. Mainly online. There are a lot of debates about sobriety, recovery and anonymity online and as you know I detest digital bickering of any flavor so we will not go there. What I will say is this: just like I did in meetings all over the country and just like I used on dancefloors, I have found other people who were like.My #RecoveryPosse is always available on Twitter or if I’m really desperate on Facebook. Many of them have blogs. Others have podcasts. Others are normal, hilarious folks who make me laugh on a regular basis. Others I’ve even been lucky to meet in real life. The point is thanks to that cursed blessing known as technology, my people are always here and easy to find on my phone. A couple of days ago, I tweeted the opening line to the song referenced in the title. What transpired was the kind of loopy, brilliant, back and forth I’ve come to know and love from my online tribe.

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But it doesn’t begin and end there. When I blogged on UrTheInspiration, I was lucky enough to meet my people like Heather Kopp or my now real-life pal Jen and my friend Paul, who even though he’s in Canada and straight, is someone who always for some reason gets what I’m going through. A few years ago, we started an Artists in Recovery meeting in Denver and every week I run into my people there. By being on Facebook, I randomly will have someone reach out from the past who tells me they are now sober or maybe they are struggling so I meet my people there too. The thing is by speaking my truth, whether in person or online, the world becomes less scary and I’m less isolated. You don’t have to search too hard to find hundreds of studies that say people who have support have a better chance of staying sane and sober than those who don’t. I’ve found it to be true. When I tried to get by all by my lonesome, I never stood a chance. I end every Sloshed Cinema by saying, “You are never alone.” Partly to pass that onto others but mainly to remind myself that no matter how bad I feel, there’s always help. There’s somebody willing to nod their head to what I’m sharing if I just open my mouth.  And there’s always someone dancing to the same song I am, somewhere.