One week ago, I made a not so random yet spontaneous decision to step away from social media. This was not an easy decision to make. In fact, this was so much like the times I decided to quit smoking or when I quit sugar. I knew it was going to be challenging - even difficult. I was a little apprehensive, worried about the response from other people. I imagined the worst-case scenario happening. I feared that people would create rumors about me. I was mostly afraid that I would become irrelevant. But this was something that I felt very strongly lead to do.
While some will maintain skepticism about the addictive potential of social media websites, findings of brain imaging studies show similarities between substance addiction and social media addiction. There is strong evidence that Facebook, Twitter and other sites work much like drugs and alcohol in the brain. Additional research suggests that compulsive Internet use leads to changes in the brain—particularly in reward pathways—comparable to those observed in drug addicts.
In 2014, I started making posts on Facebook about my struggles with substance use and my journey in recovery. I was two and a half years into recovery and just starting to find my way. One of the coping skills commonly known to aid in abstaining from using is to change the “people, places and things” that trigger you to use. Well for me, after sixteen years of addiction, everything was a trigger for me to use. I ended up staying with my parents in their home in central Ohio. Their house was in the middle of nowhere and you need a keycard to get into the gate. Security patrolled the grounds. I was exactly where I needed to be. It felt like my own countryside resort rehab. I had no other choice but to change people, places and things in my life
While I lived in this sanctuary in the woods, I found my purpose. It sounds silly and cliché, that’s okay. But it’s so true. I’m so lucky to have been given the beautiful time I had in this place of peace. I would spend my day working out in the lakeside gym, hiking through the woods and swimming in the lake. I would even do yoga and meditate on the beach in the early mornings. This place saved my life. My parents saved my life. So many events that lead me to that place and time, saved my life. Being able to write about it and communicate with others about my joy and my growth, that was part of my therapy. I was changing everything about myself on purpose. I was changing my life. Hundreds of people began reading and watching my journey in recovery. This was when I decided I was going to go after everything I’ve ever wanted in life.
Over the course of four years, I shared every single day of my life on social media. I shared so many raw, deeply personal and very emotional stories and reflections. I was not only reaching people who were also struggling, but I was opening minds of people who didn’t have a personal connection to addiction. I was speaking to people who were silently suffering with loved ones struggling with drug use. I was sharing my life to show others what addiction and recovery looks like. It felt brave. People often respond to me with so much love, respect and admiration. I rarely feel negativity or judgement. It was working. What I was trying to do was working. It was helping people, but it was helping me in so many ways.
Sharing my life so openly on social media is part of how I built my career, my brand, and my name. In 2015, I began receiving requests on social media to speak at public events and share my story. Local News and Journal media began consistently interviewing me. At the time, I was working for a DNA testing company and I wasn’t working in the field of addiction treatment yet. I have a misdemeanor criminal record and it was very difficult for me to get a job. So, I realized that I had to make my reputation and credibility exceed the background and credit reports that had hindered getting a good job. I had to build my name so that no one would turn me down for how I look on paper. Over time, my name has become considerably well-known in the Cincinnati area. Throughout these different ways that I was putting myself into the field of substance use, I landed a job with a treatment center, BrightView.
Currently I have been with Brightview for sixteen months. I came into the organization very green, hungry to learn and driven to excel, quickly. Having never officially worked in the field of substance use treatment, though certified to begin this line of work, I needed to learn the right way. There is a risk for people in recovery working in this field. If we aren’t taught the correct way, we put ourselves in jeopardy. We risk experiencing burn out quickly and we put our own recovery at risk. If one is not careful, we can become very overwhelmed, too stubborn to speak up and ask for help and terrified to fail. We need ongoing support as people in recovery working in the field of addiction treatment. We need support of our supervisors, leadership, and especially our peers. One of the greatest things about BrightView is that they give me so much support. From my coworkers and my direct supervisors, all the way to our founders and Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Shawn Ryan. I’m able to speak up when I need extra support. I’m able to express when I don’t know what something means. They value my opinions and my efforts. They give me opportunity to grow and discover talents I didn’t know that I have. I’m so grateful to have the amazing career that I have with Brightview as a Certified Peer Recovery Supporter and Community Outreach Manager.
I put in so much work to be able to live a life free of chaos, drama, negativity and pain. Now I’ve come to a place in my life where I am ready to make some more changes. Anyone that knows me personally, knows that I am always looking for ways to evolve my recovery, expand my growth and improve myself all the time. I started to notice that I was feeling like I was disconnected from my life. I had fallen into the cycle of putting myself out there to help others, but I was gaining too much recognition. I had developed an endless thirst for admiration and recognition from the public eye. I was getting high on “likes & comments”. I’m embarrassed to even write that. But, I’m all about honesty and it was time for me to be honest with myself. I was letting my beautiful life pass right by me, not seeing anything around me because I was too focused on sharing my story and taking every opportunity to talk about addiction with the public. I’m passionate, so passionate about people understanding what those of us with substance use disorder go through. It felt like I was taking on the world. Of course, I want to be successful and have opportunities that will help me support my family one day, but I was drowning. I wasn’t overwhelmed or overworked. I was drowning in my ego. I was drowning in my need for people to know, like, and need me. I was drowning in my constant need to get mass attention and praise. That’s a really, unhealthy place to be. This is how I imagine people become impossible to deal with in Hollywood. It’s a weird feeling and almost unearthly at times. I’m not famous. I’m not rich. I’m not a movie star. I’ve done some cool things, I’m on tv sometimes and you can read about me on google. But when people are constantly stroking that ego because of those things, it can get weird. You can lose yourself. I almost did.
I made it through a seven-day Facebook detox. I’ve learned that social media is unhealthy when used too much, even if your heart is in the right place. I told myself that it was okay for me to be on facebook for 12 hours a day because I was doing something important and I was helping people. I convinced myself that people needed me. I had placed huge expectations on myself and I was afraid to let people down. When I texted a few of my important people and told them not to be alarmed, I was stepping away from my twenty plus posts a day routine. The response I got was cringing. Every single person applauded me but not one asked me why. Wow, they see it. I didn’t. I do now. But for those that I don’t talk with daily, I didn’t want them to worry. I didn’t want to just disappear and “see who would notice”, so I made a post and just said that I was stepping away from social media. People were surprised, some texted me and asked if I needed help. Some people were assuming that I had fallen off the wagon. Wow. There are people out there who cannot and will not see the big picture. That’s one more thing I’m giving up, the need to explain myself, and it feels great.
This was one of the absolute best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. This is a lifestyle change. This isn’t just as easy as saying, I’m just not going to be on social media. Social media has been part of my career, my life, my story. But it has served a purpose for me. Thank you for that, social media. I made it through the seven-day detox. I seriously had to use coping skills to deal with the urges to pick up my phone and surf through facebook. The first plan of coping skills that I used was to take five deep breaths every time I wanted to check Facebook. Instead of posting about talking to the Mayor of Cincinnati’s wife, which was super cool, I texted my friend and told her about it. When I decided to clean out my closet and declutter my living space, I really wanted to post about it. Instead, I texted my husband and told him “just call me Eminem, I’m cleaning out my closet”.
I’m communicating with my friends and my family more. I’m seeing which of my relationships are more valuable than others. That’s sad and enlightening all at the same time. I’m present, in the present. I’m experiencing life instead of watching it and posting about it. I’m a better wife. I’m a better mother. I’m a better friend. Most importantly, I’m a better me. I’m certainly not perfect. But I try to always be aware.
I encourage you to take a personal inventory of your everyday life. What are you doing in the moments when life is happening? Are you experiencing life or are you taking photos and documenting everything? Don’t get me wrong, photos are so important, especially when they are all we have left. But, put the damn phone down and live. Live in the moment. Be present, in the present. Talk with your family. Talk with your friends. Talk to the stranger in the check out line. Put your phone away and look at some trees, listen to the wind and breathe. In this world of instant technology, social media everything and the incessant need for “clicks”, be the pencil and the paper.
This isn’t my goodbye letter, though I’ve made the decision that I will not be returning to social media daily. You’ll see occasional posts about reflections or cool things going on. But my intent is to live life in the moment, for me, for my family. I’ve given so much of myself for a very long time. I hustled and worked hard to build my life up to where it is today. It’s time to stop rowing so hard and just enjoy the calm of the water. The peace and the beauty of what life in recovery is for me today.
Expect the book in 2019!!!