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BLACK LIVES MATTER

CONFRONTING SOCIAL MEDIA ADDICTION ONE DAY AT AT TIME

Blue Sky Head

On Christmas Day, I deleted the two social media apps I use (Facebook & Instagram) and committed to a 30-day detox. Days 1-11 were surprisingly easy. Days 12-17 have been extremely challenging…hence this blog post. I contemplated breaking my fast for a good ten minutes before deciding to write about it instead.

I determined to fast from social media because I had been feeling a growing dread and dissatisfaction for quite some time. I am wired to crave deep, intimate relationships. I also seek relentlessly for external validation even though I hate that about myself. It doesn’t help that I’ve been an actor for most of my life and am accustomed to gauging the response to whatever I put out there. But I am weary of this grind and have started asking the question, “What for?” Why am I looking for meaning where it can’t be found? Why am I streaming the minutia of my life in exchange for a momentary reprieve of boredom/restlessness/sadness? And why do I expect other people to care?

There are many alarming consequences to the invention and implementation of social media. For me, the worst has been the disintegration of “real life” communication and relationship building. I love having one way to keep in touch with friends from the various times and places in my life, but I profoundly miss telephone conversations, letters and in-person visits. I hate the feeling of sharing something vulnerable and being met with an emoji instead of a personal check-in. I’m certain that social media has greatly exacerbated my already difficult battles with isolation, loneliness and depression. And it’s telling that, with the people I’m closest to, we never rely on social media to communicate.

Right around the time I deleted my apps, I discovered Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism. I am drawn to minimalism as a lifestyle, anyway, and he makes an urgent and manifold argument for the need to take back our lives from screens. He expands on the idea that through social media we connect on (usually) the most superficial level, which has displaced the kind of true communication human beings need to thrive. He also delves into the tremendous loss of time, energy, creativity, accomplishment, autonomy, freedom and well-being that is a consequence of social media use. While many of us won’t want to leave social media completely, it’s imperative to start consciously using this tool in ways that serve us, instead of serving ourselves up to a technology that takes so much more than it gives.

What I’ve gained so far…

  • I felt an immediate and extraordinary weight lifted because my energy was no longer getting sucked into a vortex of political outrage, glossy posturing, endless complaining or mindless chatter.
  • I feel more in touch with my own heart and mind. I am creating meaningful moments and movement in my life without needing to document it for outside validation.
  • The forced stillness and inability to check out has helped me to confront the triggers that normally send me into addictive behavior.
  • Boredom can be good for the soul. Something interesting usually arises if you sit with it long enough.
  • I am thinking about how to reincorporate social media back into my life. What will I use it for? What’s worth sharing? How can I engage with it intentionally?
  • I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing with my life, but I feel closer to finding my purpose than I did when I was distracting myself all the time.
  • I feel calmer as I finish this post than I did when I started it. Even if no one reads it—because I won’t be sharing it on social media—I have created something concrete, and that feels a million times better than surfing Facebook to fill a void.

THE ART OF LETTING GO

Wedding

Today I finally let go of a burden I’ve been carrying around with me for 17 years…my wedding gown, and everything it represented. I always thought I’d be married in white but my best friend worked in a bridal boutique. By then I was living in Boston but I flew back to Indiana and she took me into the shop when it was closed so I could try on gowns she’d set aside. The one she thought was meant for me was indeed the one I fell in love with–a shimmering, beaded, periwinkle blue. Tradition was still so important to me at the time that I struggled to give desire a place over expectation. But we called in my friend’s husband and he agreed–the blue gown was the one.

There were multiple somber notes beneath my wedding ceremony: the knowledge that my husband was newly diagnosed with Bipolar disorder and resisting a cocktail of meds that made him comatose and disinterested in me or anything else; the time that I postponed marriage until he was willing to seek medical attention–something he didn’t want to do–and he confiscated my engagement ring in a rage; his fights with his overbearing mother that my family tried to shield me from on the day; the hints of hesitation from people who loved me; the fact that when I asked my husband for a chair during our reception–because I couldn’t wrangle one in my gown–he impatiently replied, “In a minute” and dashed off to talk to someone, leaving one of my friends to help me instead as I flushed with humiliation.

I stayed married years longer than I should have. I held on to my husband’s letters and mementos even longer. When I finally made the big move from California back to Massachusetts, I looked through all of those keepsakes and realized that nearly every single card and letter from him contained an apology for something hurtful he had said or done. I cried for the first time in many years, knowing I would no longer keep them. I didn’t even miss him anymore but the grief was still there. The gown stuck around even longer, mostly in a closet or basement where my parents lived. Even though I knew I wouldn’t have children, there was a vague idea in my mind that the gown would go to someone special, or that it was too beautiful not to commemorate in some way.

At last, when I knew I was settling back in Massachusetts for good, I was ready to say goodbye to the gown. I tried selling it, I thought about dropping it off at a thrift store, but it still took a couple more years for it go. Then, recently, my mom discovered a local charity that accepts wedding gown donations. They take apart the gowns and re-purpose them to make burial gowns for infants who have passed away, for the families who need something beautiful to dress their sweet babies in. At once, I knew this was the place for my gown.

Last night, I took out my gown for one last look. I tried it on, ran my hands over the fabric, and thought about what that day, that marriage, that man, had meant to me. I cried from a lingering grief, which I honestly didn’t expect. The person I was when I wore that gown seems like an entirely different woman–a girl, really–from an entirely different life. While I truly wish the best for my ex-husband, I haven’t seen or spoken to him in many years, and I don’t miss him. It’s hard to imagine ever having been in that relationship but it was my first real, glorious, love and it contained oceans of passion. I also said a prayer over the gown, that it might provide one small drop of comfort or peace to a family facing the worst day of their lives.

It’s always been so very hard for me to let go but this was the year that taught me how to do it. In place of all of my history, experience, loss, regret, mistakes, growth, and–yes–love, is just…space. Having lost nearly everything this year, I don’t know what shape my life is going to take next but I have nothing but hope. A college friend recently posted that he had found “deep and abiding” love; that it had taken him 44 years but that it was worth the wait. I turned 44 last week and his post made me smile; maybe abiding love will find me yet.

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