I didn’t give the name of this blog much thought the day I sat down to write for the first time. I was sad, I needed an outlet, and I had just come to finally admitting – and I mean really admitting-admitting – that I was an alcoholic. I just needed a place to write and get it all out somewhere that I could look back on one day.
To remind myself of where I never wanted to go back to.
We’ll overlook the fact that I did indeed go back there eventually, because right now – what matters is that I’m here right now. 15 months of stumbling and struggling and scribbling and typing later, the name Life In Detox is apparently coming along for the ride. At the time, it’s how I referred to the idea of going to rehab, hung up on the words that dropped like atomic bombs from my doctor’s mouth: You can’t do this on your own; you need a medically supervised detox. Because, well, seizures and dying and shit.
It’s only been recently (the past few days) that I’ve really come to understand what I mean/meant by Life In Detox.
Because it’s so very much more than simply not drinking. It’s so very much more than getting the poison out of my bloodstream. It’s so very much more than not stopping at the liquor store every day no matter how hard my truck wants to turn into the parking lot out of habit. And, it’s so very much more than meetings and secretive online groups or following 10,000 sober torch bearers walking the Recovered Path before me.
My life fell apart because of alcohol. Not the other way around.
My drinking didn’t get to the point of award winning addiction because my life was crumbling or my marriage was failing or my business was floundering.
My life was crumbling and my marriage was failing and my business was floundering because of my drinking. This is a truth I’ve spent a long time wrapping my head around, because we are force fed the idea that alcohol is the thing you need when all these things are falling apart. That it’s the cure for all our ailments.
It isn’t. It never was, and it never ever will be. It’s the cause of our ailments.
Alcohol is just one of the bigger, meaner piranhas in the pond.
I’ve been trying to swim, but it’s crowded. The pond is full of hungry fish nipping at my toes, and it’s overpopulated with distractions to keep me from reaching the other side. It’s polluted with things that hold me back and pull me down, filled with all sorts of fish intended just to keep me in place. To keep me from swimming.
My at-arms-reach-at-all-times iPhone. Social Media. Facebook. Emails. Instagram. Notifications. The news. The fake news. My laptop, my iMac. Click-bait and data-gathering games designed to sell me more of what they think I want; to sell me more of what they tell me I want. Negative thoughts and false beliefs, sales flyers and billboards, shinier cars and new and improved everythings. Future yard sale items disguised as present day solutions. Booze-infused marketing and Mommy Juice memes designed to convince me that I’m part of the majority, and as the majority, this is what we do.
We drink to celebrate, and we drink to mourn. We drink when it’s time to cope and we drink when it’s time to dance. We drink when times are tough – and we drink to relish in the times when they aren’t.
We drink to make all the other piranha bites hurt a little bit less.
And the piranhas are everywhere.
The longer I’m sober, the more sensitive I’m becoming to quite literally everything. I mean, if someone is breathing too heavily 3 blocks away, I need to find some zen immediately or a sock to shove down their throat (not the most zen solution, I’ll admit). I’ve been getting very overwhelmed (understatement) by social media and the non-stop notifications on all the devices I’m glued to all day. Half the time I’m just scrolling while not even looking or reading. We wait on our devices for the next notification to pop up. I learned yesterday that all these notifications, all those little red dots on your screen that tell you that something is waiting for you – they all release dopamine.
And if you know anything about addiction…you know what dopamine can do:
“Dopamine is released after exercise, sex, anticipation of rewards, and when that reward is achieved. The anticipation of the reward is what actually triggers the good feeling that dopamine produces in your brain, and you get another pleasure hit when you successfully achieve the goal. Furthermore, dopamine is a learning chemical, which results in addiction. It tells us what the source of the pleasure is, and then tells us that is how we will get pleasure in the future. Social media is a dopamine ‘jackpot’, says Delgado associate professor of psychology.” (Via Quora by , Psychotherapist, Researcher)
Hello Pavlov, meet dog.
I spent the last 20 years chasing rewards at the bottom of bottle after bottle (that were never even once remotely rewarding), and how many more years just trying to unlearn the dopamine trigger bell so I could once and for all stop salivating for wine everytime a tough time (ding!) or a little stress (ding!) or a party (ding!) or 11am (ding!) or a disappointment (ding! ding! ding!) would ring my bell. This has been one of the biggest piranha’s I’ve needed to catch, and though he’s still in my pond, he’s contained.
He can’t bite me if I keep him caged.
Alcohol has been the big fish I needed to quarantine in my pond, so I get to all the other ones. It’s the first and biggest step towards a greater detox. Towards a life where I’m swimming without constantly getting nipped. And my next big fish, I’m discovering, is even more insidious than booze.
It’s the global, all-encompassing blanket we are all neatly tucked beneath in the hopes that we’ll all fall asleep: social media. It’s with my bright white and freshly sober eyes I can finally see how it’s taking as much or more from me as alcohol ever did.
Yesterday I sat myself down to make 3 very honest lists. One list was for what I want my life to be, one for what I actually do every day, and one for what I will begin doing & the lifestyle adjustments that I need to make. Nearly every row of “what I actually do every day” included waste time on social media, and reduce or remove social media showed up as “what I need to start doing” if I want to realize my life how I want it to be.
I discovered that for the most part, what I’m doing every day in no way aligns with what I want my life to be like.
Nothing aligns, because I’m sitting here salivating all day waiting for the damned bell to ring. Waiting for my reward to get tossed my way like a bone I’ve dreamt about all day, and I’m starving. Waiting for something to fill that “reward void” that getting rid of alcohol left gaping and hollow. Waiting for my life to come to me, instead of walking towards it.
Social media can be a wonderful thing if used correctly. But as an addict, I’ll be first to raise my hand and confess that moderation isn’t at the top of my resumé. Without social media, however, I wouldn’t be sitting here in recovery without a hangover, and able to type these words. It’s been through social media that I’ve found support, encouragement, inspiration and motivation. But like all things I dip my toes in, I end up canon-balling and make a splash by going all in. I so badly want to turn my all-or-nothing approach to everything into more of an okay-maybe-a-little-bit-of-something approach.
A taste, instead of always gorging on whatever is in front of me and wanting more.
So I’ve turned off all the notifications. I’ve put all my devices into “Do Not Disturb” for 23:59 hours a day (seriously, my DND is set from 6am until 5:59am the next day). I’ve changed my email to only fetch messages when I ask it to, instead of them being pushed to me instantly. I’ve turned all the little red badges on my app icons off so they aren’t yelling at me for attention, to stop what I’m doing and distract myself with someone else’s marketing or need to be noticed. I’ve started asking myself “Why” every time I reach for my phone, or open a new tab in my browser. Most of the time, I become aware that it was only to distract myself from whatever I was doing, or to go looking for “rewards”. I’ve given myself an allowance for social media of 15 minutes in the morning, and again, 15 minutes at night.
You know, just so people don’t think I died or something.
I’m identifying the apps and sites I waste the most time on, and seeking out real life alternatives.
I’m learning that my Life In Detox is exactly that: detoxing my life, not only my bloodstream. It’s coming to be aware of what I truly want my life to be like, and removing all the toxins that are keeping me from it. I’m learning to become conscious of what I’m doing, and whether it aligns with what I truly want, after all.
Most of the time, it doesn’t. But I’m working on it.
I wanted to get rid of alcohol, because my life was as far as possible from what I wanted it to be like. And yet, here I am, still struggling, because what I’m doing every day in no way aligns with where I want to go. I want to walk east, but I’m facing west. I want to find peace, but I’m absorbed in noise. I want my days to be on my terms, but I’m allowing everything and everyone else to shape them. I want to focus, but I’m dropping everything at the ding of that bell. I want to be mindful, but it’s so cluttered with distractions demanding my attention.
The assumed demand that we need to shift our attention from ourselves and our present moment to whatever is incoming is a toxin as horrible and as crippling as alcohol. Is steals you away from being present, which is the only place where your life actually happens. It doesn’t happen in an app, or in the comments section of a thread on Facebook. It doesn’t happen in your likes on Instagram or your upvotes on Quora.
It’s happening right now, while you are reading this. This is what you’re giving your attention to. This moment right now is your life.
I am starting to only give certain things my attention when I choose to. To say no, before I say yes. To respect my own privacy by stopping the incessant tapping on my shoulder for attention from iMessage or Facebook or any number of other sources that only keep taking and taking, under the guise of giving.
You know, exactly like alcohol used to.
I’m being selective of what I’m allowing in, and when.
I’m digitally detoxing my life, so that I can have one.
I want to find my dopamine in the trees and in the pages of books. I want my rewards to come from a place of my own creation, and a place from within myself – not the other way around. I want to start asking myself “why” more often, like every time I reach for my phone, or find myself whisked away by reward hooks outside of myself. Why? Why am I doing what I’m doing? And what is it I actually do want in my life, that I’m letting this help me avoid working towards?
It’s a tricky one, digitally detoxing yourself. It’s another addiction that’s just as detrimental and sneaky as alcohol, and one that leaves you feeling just as depleted.
This is my life in detox.
One cunning poison at a time.