1) When you’re sober during a crisis, social media starts to look like a really bad, really desperate reality TV show (you know, the kind I love to watch).
As a society, we rely on booze like the comforting friend most of us are taught to look to in times of trouble, and social media is their highlight reel. Being sober in 2020 feels like peering into a whole news feed full of inside jokes you just don’t get anymore. Scrolling starts to feel like a voyeuristic maneuver to spy on a club you quit – a sorority you told your friends “wasn’t for you.” It’s like waking up and choosing to take the red pill over and over again, sometimes because you know it’s the better choice, and sometimes out of morbid curiosity. Maybe social media has always been like this – a big, long booze commercial starring nearly everyone – and I just didn’t notice before because I did my best to avoid scrolling. And before that, I was in on the joke.
Instead of feeling left out of the club, I feel good. I’m now an observer rather than a subject. I escaped a cycle that looks like fun, constantly reaching out with magnanimous hands offering relief and ease, but it fails every time. It’s a bully, a mean girl – after a night on the inside you somehow feel worse, until it comes around the next day promising to fix the problems it created. Get in bitch, we’re staying mildly cloudy at all times to avoid reality! This abusive cycle becomes particularly obvious when you’re no longer participating. Booze fixes problems just as well as Regina George values feminism (before she got hit by a bus and had an awakening).
I read an excerpt on social media that I screenshot about the differences between the underlying fears in George Orwell’s 1984 and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. After doing some basic research, I found the quote as part of a forward in a book called Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Showbusiness, by Neil Postman. I’ve never read it. It was written in 1985. I’m surprised no one in journalism school mentioned it.
“Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley’s vision, no big brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think… What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.”
It’s been years since I’ve read these books, and plan to reread them again soon. After becoming sober this analysis seemed to resonate with me and pair beautifully with my reality TV theory. At this point I believe booze and social media work concurrently to produce the results Huxley feared, because no one is forcing us to partake, we choose the numbness for ourselves, and it takes work to escape it. Now, my challenge seems to be more in the looking away from the booze-induced denial fest, but we’ll delve into that topic another day.
2) Your brain off alcohol and drugs is capable of some crazy shit; good luck sorting that out. AKA: Everything is now an existential lesson in living… yay.
Seriously. There has never been another time in my life where I have gone through a significant amount of life-altering experiences and been sober enough to observe how I feel and respond in that moment, and then remember enough to be able to reflect on it later. It’s unsettling how much introspection and time is lost to alcohol consumption. I go to weekly therapy, workout about five days a week, eat healthy food and take vitamins. I don’t even take an Advil unless the situation is dire. You’d think my brain would be clear, my memory vivid, and my understanding of reality better than when I was drinking or taking anti anxiety drugs. Well, in some ways it’s not, but my recognition of that fact is new.
This is probably confusing, so I’ll attempt to explain using a recent example. When I got the news that Humboldt County was issuing a stay at home order and my business would be mandated to close, I literally do not remember much of the next three months. I remember staying late to work on one last client, packing up my car with all my retail products, and driving home. After that, it goes blank, or at best, spotty, until I started working in person again on July 1st.
That shit is confusing as hell.
In the past I would’ve chalked that up to nightly alcohol consumption. No big deal; it happens to everyone. Things got blurry; life was stressful. I drank more to cope with my crushing new reality. Now I look back and am forced to reckon with something much more complex – I get to unpack what stress does to my brain, how I react and respond, and what implications that has on the rest of my life. Awesome. So while things get clearer, they become more confusing. Instead of wallowing, scrolling social media aimlessly and letting my business die, I did the exact opposite. I used 100% of my brain capacity (ask my husband, he could probably tell you what actually happened during my three month out of body experience) to grow my business during what continues to be the most challenging time for me as an entrepreneur. But I don’t remember three months of it.
I think the lesson I’m taking away from this realization is that we are complex beings in a complex universe who understand very little, but without booze I’m awake enough to really think about that.