For as long as I’ve been writing about my life on the internet (so…14 years, holy crap) I’ve taken intermittent “digital sabbaticals.” I’ve written about them here in the past, with the main objective being taking a break from blogging and focusing more on my day-to-day life. That time has come again, my friends, but it’s different this time around. In fact, I have no idea how many of you will actually even see this post, since I won’t be promoting it on Instagram or Twitter or my personal Facebook. That’s right…I’m taking an extended social media break.
Why social media instead of a “digital sabbatical?” Well, it’s complicated. Except it’s not. The world has changed and while in the past I spent much of my computer and online time perusing and commenting on blogs, these days I find myself scroll, scroll, scrolling on the various social media apps. Most of this social media interaction happens on my phone, meaning it’s within my reach at almost all times of the day and night. This is a disaster for someone who likes to escape from reality…ME!
In the last few years, I’ve found my social media habit increasing as my other poor coping habits were cut out of my life. Don’t get me wrong, quitting alcohol, working toward eating healthy, and exercising are all awesome life changes that I’m really proud of. However, when I need to rest my brain or check out for a bit, my options have become a bit limited. Enter social media.
I’ve felt the need for a break for a while, but in the last few months, it’s really gotten loud out there and my brain was on overload. However, I always found reasons to stay online. I’m a small business owner, and my income depends on me getting the word out about what I’m creating. I’m involved in advocacy, and most of our events and actions have to be shared online. How could I continue to do these things that mean so much to me if I wasn’t posting on social media? I assumed it would be impossible.
In May, there was an incident where I found my social media interaction leading to physical and mental strain. I wasn’t sleeping, my anxiety was through the roof, and while on the surface I handled the situation fairly well, underneath I was exhausted. I knew this was the final sign that I needed a break.
I started with wide perimeters, but quickly realized if I had any access to my social media feeds on my phone, I’d end up scrolling without even knowing how I got there. In the end, I deleted all the social media apps from my phone and posted a social media break message on Twitter, Instagram, and my personal Facebook page. I then deactivated my Facebook account. I am still managing my Twitter and Instagram for August Light Studio and Education First Shawnee Mission, and have kept all of my Facebook business pages up and running, including the page for this blog. Facebook pages don’t require you to scroll through a newsfeed, so I figured I was safe keeping those active.
It’s been about a month, and I’ve found my anxiety has dissipated immensely. I take photos of my kids and upload them to a shared family drive so my close family members can still see them at baseball or camp, without sharing them with everyone on the internet. I have gotten between seven and nine hours of sleep per night. I’ve still been able to do my advocacy work, attending meetings, forums and even hosting a tabling even at a farmer’s market. I have read five books and listened to a ton of amazing podcasts. I talk to my friends daily using the phone (what a notion!) and my Voxer app. I finished my family photo book from last year that’s been sitting on my desktop for six months. I applied for a speaking engagement that’s been on my wish list for ages. I watched the first season of Schitt’s Creek.
But most of all, my focus has shifted in such a positive way, I feel it affecting everything I do. Originally my plan was to be off social media for a month, but a month has passed and I still have no desire to go back. So for now, I’m staying dark on social media, in order to stand in the light in real life. It’s a good trade.
First of all, how is this real life? You’re twelve. TWELVE! That is so many years of being alive in the world, it absolutely blows my mind. These letters are always filled with cliched sayings about time going by too fast, so I’ll try to keep that to a minimum…but TWELVE. Holy crap.
You might notice when checking out links above to your past birthday letters, there isn’t a letter for your eleventh birthday. Well, I have no idea how that happened. Let’s blame the insanity of last year (Trump becoming president, me jumping both feet into advocacy again, starting my new studio) for that oversight. To summarize, eleven was a great year for you, but it was when we started to see inklings of future Lucy, which have come out full force in your twelfth year. To put it plainly…you’re a tween. It has happened.
Tween is a term that I abhorred until I had a kid in this stage, because it’s exactly as it’s cringe-worthy name suggests. It’s in between. You’re not yet a teenager, but often you think you are and sometimes act accordingly (the begging for social media and slamming doors come to mind). However, you’re still a kid too. You still come crawling into our bed when there is a loud thunderstorm and need lots of hugs when you’re struggling. This flipping back and forth between kid and teen is EXHAUSTING for me, so I can’t imagine how confusing it must be for you. Oh wait, I once was tween myself, so I can imagine it and now I’m wishing I couldn’t because I’m even more exhausted!
However, even with all these changes happening in your brain and body, you’re still my Lulu. It’s been really incredible to watch you grow into the young women you are becoming. You’re a kind and loyal friend, a loving big sister (most of the time), and a helpful neighbor. You’ve found your love for performing in choir, ice skating and theater, and I’m excited to see how that evolves as you start middle school in the fall. You graduated elementary school with honors and worked through tough situations where you didn’t always agree with teachers or other adults in your life. You started questioning things more and more, and you will no longer take “because I said so” as a valid response to a question. You will push and argue your point, which can annoy me to no end when I just want to move on, but I know will serve you well as you continue to grow up.
As for growing up, you have a love/hate relationship with the concept. You often talk about missing being a little girl, but you also love having the freedom that being a bit older gives you. This will be a constant battle for the next few years I’m sure…wanting to have privileges of being older, but not necessarily loving the responsibilities that come along with them. I get it. We all have been there. It’s a struggle we all have to go through, and unfortunately, you can’t just skip over it. The lessons you will learn in the next few years won’t always be easy, but they will shape you as a person. I know that’s not what you want to hear today (I can picture you rolling your eyes at this very moment), but it’s true.
I love you, my sweet Lulu. Thank you, as always, for making me a mom and for teaching me every day. Parenting isn’t an easy gig, but having you as my firstborn has been a gift. I can’t wait to see what this year brings.
Today I woke up with five years of sobriety. Five years is a long time, and yet, in reality, it’s a blip. All I have to do is look at photos of my kids from five years ago to see how long it has been since I had my last drink of alcohol. Tate was only two-years-old, thumb in his mouth, still putting together sentences and not yet potty trained. Lucy was a first grader with two loose front teeth and she didn’t have her glasses yet. Today they are seven and eleven, and the years have gone by faster than I can imagine.
I woke up today waiting for what to say, what to write, how to express how incredibly significant this milestone is to me. But honestly, the words didn’t really come. I always forget how these anniversaries sneak up on me, the emotional and mental weight baring down until I have a moment of clarity and remember “ah yes, this is how I always feel on my sobriety birthday.” I tend to need solitude, space and rest. Days like today are where my introversion really shines. I crave my bed and the comfort of myself. Sometimes I wonder if this is healthy, this need to be alone, but today I realize it’s what refuels me to go out into the world that isn’t always the easiest for those of us who struggle with living life on life’s terms.
Five years ago I was miserable. I’ve written about that day quite a few times (here and here for example), so I don’t really want to rehash it all again. I think I’ve reached the point in this recovery journey where my focus is more on what is better now, as opposed to what was awful before. I know for a fact that the last few years would have never happened if I hadn’t found recovery. I was so lost, so alone and so utterly self-conscious about the state of my life, there is no way I would have taken the risks that have gotten me to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t be working in advocacy again. I definitely wouldn’t be able to be there for my kids in the way I’m able now. I surely wouldn’t have a marriage at all.
In the last five years my life has exponentially grown to a point where sometimes I look around me and simply cannot believe it’s real. My life used to be very small. Now my life is bursting at the seams. Sometimes I look at my calendar and have a slight panic attack over how full it is. But then I remind myself that my life is full because I choose to fill it with beauty and love and goodness. I choose to work for myself, building a business I love. I choose to be involved in my kids’ school and activities. I choose to work on my marriage and my relationship. I choose to spend time with friends and family. I choose to fight for causes I believe in. I choose to be a human who participates in the world around me. That wasn’t always the case.
I am imperfect, and I still mess up all the time. My life didn’t magically become a fairy tale just because I stopped drinking. But it definitely stopped being a nightmare. I rarely feel regret these days, which is a gift I never knew I needed. Living my life as an honest person is challenging, but it sure beats pretending to be someone I’m not. I don’t have it all figured out. I guess I thought I would by this point, but now I realize no one really knows what they are doing. We are all just apes, flying through space on a tiny planet that feels massive to us. We are all making it up as we go along, and not just those of us who happen to struggle with drinking or shopping or drugs or [insert coping mechanism of choice here].
So, what do I have to say about five years? It’s wonderful. If you are new to the journey, I’m sure five years feels like a lifetime. And it is…but it’s also just a few revolutions around the sun. A glorious blip. And when I think of the last five years, I don’t think of “not drinking.” I think of all the things I got to do. I remember all the moments I didn’t miss. I see my daughter’s first ice skating recital and my son’s first school play. I think of the time I picked up the keys to my very first studio or the art show that was packed with a line out the door. I remember marching in Washington D.C., lobbying on Capitol Hill and testifying at the Kansas statehouse. I see several trips away with my husband, and hours in counseling, re-learning how to be a partner. I remember sharing my story with teenagers in a drug treatment center and getting emails from friends and strangers saying “me too” or “I need help.”
I get all of those memories because five years ago today I woke up sober and every day since I’ve done the same. What a gift.
All of the images in this post except for the one of the kids were taken by Kymberly Janelle. Thank you, my friend, for capturing me at this stage of my recovery. It’s so appreciated and I’m forever grateful.
If you want to learn more about my story of recovery, I suggest listening to a few interviews I’ve done on the subject here and here and here. And if you are worried about your own drinking or someone you know needs help, please reach out. You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. No judgment. Just love.