She Bets Her Life

A writer and former compulsive gambler reflects on women and addiction.

Life After Facebook 2: the jitters, friendship and a white poppy with a cobalt heart

What is the price of disconnection? From Facebook, from life.

You can't really know the poppy by its photo - how the blossom holds the last of sunset, how the pollen is silky on your finger. You have walked along the shining river.  You are tired and a little lonely.  When you discover the poppy glowing against its dark leaves, you stop.  A man walks by with his dog.  "Gorgeous time to walk," he says. The smoke from his cigarette drifts back.

I had breathed deep and imagined writing this post.  Life After Facebook.  All of it: the loneliness, the poppy, the sweetness in the stranger's voice, the harsh scent of his smoke - life after Facebook.  I wondered what Facebook life is for you and for you; how it is for you readers who are addicts and those of you who are not.

I took myself off Facebook because my daughter had been exploring the privacy violations she and so many others found outrageous.  But there was more.  I can't think of a time in history when it has not been dangerous for one institution to hold huge amounts of information about so many.  Consolidation of data is consolidation of power.  While Facebook's worst transgression may be in selling our passions, tastes and predilections to businesses, there is no guarantee that entities with more sinister agendas than the draining of our pocketbooks can't find a way to know that you believe in goddesses or are going on vacation in a week or don't wear an American flag pin.  Twitter and the IPad have been hacked more than once - not just personal, but government accounts.  Why not Facebook?

And there was my growing compulsion to check FB at too many moments of discomfort - when the last paragraph of the new book proposal wouldn't fall into place, when there was nothing intriguing in my email or on my cell, when I was bored by a life most people would find rich and fulfilling.  I'd found myself having to force myself to go out to walk along the river - when connection with light and rock and water is my lifeline.  It would take a while to come out of cyberworld back into my body. I'd find myself standing on the old wooden bridge over the Deschutes watching geese arrow overhead, and I'd know what I needed. But, by the end of an hour, I'd be eager to check FB to see whether there'd been a post from The One or photos of a friend hiking in the desert or something, anything to cut the loneliness.

I went off Facebook the first week of June.  I'd been on for a few months.  The first day was predictable.  I felt jittery - with only gmail and yahoo to check.  I was bored.  There didn't seem to be much to look forward to. I'm an addict.  I know withdrawal. It was the same old same old junkie one-person tango.

I worried about no longer having FB as a place to let people know about my Psychology Today posts, about book signings and readings, about teaching writing.  It had become clear to me that most of the marketing a writer has to do these days is on the internet.  Even in that, my addict brain kicks in:  I see my books mentioned and I get high; days go by without a review or recommendation and I crash.  If you are an addict or alcoholic, a codependent or compulsive care-taker, you might understand.

And there were deeper losses.  I'm a single woman.  Both my parents are dead, my biological family is spread out over the globe.  I learned long ago to make friends my family.  So I miss the few moments of genuine contact with perhaps two dozen real friends among the 600 "friends" I had amassed (at the request of my publishers' marketing people).  I'd given my emails to about 50 "friends" and said I wanted to stay in touch.  I've heard from none of them.  The people with whom I have long-standing connections stay in touch - though often with less frequency.  So I reach out - and face that despite my reclusive nature, I will have to continue to make new 3-dimensional friends and deepen the new friendships I've made here in Bend. If you are a recovering addict, you might know what that requires:  moving through fear, taking risks and reminding yourself that no contact may feel as glorious as using once did.  

Despite the losses, I find life after Facebook to be rich.  There are the real jitters, the real friendships, the real white poppy with a cobalt heart - and there is the authenticity of knowing I no longer participate in a phenomenon about which I have grave reservations.  A listener once wrote me about one of my NPR commentaries:  Thank you for living your values.  I'm not quite ready to live mine.  I'd resisted writing back to her that if she didn't live her values, they weren't her values.  I resisted because I could sense the sadness in her message - and because I knew she gave me too much credit.  In life after Facebook, a value that I'd betrayed is again mine.    

 

 

Mary Sojourner, M.A., is the author of She Bets Her Life: A True Story of Gambling Addiction (Seal Press/ April 2010) and Going Through Ghosts (U.Nevada Press, 2010).

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