I’ve been writing a lot about feeling lost. It’s a common theme for me. I grew up in a place I did not belong and think I’ve been trying to rectify that ever since. When you live in a small town that tends to share a singular ideology and identity, it can be quite jarring to a developing mind to be almost antithetical to the norm. I’m not the only one of course. There were a few of us and, thankfully, we did get out, but I believe we all were faced with two paths at that point: we would fiercely embrace our individualism and seek to protect it at all costs for the rest of our lives or we would forever be trying to fit our beautifully square bodies into round spaces. I’ve always been of the latter.
At the height of my drinking days, I spent 90% of my free time getting drunk in my apartment and on social media, namely Facebook, chatting with people who lived far away. Sometimes I would text, and sometimes those texts would be out of nowhere for the recipient and quickly devolve into an emotional unloading for which I am constantly, silently sorry about. But on social media, we can present whatever version of life we want, and so I did. I made my life in New York seem more interesting than it was. Made my relationships with people here appear more connected than they were. Expressed my world views in closely curated spaces. Took filtered selfies to appear more outwardly beautiful than I maybe was. Pretended to care about catching up with people I had known in previous lives, when really I was just madly lonely and this was my primary medium for connection. Real life in person connecting had become too hard for me. I was too clumsy, attached too quickly, too prone to say or do ridiculous things after a few rounds. It was easier to make believe a life.
I believe we are all faced with two paths at that point: fiercely embrace our individualism and seek to protect for the rest of our lives or forever try to fit our beautifully square bodies into round spaces.
Now that I’ve stopped spending all my free time perusing Facebook while shit faced, talking to folks who are unaware that I’ve become a complete disaster unto myself, I find that I still am, to a great extent, make believing a life. As a people, we are so plugged in to our little universes and bubbles.
Sociologists have done studies on the impact of social media on our lives and found consistently that we are all, to an extent, lying and exaggerating the bounty of our little worlds. It’s theater, and this show is making many of us sad, depressed, or left feeling inadequate. We’re all subconsciously competing to present our best selves and the bar is impossibly high. Hell, people are actually making small fortunes making believing lives on Instagram and SnapChat. We see them – the travel bloggers, the fitness models with perfect photos, the yogis, the aspiring (fill in the blank). They are living perfect, happy, meaningful lives. We see their beautifully, faux candid shots against surreal backdrops with platitudes and hashtags. We see their perfect bodies and tips to get fit. We think, “My god, I want that too!” We start to mimic these accounts. Pretend it’s our life too. We take 10, 20, even 50 selfies until we get the just right angle. We filter it. And then we proclaim that we are #blessed, living an #authentic experience. We are free to appear whole in these pictures and we await the affirming likes and comments.
The worst kept secret in the world right now is that all of those people making thousands of dollars to pose with products or from exotic locations are often working 16-17 hour days to keep up the facade. They’re taking and retaking hundreds of photos to get the “just right one” that appears to have been taken in a perfectly coiffed, unguarded moment. And whereas plenty of these people may be perfectly happy and living their dreams (I suspect a lot of them are and I’m genuinely glad for them), there are many, many more who are expelling precious energy trying to keep up and look the part.
When I started down this journey towards sobriety a couple years ago when I first attempted a long stretch of no drinking, I did it because I felt as if my internal compass was broken. I didn’t know what I was meant to be doing. I understood that it wasn’t what I was currently doing. I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore. I wanted to be engaged with something more meaningful and creative, though I struggled to narrow down the specifics. I’ve started and stopped a handful of blogs and other creative projects. I’ve always been a writer, even when I wasn’t, and my aimless personal wandering has always ended in some sort of writing endeavor. I’ve consistently failed or quit at these for a variety of reasons, but the biggest one I think centers around this drive to imitate others before me and losing any trace of authenticity (not the hashtagged kind) in the process. I don’t know who I am among all this noise, but I know that it matters to me to be SOMEBODY in these spaces, and I always end up drowning in the pursuit.
Why does it matter so much? I know, but I don’t. It likely boils down to feeling like I’ve never quite belonged in any space in a way that I was able to find meaningful or fulfilling. I’ve always been plagued by a sense of wanting or absence. Social media is the perfect platform for such lacking to play out. I am not alone there in the effort. Many of us are here for some sort of validation, even those who claim otherwise. We need the audience, the follows, the likes, the encouragement. We need to get our brand and our work to the masses and have it stand out in an increasingly crowded space. We’re all hustling. And it always, in the end, feels empty to me.
I did it because I felt as if my internal compass was broken. I didn’t know what I was meant to be doing.
Now what I am not suggesting is that creative pursuits that require or utilize social media are all false or empty things. They are not. The problem is me. Though it is cliche, the truth is that all of these endeavors are going to continue to feel immensely empty and unsuccessful to me so long as I’m being directed, redirected, and guided by what I see others doing around me. It’s the classic conundrum of keeping up with Joneses. As soon it matters if my work is well received or noticed, it begins to flatten. Creativity doesn’t flow as strongly. I start to experience blocks. The writing starts to look the same. People stop reading. Eventually, I will succumb to frustration and quit.
A lot of us start these side projects, sparked by a wave of creativity or innovation. It is magic. Your senses are heightened, ideas flow, people respond well, and it feels good. A bit of your soul gets nourished in the process. You have a vision (or maybe you don’t) of where you want it to go and so you dive in, and it’s beautiful. So then why does it collapse so often for so many people? Why the fizzle? Why do most blogs cave within 90 days?
There are a few practical reasons, namely an overly saturated marketplace with well-established folks already in place all vying for the same audience. But I think also that once the initial magic fades away and the day-to-day reality sets in, it becomes harder to maintain the enthusiasm. We want things more immediately than they come. We feel stagnant. We aren’t getting the traffic like the other guys. People don’t seem as excited about it as before. You’re looking around at what everyone else is doing and you’re not there yet and you don’t know how to get there, so you falter a little, you stop feeding the project, and it goes to wayside or starts to make you miserable. What’s really missing here?
Me. You. That’s what’s missing here.
What are these projects for? If it’s fulfillment, that can’t be predicated on the market or audience. What a silly thing to say, right? Of course it matters if you want it to be your bread and butter! But that can’t be what drives you. If creating or traveling or staying fit doesn’t feed your soul in the absence of all other things, it will not feed your bank account. If we’re driven by ego and not passion, we will find many dead ends.
I used to love to write. I started writing books when I was four years old. I had a riveting series about a friendship/love story (it tended to change) between a penguin and carrot. In school, if I was bored, I would scribble poems and ideas into my notebook. By the time I reached middle school, I slept with a notebook by my bed in case inspiration hit me. I needed to write like I needed to breathe air. It was feeding me.
Fast forward to college and thus begins the era of doubt and pressure to do real jobs and be a serious adult. Now you’re thrust into an environment where other brilliant writers, some definitively better than you, share your spaces and now you’re intimidated. Your core isn’t strong enough. The passion starts to subside. You’re not writing as much as you used to. Now you’re worried about dating drama and friends and what your major is going to be. You choose something that no longer feeds you. You wander a little aimlessly through life from there on until you’re in your early to mid thirties and now the whole world is accessible online. You’re still walking around, starved, trying to fill that hole again and it isn’t working. Eventually I filled it with booze. Once I quit drinking, I tried to fill it with a blog and a need for recognition that I wasn’t a mess. That I was worthy of being liked. That I was interesting.
If creating or traveling or staying fit doesn’t feed your soul in the absence of all other things, it will not feed your bank account. If we’re driven by ego and not passion, we will find many dead ends.
I have about two more months (unless there’s a surprise) before my daughter gets here. That doesn’t leave me with a ton of time for soul searching, not that I am so silly as to believe there’s an expedited process for these things that cares at all about convenience or timing for my life. I do know that if I want to be a good mother and a happy, whole person, I have to do some deep reflection on what it is I want and what drives me. What makes me want to pop out of bed in the morning? And I have to do that without the distraction of what everybody else is doing constantly influencing my thought process, making me second guess or filter myself.
For me, that process is going to involve a lot more meditation (because that’s just how I get down), reading, reflecting, and writing – though not necessarily for publishing. More importantly, it involves a bit of stepping back away from the digital landscape. I know as a creative that I will need to re-enter that world, but I want to do so with a clearer head and a stronger commitment to my own self-fulfillment separate from likes or followers or traffic.
I don’t know what that means for my website. I’m not sure if I will publish or not. I don’t know if I will pop on to my Soberish social media to say hello and crack jokes with folks (which I love to do). I don’t know what this process will look like, but I do know that I am not abandoning the Soberish website or project. It’s just a little time out for soul searching, and I don’t know yet how much of that I will share as I try to work through some things and get ready for my daughter.
I may engage a little less over the next couple of months, but I am still very much available via e-mail for contact. I hope to revisit the project with a clearer head and a better equipped to help others who might be experiencing similar roadblocks in their own life and sobriety.