Addictions: How I Got Off The Internet, Kind of, and So Can You!

My name is Ally Auriemma and I am addicted to my phone. I’m in active recovery, but I’m still trying to figure out this new relationship with a piece of technology that has taken over my life.

Last year, when ESPN did the Geno Project, there was a cute moment where my Dad suddenly picked his phone up and waved it in front of the camera. “These stupid things,” he said, “are the ruin of civilization.” He’s not wrong.

I didn’t get a phone with texting capabilities until I was 23, which sounds insane now, considering so many people give their toddlers iPad Minis, but keep in mind this was 2008 when things were simpler and Lady GaGa hadn’t worn her meat dress yet. At the time, I had no use for texting or even for a phone with Internet access. I was perfectly fine with my Motorola Razr, in beautiful silver and blue, with Kenny Chesney’s “Summertime” as my ringtone. It did what I needed it to do – when my Mom called, it rang, and when I picked up, I could hear her. Really, when you’re 23 years old and a relentless introvert, the only person calling you is your mom. Plus, this was the point in time when every number on your phone corresponded to like ten letters, so you had to hold your thumb down until it reached the precise letter you were trying to use. I had zero patience for that. Instead of texting my way through college, I was writing fan fiction in which I used Liv Tyler as an avatar for an original vampire character who fought werewolves. (I’ll get into THAT in a later post.)

I also made fun of people who were addicted their phones. Friends of mine who had Blackberries (or as we called them, “Crackberries”) swore by how it made text messaging so fun and easy, and also the INTERNET was on the PHONE! This is also a good time to tell you that at this point in time, I did not have Twitter, and Instagram wasn’t a thing yet. I was taking pictures with my giant Canon camera, not my cell phone. I spent most of my free time reading, writing, and IMing people. But what’s interesting is I’ve started to pick up the patterns of what I did during the days of AIM and Trillian in my modern texting self – I used to wait for people to come online so I could talk to them. I was like that girl in Takashi Miike’s Audition staring at her phone until it rang. I just didn’t have the freaky dismembered guy in the burlap sack.

Then, I got a Blackberry for my 23rd birthday after my Motorola Razr shit the bed. I had dropped it one too many times and Kenny Chesney started to sound like he was singing through a didgeridoo. The minute I popped that Blackberry Pearl out of its case and beheld its sleek, red packaging and easy to use keyboard, I was a goner. I’ve never done drugs, but I’m pretty sure I got high off that phone.

I immediately texted my friend Dave. Dude, I got a Blackberry. I’m so screwed.

LOL, he wrote back. Yes, you are!

My addiction started off simple – again, this was pre-Twitter, so I wasn’t necessarily using my phone for anything obsessive. I just loved the novelty of having the Internet in my pocket, and sometimes even music on Pandora! And of course, keeping in touch with my friends was the biggest part of the whole thing. After college, several of my close friends moved away, so there weren’t a lot of people living near me. Texting became my way of staying close when everyone got busy.

That first Blackberry stayed with me the entire time I lived in New York, and it was the phone I used to text my friends to tell them I was coming back home. I ended up losing it on a jog in Virginia, which SUCKED, but I was thankfully still on a warranty and got a new one without paying much out of pocket. I stayed true to my Blackberry for four years, and ended up switching to a Bold (with touch screen AND keyboard, ooh la la!) in 2011.

After my first year of graduate school, I realized that my beloved Blackberry, while amazing and affording me all of the things I needed in a phone, wasn’t exactly getting the job done when it came to my teaching. For some reason, my university email wasn’t connecting on my phone and as a result I was getting student emails way too late. I was having problems communicating with my students on tight deadlines when they needed my assistance, and as a result I probably screwed them out of precious advice. So I started to consider making the jump to an iPhone, which I knew had a better emailing platform for my university address.

I got my iPhone in July of 2012. If the Blackberry was like getting high, the iPhone was like black tar heroin. I immediately fell into a sinkhole of apps, texting, Instagramming, Pinterest-ing, Tweeting, and Facebooking like you had never seen. And texting? Forget it. Unlimited texting meant that I could text EVERYONE, all the TIME, NO MATTER WHAT. And I could send PICTURES through text?! Strap on a belt and smack me in the arm and HIT ME UP SOME MORE!

It is not a surprise that my ADD got worse over the past three years, and my relationships went in the toilet. I became a social media fiend. You name it, I retweeted it or liked it or favorited it. I would stay in bed until all hours of the day, just texting people and reading Facebook feeds. When my anxiety got really bad, I avoided human contact and stared into my phone for hours and hours on end. When the #BlackLivesMatter movement began last August, I would stay up until 2 in the morning reading my Twitter feed and feeling a giant pit of anxiety in my stomach; my friends would show concern for how much I cared and I would get furious at them. People would tell me “Maybe get off the Internet for a second” and I would shut down and cry. I would text people over and over and over again about the dumbest shit, just to make myself heard.

Then, last year, a friend of mine from high school died by suicide. She had texted me a month before, asking me when she was going to see me again. I never answered it, and I’ve beaten myself up every single day for an entire year for not answering that text message. Perhaps that’s why I spent the past year slowly sinking into a whirlpool of social media that I’m just now starting to claw my way out of. For me, social media was my way of saying “I’M HERE.” (It all goes back to that quest for visibility and validation, am I right?)

At certain points, to a girl with horrendous anxiety and depression issues, the Internet and people at the other end of a text message can be all you have. To the point where you forget that other people are people, too.

I was finally called out about this last summer by someone I truly loved, and it devastated me. I hadn’t realized that in my burning desire to look at other people’s lives, I was neglecting my own. I promised I would be better. But I didn’t get better in time.

At the beginning of this summer, I was so sad and crushed and devastated that I immediately began to text EVERYONE I knew about random shit. I’m talking five, six, seven texts in a row, and when people didn’t respond I assumed they hated me. I Instagrammed, Facebooked, and Tweeted my ass off, and in doing so I said a ton of shit I regret. I lost a lot of friends and probably lost the respect of people I know. It wasn’t until I confessed all of this to a therapist that she said the magic words that made my runaway brain screech to a halt.

“Ally, I think you’re replacing one addiction with another.”

My addiction to food became my addiction to external validation, social media, and simply, other people. And of course we all know that hell is other people.

It’s so easy to see now. It’s so hard to realize that I have an addictive personality that keeps magnetizing horrible patterns like this.

So back in June, I made a major decision. I stopped posting on Facebook and Twitter and deleted those apps from my phone. I blocked people. I hid people. I told people I just needed a break to heal and received an outpouring of love. I stopped texting people. I called people and actually heard their voices. I saw friends I hadn’t seen in years. I went to the movies. I went to the beach. I read books. And I learned some very valuable lessons.

Just because people don’t text you back right away, it doesn’t mean they hate you. I’m the person who, if you don’t text me back right away, I automatically assume you’re mad at me. You don’t know what other people are doing with their lives. Maybe they’re having issues with their phone. Maybe their phone capabilities aren’t the same as yours. Maybe they’re, you know, doing shit that doesn’t involve their phone and you are driving them nuts. I went to visit one of my best friends in the world last week and I mentioned that I had texted her a few times the night before, and she responded (in a very kind way) “Ally, I was going to see you today anyway. When I’m at home at night, I’m not looking at my phone. I’m hanging out with (her partner) and the animals. Whatever you said to me, it could wait until I actually saw you.” Which of course made me feel insanely guilty, but then a little voice in my head piped up and said “This is good. Remember this feeling. Maybe you shouldn’t be on your phone all the time.” So I’ve started to text people things like Hey, I’m bothering you, please let me know and I’ll leave you alone. Sometimes you aren’t bothering anyone and you’re just creating wild stories in your head. But sometimes, you are bothering people!

Put the goddamn phone down. I went on vacation last week to one of my favorite places in the entire world, and for the entire week I left my phone at the house whenever we went somewhere as a family or we went down to the beach. One, because I didn’t want to get sand in in the crevices of my new iPhone 6S, but also because I didn’t want to spend my time at the best place on earth sucked into Instagram when my nephews wanted to bury my feet in sand or run around in circles slurping on Spider-Man popsicles. I also read three books while I was away – I STRONGLY recommend The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.

Instagram and Facebook are not the arbiter of real life. “They liked that person’s photo and they didn’t like mine. So obviously they hate me.” This is dumb. Please stop thinking like this. Not everyone is going to like every single thing that you post. (Although some people do, and that’s fine!) About four years ago, I got a lot of new friends with my transition to graduate school, and I made it my mission to impress them. I did all the right things, posted all the right images, and curated my online presence to within an inch of its life. They loved it, but it wasn’t real. Then, things got more real and I started being more honest, and guess what? Some of them left, but some of them stayed and became even closer to me because I had decided to actually show my true self. And that’s how I knew which ones were fair weather and which ones were the real deal. Besides, unless they block you or something, assume that they are keeping you around for a reason. Also, the amount of filters people put on pictures should be enough to assure you that everyone is bullshitting everyone else. The popular ones are just the best bullshitters. I’d rather be real, thanks.

Your relationship should not be conducted on social media. Oh my god, STOP DOING THIS. There are so many studies that PROVE that people who turn their social media pages into an obsessive love poem about their partner are actually in much shittier relationships than they let on. It’s similar to the studies people have done about what Stanford University calls the Duck Syndrome – how ducks look like they’re placidly gliding across the water but they’re actually frantically paddling underneath. We can construct vast imaginations on social media, to the point where we orchestrate grand lies about our lives. Either be honest, or just don’t post about it. Plus, I have seen a LOT of friends word vomit about their relationships all over social media and then BOOM – they’re divorced. So maybe just keep that shit to yourself. Unless it’s your anniversary. Then go nuts.

So, how can you too stop being so obsessed about social media? Some quick tips.

  1. Take at least an hour every day and spend it away from social media. This can be when you visit the gym, or when you’re diving into a really good book, or you can draw a picture, or you can talk to your family. With your mouth and your voice. I know, weird, right? Make this activity something fun and something you really enjoy. I like to go for long walks without my phone, or I do yoga. As you get better at this, spend more and more time away from your phone. (This normally applies to the weekends, or the afternoons when you get out of work and you want to just spend time unplugged.)
  2. Think to yourself “do I really have to share EVERYTHING I find with this person/these people?” Usually the answer is no. You don’t have to bombard someone with information all of the time. They’ll grow tired of it, and of you. Just let someone live. And in turn, you can live too.
  3. Don’t freak out if someone didn’t like a post or like your photos. You don’t know how many people they follow! It probably got swallowed up.

I think as we get more and more accustomed to having the world at our fingertips, the less and less comfortable we get with being truly alone. So we hold on to anything that will connect us to the outside world. As a result, we don’t really get accustomed to knowing ourselves. And the final result of that situation is – we never really get a chance to fall in love with ourselves. We’re so busy getting infatuated with things outside of our own souls, we forget that the real love story should be with ourselves first.

I’m remembering who I am. And I didn’t need an app.

ally

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One thought on “Addictions: How I Got Off The Internet, Kind of, and So Can You!

  1. It can sometimes be a tricky thing, feeding our obsessions. Too often we don’t know if these obsessions are healthy or unhealthy until after the fact…or until it’s obvious enough that even we notice them. Then comes the choice: change or continue down the path. Most of us, it seems, choose to change…eventually. Sometimes the change is made for us by people or circumstance. Then we are off to deal with our new life with the knowledge that we will again have to make decisions about our true nature.

    None of us are paragons; we are improvisers who, as the world allows, try to our place in life’s jigsaw puzzle — the big one with all the dalmatians, printed on both sides at an angle to each other.

    Like

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