I Went 2 Rehab 4 #Alcoholism (And Twitter)

01/10/2015 9:06 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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The day before I entered rehab, I called their receptionist. "One last thing -- there's no internet, right?" I was more concerned whether my Twitter account, not I, would survive an eight-month hiatus. My drug of choice? Alcohol. And Twitter.

Addiction, in every form, is a disease of isolation and my Twitter use grew concurrently with my alcoholism. I'd discovered the perfect cocktail. Alone in my room, bottle in hand, I scrolled through Twitter for 'hits' of validation and connection that I craved in real life.

Not that you'd know. That girl grinning cheekily at the camera, beer in hand -- that's me, on drink 13 and, according to my physician, "at death's door". Twitter not only succored but masked my alcohol addiction.

I joined Twitter in 2009 motivated by the logic that if Ashton Kutcher could secure 1 million followers, I could nab at least 10. Twitter is a numbers game, and a compulsive one. Every time Twitter alerted me to a new follower (through my work email, admittedly), a physical tinge of satisfaction would hit my body, as I'd imagine a fisherman felt at the tug of his line.

Instantly I was hooked -- line and sinker. Securing a 'following' is equal parts psychology and probability and I devoted a serious amount of time to understanding the science of Twitter. As my audience grew, so did the pressure to spend more time on the networking platform.

My boss didn't support my new hobby, pulling me to her office for a Twittervention of sorts, explaining I could keep Twitter, or my job. Determined to do both, my boss and I engaged in an online tug of war where she checked my Twitter feed multiple times a day as I skirted around posting Tweets during my contracted work breaks.

In April the Wall Street Journal reported there were 974 million Twitter accounts. However, sources report that active users total around 100 million. According to a survey of 170,000 internet users conducted by GlobalWebIndex, social media use rose from 1.66 hours per day in 2013 to 1.72 hours per day in 2014, with Twitter accounting for 0.81 hours per day. Within the parameters of this data, my Twitter use was triple the average use.

Twitter provided me with a level of interaction that formed an artificial connection to the world. I "spoke" to over 100 people per day in one sentence increments that didn't parallel the isolation I experienced in day to day life.

On Twitter I was sociable, energetic and inviting; in real life I'd developed a nervous twitch, reaching for my iPhone to relieve the smallest pang of discomfort.

In 2012 researchers from the University of Bergen conducted a ground-breaking study concluding that social media activates the same areas of the brains as drugs. The study painted a picture of the ideal social media addict: female, extroverted, late-night troubled sleeper; essentially, me.

In 2013 researchers linked social media use to the reward centre of the brain and reported that compulsive internet usage had the ability to create neural pathways similar to drug addiction.

Social media dependency is identical to the tug of war that is substance abuse. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed or bored, I'd scroll through my feed searching for a 'feel good': a salacious joke, a stirring quote or cringe-worthy photo. The satisfaction would last a matter of seconds before I'd return to my laptop seeking further assuage, just like a gulp of wine.

I used Twitter like my drug of choice: progressively. In my first year I tweeted five times a day, in my last, I'd usually hit 50, tweeting almost 14,000 times over five years. Every year my time spent on Twitter doubled and my following increased accordingly. As with my drinking, my Twitter use would peak at the weekend. It wasn't uncommon for me to pass four to five hours online. Once placed off and out of arm's reach, my iPhone sat underneath my pillow as I slept, notifications vibrating throughout the night.

I'd bargain with both of my addictions regularly. When I contemplated logging off Twitter for good I'd justify its purpose: networking, self-promotion, helping me write succinctly and so on. The battle to quit drinking would incur the same negotiations: drink only at home, drink only when out, drink only when stressed, drinking only to celebrate. Unable to tame either beast, unfilled and overburdened I merry-go-rounded; drinking and Tweeting to excess.

I wasn't exactly discouraged; there's definitely a market for a drunk girl on Twitter. Bestsellers titled Drinking and Tweeting, films celebrating the hot mess persona a la´ Trainwreck and over 100 @DrunkGal-style accounts indicate self-destruction is gold.

Many instances pointed to the fact that Twitter and my drinking were a toxic combination. I was (drunk) at a hockey game when a big fight broke out. I instinctively whipped out my phone to film the incident for Twitter, sans regard for the welfare of my buddies caught in the fray.

What Twitter didn't see: distressed late-night calls, disappointed family, my inflamed liver. There was only room for the smiling person I'd created in my profile picture.

In theory, I had thousands of people to talk to but the sober reality was I couldn't find one to whom I could say: I need help.

I shared that sad irony with my mother: a 65-year-old woman who doesn't know what a Kardashian is. 'Get off Twitter and get a life,' paraphrasing her advice. 'You're playing identity by numbers. These people are not your real friends, they're internet friends. Shed this identity to make way for a new one.'

I entered rehab with just five phone numbers from over 10,000 "internet friends".

I haven't used Twitter in 11 months -- a far cry from a person who scrolled their feed in their sleep. I've viewed my page twice, the bloated-faced drunk girl staring back at me is a total stranger. Almost one year of sobriety under my belt, my life isn't social media-worthy. No one wants to see a snap of me paying my gas bill or stacking chairs in a church hall.

I've rediscovered the art of texting from the 32 people in my phone book, all of whom I know (and connect with) in person. My life today is not exciting as it once appeared. But at least it's mine.

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