The results are in.
I’m just coming off a seven week Instagram Sabbatical and I am feeling significantly more grounded, attuned and present.
The first couple of days were tough. Really tough. I knew that I was addicted to Instagram, but truth be told I didn’t know just how addicted.
Like many of the rock bottoms I’ve hit in my life, the relationship I had with Instagram went south quite a while ago. I knew deep down that I needed to make a change over the summer I just wasn’t ready. I was fully aware that I used Instagram as a way to check out and after a while it became difficult to stop. I got too far out there with mindless scrolling and I struggled with how to navigate coming back into presence, turning away from the app and toward myself.
Things got sticky when I convinced myself that I needed to stay on Instagram.
I have to keep growing my platform for the book.
If I don’t check in at least once a week my community will start to dwindle.
This is how I stay connected to my friends and see what everyone is up to.
If I take an extended break I’ll miss something really important.
My practice, my work, my livelihood will suffer.
I need Instagram to promote the retreat.
As someone with an addiction history, anytime I’m trying to convince myself of something it’s inherently questionable. I realize that’s not true for everyone, but it is for me. I know myself really well. When that convincing part of my psyche comes online and insisted that I needed Instagram, it was an indication that I was full blown avoiding my feelings.
That was really just the first layer.
The summer was very challenging. I was in the midst of some uncomfortable changes in my life and was choosing to check out by scrolling through Instagram. I kept it a secret because I had a huge amount of guilt about it. On the one hand, I was sharing publicly what was authentic and beautiful and tender in my life. At the same time, I was choosing to hold back in some places that were just too raw and painful to be shared at that time.
As I’ve been writing about recently, my interpersonal relationships have been shifting and there have been some painful changes within my family system. There was also another layer of birth trauma that I was grappling with and I just couldn’t hold it all in nor did I have the space in my life to fully process it. Mindless scrolling served an important function for me, to take the edge off the pain and to give me a break from being so embodied. I desperately needed a break.
There was still this layer of guilt because I judged myself for choosing to check out at times and my need to check out. There was a part of me that couldn’t be gentle with myself because I felt like I should have made “healthier” or more “productive” choices. I am a breathwork teacher after all, couldn’t I just breathe and feel my way through this?
Here’s the deal, none of us are present 100% of the time. We’re all coming and going from presence to varying degrees. Practicing presence is a matter of how much awareness we have cultivated around our comings and goings and what choices we make in those moments. I knew I could only grieve so much this summer and that I needed a respite.
I breathed. I showed up for yoga classes. I wrote my gratitude lists. I went to therapy. And it wasn’t enough.
I needed more breaks and mindless scrolling gave me that.
And just like every other thing I’ve become addicted to in my life I hit a point where the scrolling stopped working and made me feel worse. Instead of grabbing my phone and swiping to take the edge off the heaviness, I started feeling shitty about myself. I got stuck on a comparison loop when looking at everyone’s lives and even more problematic than that, I found myself continuing to swipe and unable to stop when it crossed the line from taking the edge off feelings to provoking anxiety, drawing me further away from my inner most self.
What I know about myself is that I’ve never been able to make a sustainable change until I was fully ready and willing to what was necessary to make that shift. At the end of August I was ready. Summer was coming to a close and I was tired. I could see and feel how my relationship to Instagram was preoccupying me in ways that were a huge dis-service in my life and I was fully ready to create the necessary space for diving into the pain I was in and taking the time that I needed to heal. One of the ways I made that space was by deleting the Instagram app from my iPhone and taking a social media sabbatical.
I didn’t make any big announcements, I just quietly went offline and turned my awareness inward. The first few days we’re really tough because I had to face just how addicted I became in such a short amount of time. I also had to face how many times a day I picked up my iPhone. It freaked me out because I am very conscious of not picking it up in front of Solomon unless Nic is calling or I’m plugging in Waze to my car. The majority of my use was when I was alone, which was all too familiar to me from my drinking days. The hiding. The secrecy. The excuses. The guilt. The shame. It shocked me and I am grateful that it did. It was humbling to look at this aspect of myself, but once I created the space to really dig deep I was able to access gentleness and genuinely feel grateful for my process.
Seven weeks later I am in awe of how much my life has transformed. I’ve done some incredible grief work, integrated a few layers of trauma, become more regulated, feel more alive and connected to Nic and Solomon, have access to my full flow of creative energy. Across the board I feel more joyful and willing to seek out pleasure versus seeking something to take the edge off the pain. It’s honestly really wild and completely unexpected. I’ve taken intentional time away from Instagram in many different seasons over the years, however, none were as impactful and expansive as these last seven weeks.
As I share this I feel an openness in my chest, spaciousness in my breath, and a desire to practice a greater level of presence as I gear up for returning from my Instagram sabbatical. I’ve already set time limits for the app and am looking toward putting myself on a post schedule (with flexibility of course!) so that I can have an intentional relationship with it. I’m also committing to not using it as a way to check out anymore. This experience showed me that it’s such a fine line for me and I am committed to finding other ways to release the pressure valve like getting back to hiking. I am also committed to reaching out for more support when I feel like I need a break from grief because grief is an inevitable part of life.
All in all, I’m proud of myself for the ways I have grown through these experiences, for the lessons it taught me and for my continued willingness to show up and explore the places where I experience challenges. I am looking forward to tracking what happens with my relationship to Instagram moving forward and I will be sure to share any insights along the way.
For those interested in research, there have been numerous studies on excessive social media use and addiction, here is an article with many of those links.