Monday, July 13, 2009

Facebook Faceoff

The Foundation: Loss
Since I attended three elementary schools, two middle schools, two high schools (and more colleges than I dare share with you), the theme of loss has always been a thread in my life history. I met young girls I loved & spent endless hours with them—sometimes for three or four years—and then our family had one or another reason to move away. The moves were distant, and staying in touch typically lasted just a year or so. I eventually lost track of sets of friends with each transition, as our maturing lives meant many changes across the distance, and I often tired of the gossipy update letters about my former classmates. Our lives diverged significantly, with different college choices (or not), marriage (or not), faith decisions (or not) and career paths, which left us with less common ground.

Where Rediscovery Equals Healing
With Facebook, I have been able to connect again with one after another friend from my past, and hold on. In those reunions with people I lost over time, some of my young-child hurts have been healed. I have rediscovered friends from Michigan, Virginia, Texas, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and beyond. Gaps in my life story have been filled! Four hundred fifty five friends later, and…

What? Did I just type 455 friends? Well, Facebook labels any connections you make on their site, “friends.” I cannot say I’d make a date for a cup of tea and a Saturday matinee with all 455+ of those people I’ve linked to online (many are former or current colleagues in business or homeschooling), but that is one of the appeals of this social networking space—that your former boss is offered the same label as a sorority sister: “friend.”

Facebook quickly became an active and addictive escape for me. My older son is an intense child, wild in his own ways, and often difficult to parent. When I preferred to part from him and enjoy myself hidden away in the dark, I disappeared into the bluish glow of my desk and the deceptively inviting screen, where I peered into any former co-ed’s pages to “meet” their children, see where they live, and check out their wedding photos whether we were even in the same cliques in high school. Facebook is like the largest party I’d ever attended, where everyone has brought along a photo album to pass around! Better than that, we pull out the Scrabble board & challenge each other’s word power, or play a mindless game of “How Well Do You Know Me?”

I used to have mixed up dreams like that. After so many moves, I would wake up talking myself out of believing that Amy knew Christine, who knew Susan. In the dreams they’d all been together with me for some occasion, but when I woke, I separated them again—one was in Michigan, one in Texas, one in Connecticut. They’d never met in real life, though I was sure they’d like each other if they could. On Facebook, each can now see comments posted on my “wall” by the other, and my dreams of childhood are playing out before me! Amy and Christine join Susan to write me notes where the other can see, read, and even respond! What a freakish “miracle!”

Watching my dreams come alive on the flat screen kept me up too late at night. I confess I was daily checking first thing in the morning; daily popping back in after lunch; daily playing games in the evening! Whenever I felt restless in the mundane, I chased the curious & intriguing on Facebook. YouTube videos posted by “friends” were hysterical, or made me ponder a new thought. Emails coming into my network-only inbox were more intentional and specific than the overflow of spam, phishing and newsletters cramming my regular email inbox. Photo albums are just fascinating, and new baby announcements are always a quick and absorbing draw. I cannot fathom how many hours of my weeks were sponged up into Facebook over the months that it had control over me.

Time to Take Inventory!
What happened in my home, though, was not so fun. My children were getting my back more than my face! My already challenging son began acting out more intensely, and our home became troubled. What could be so much more intriguing on that screen than getting on the floor with my son to examine the details of his newest city build-out? LEGO blocks, Lincoln Logs and train tracks crisscrossed our floor in intricate detail, but I was annoyed when he called me to look, because I had another post to write!

I was raised in a home where addiction ruled many adults around me—and their peers. I had to recognize, quickly, that Facebook held and controlled me just like going to bars to socialize and drink had gripped my mentoring adults in my own childhood. Did I want my children to be Adult Children of a Facebook Addict, in lifelong recovery because of their absent mother?

Downsizing the Screentime
Lent approached. It was obvious what I needed to leave behind for those forty days. Another friend of mine initiated a Facebook group of others preparing to breakaway for the Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday season. Our group grew, and national news engines got wind of it. I was interviewed for the Wall Street Journal about the coming fast!

Leaving Facebook for forty days was one of the most freeing decisions of my life. We traveled to see family, and the children had their mom back during a beautiful spring. We walked more, we played together, we baked, I attended the annual March for Life in D.C., and met up there with my fellow Facebook buddy IRL ("in real life"), who was also fasting. The hours I had sacrificed to the screen were back, and belonged to my family. I even got pregnant during my Facebook Fast!!

As the Lent season came to a close I felt no starving desperation to log back on. I waited a few days, and slowly returned. I set a boundary for myself, and committed to only sign in on what I termed, “Facebook Fridays.” This worked for a couple months, but then I got sucked back in by cheating on a Saturday, then a Tuesday, then 5 days in one week. This is what you might call “falling off the wagon!”

Facing Down Facebook
How does an addict break away? COMPLETELY! The trouble with Facebook, is that my live address book is there. If I can’t find someone’s email address or phone number, I sign onto Facebook, and shoot them a message, or post on their wall. I make business contacts there as well. Worse than that, though, is that I have been witnessing online! I reconnected with a friend now living a lesbian lifestyle, with a high school pal who’d found Jesus, and with a woman adamantly pro-choice. I have posted over and again, justifying my words as “salt and light.” Occasionally, posts get very controversial, heated, and even mean between “friends” over issues of politics and/or religion (pre-Lenten fast, the McCain/Obama election was a particularly busy posting period for so many of us!). I often put my virtual foot in my virtual mouth because of my passionate feelings on particular topics…

And of course, once again, my family is left in the dust when I engage with digital faces instead of the tender ones growing up too fast around me!

The only way I can personally manage Facebook is to have someone else manage it for me! I gave my husband my password, asked him to change it, and now he has the only key to my profile. I am returning to my once a week dedication, with his help. He can sign me on at 10 PM on Fridays, and I am committed to be off before midnight. In this way, I can maintain the online relationships I want to, hide the updates on people I don’t need to hear from regularly, and see the newborn photos of my dear (true) friends’ children. In fact, so many of my IRL friends have migrated their main communications to Facebook that it is nice to pop in occasionally.

As I have been very frank on Facebook and on my blog pages about my addiction, the beauty is that others have admitted (on my wall!) pulling their own use back due to my leading example. There isn’t anything intrinsically wrong or evil with Facebook or other social networks—as I’ve mentioned, I’ve found Facebook to be a nearly miraculous tool for healing in my life! But, for those with addictive personalities or backgrounds, it can be such a “Time Suck” (can you hear the sucking sound of your life going down the drain?).

That was the case for me. Maybe you need a Facebook Fridays Fasting plan, too? Or, if you struggle with addiction in your life, already, perhaps you need total abstinence. Don’t be afraid to face yourself in the mirror in your honest inventory of your “need” for Facebook. Go ahead, have a Facebook Faceoff!

What can replace your time online? Scripture reading, prayer, devotions, exercise, time with your husband, children, the friends who’ve been there long before Facebook, and will be long after you sign off. Everything you used to do before Facebook & Twitter got a hold on you! Rediscover your IRL life!! Inhale, exhale, and then read over my modification of AA’s Twelve Steps, print them, and stick them on your computer screen!


1 comment:

Russ H. said...

With faith comes virtue, with virtue comes healing, with healing we begin to see that Grace is all around us. Be faithful and strong.