I still remember my first tweet. I was packing something up in the basement and tweeted that I hoped I hadn’t just accidentally mailed someone a spider. Like alcohol, Twitter and I got each other from the start. We were fast friends, sharing secrets and spending way too much time together. Just like alcohol.
When I got into my heaviest drinking, I also took up smoking again. I had managed to quit for three precious years and one particularly bad day said fuck it and lit up. We all know how well booze and cigarettes go together. I told myself I was just taking the edge off and that smoking again was just temporary. I smoked for another two and half years until I quit, and then only because I’d already given up the hardest vice of my life.
No, not Twitter. Though let’s get back to that because Twitter and drinking also pair nicely—and by nicely I mean tweets about tequila sunrises at sunrise or just the stream of entertaining tweets people only write while buzzed, but still able to hit the right keys. I felt at home on Twitter, and not just because I was literally drinking and tweeting from my couch. Nevermind that I was drinking a lot more than I was tweeting about it, but the evening crowd I followed felt like an online gathering of unapologetic hot messes.
Twitter was a lot of fun for a long time. I even met real-life people that I still keep in touch with, even though I closed my account a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact reason I decided to take my first months-long break, but it had been years in the making. It might have been when I started dreaming in tweets. I’d wake up and, of course, tweet about it (and wish they’d been funnier), but I also knew I’d crossed a line. I was consumed. It might have been when I started tracking who unfollowed me and worrying more about that than what my followers were saying.
The real reason I suspect I quit Twitter is that I’d already quit drinking and the associations and reminders were too painful. In recovery, they tell you to change the people, places and things that are part of your addiction. Those tweets about tequila sunrises at sunrise were really just about morning drinking, which I happen to know is pretty horrifying and painful. The constant reminders that other people were still drinking like I did made me feel uncomfortable and out of place. Or maybe the issue was that I didn’t have anything to tweet about anymore. In early sobriety, I didn’t feel funny or creative. Maybe I hoped it was only temporary, but still I felt like I was wearing a pair of weird, ill-fitting shoes that didn’t go with anything.
I remember early sobriety surprisingly well. I remember coming home from work and making Vietnamese iced coffees and smoking on the back porch. It was my new happy hour—along with my newspaper and slippers, my security blanket—and I looked forward to it all day long. Did I mention the iced coffees contained heaping spoonfuls of sweetened condensed milk? Sugar was the next and oldest villain I’d have to face down in sobriety, but I’ll get to that in a bit. In early sobriety, I was dealing with two younger and savvier vices, but nature has a funny way of intervening sometimes.
Those iced coffees I’d grown so fond of caused crippling heartburn that I first mistook for back cancer. I had no idea heartburn could radiate through the upper back and make it painful to breathe. My doctor asked how much coffee I was drinking and if I smoked. I saw her yank away my early sobriety security blanket just like that, but I was in too much pain to argue. The sweetened iced coffees were easier to give up than the cigarettes, but only because there are so many other ways to mainline sugar. When I didn’t have a drink to hold in my hand and the weather got colder, the smoking made less sense. I started doing the Couch to 5K training program, and then smoking made even less sense. Running—now there’s an addiction I can recommend for people in early recovery.
I didn’t leave Twitter permanently for another year or so. I kept my account up but stopped tweeting or following what other people were tweeting about. On the rare occasion that I got back on, it felt like walking into a big party and only recognizing a face or two. It was easy to walk back out and shut the door behind me. When I closed my account for good, it was more ceremonial. It felt like the right thing to do and gave me closure.
Now I have more time and brain power to devote to my biggest vice of all—sugar. I recently heard someone say that addiction is like having four trash cans and only three lids. I love that. I don’t love that it means I will always be trying to control some uncontrollable source of pleasure and reward. What I love is knowing that it might be normal for me. I love knowing that I’m not alone in this struggle. Acceptance loosens a knot inside me. Already I’ve tackled a few harmful vices, and figure others may ebb and flow with work and time.
In early sobriety I learned that I drank alcoholically to fill a hole. That didn’t make much sense to me until at least a couple of years into sobriety, and never more than it does now. When I feel lonely or tired, I often turn to sugar. Afterwards, I feel temporary relief and then a flood of regret and shame. It’s my new drunk tweeting or smoking, and I know by now that it’s not worth the easy high.
When I eat better and get out for regular runs or walks, I also feel better. I never get hit with regret or shame afterwards. It lasts longer, but it’s also hard to do consistently. The steady mid-range highs take some getting used to, I guess. My goal is to one day treat dessert with reverence, if not perfect moderation. I’ve already conquered the triathlon of quitting alcohol, Twitter and smoking. Surely I’ve got this.