I’ve experienced social media like most people as it came to prominence in the early to mid 2000’s. There was Myspace, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google, YouTube and so on. There seemed to be a new platform popping up every day. I mostly used Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Each platform bringing out a different part of my identity for each of their functions and audiences. These were my online identities. I would curate and craft how I would express my identity depending on which social media outlet I was using.
There are so many social networking apps. For finding love, finding sex, people who share a common interest and I came across a social networking app that would change my life forever.
Image sourced from Flickr by Tanja Cappell
For most of my life I have suffered mental illness and substance abuse issues. At one point in 2017 my substance abuse had gotten so bad I had become well known to the doctors, paramedics and nurses at the Alfred Hospital as the man who is hard to kill as I survived at least a dozen near death over doses.
I knew I needed help but was too afraid to seek it out. Narcotics Anonymous didn’t appeal to me due to its dogmatic format and I was too ashamed to admit to anyone that I had this sickness that at the time I saw as a character or moral flaw.
Then I came across a social networking app called Sober Grid. It’s like Facebook but for recovering addicts. Drugs, booze, gambling or sex, whatever your addiction, this app was a safe place where you could discuss your issues with likeminded people. People were so supportive. Celebrating milestones, rallying around someone in crisis and offering help. It was very cathartic receiving advice from caring strangers and then using my own experiences to then offer my advice to those in need (I wrote a blog article on this app and interviewed the CEO – it’s on this blog if you’d like to read it).
Image sourced from sober grid.com
Having Sober Grid was like having a support group in my pocket whenever I needed it which was a lot. Then another social media app unexpectedly took this digital support network to another level. Someone on Sober Grid started a group on SnapChat and was inviting people to join. I was one of them. After a while the group had grown quite significantly. These were people from all over the globe, all different ages and backgrounds.
All of a sudden, I went from connecting with people via written text like on Sober Grid to communicating with these people via SnapChat video. We were putting faces to names. Getting to know one another and still to this day a year later we are still close, talk almost every day and keep each other in check. We have never met yet I consider these people some of my best friends. They are scattered all over the US, Europe, New Zealand and Australia yet I’m more honest with them than I am with a lot of people in my life.
Images sourced from Flickr by Basket Bawful and Ervin Vice
People with substance abuse issues generally have mental health problems too so I really opened up to these people who I knew completely understood what I was going through. My online identity on Sober Grid and SnapChat is the most honest and raw of all of my online Identities. Only on these apps have I been completely honest, presenting myself in all my messy, troubled glory as opposed to showing just the happy parts which were mostly engineered to appear that way.
After some encouragement from my global network of friends, I finally went to Narcotics Anonymous and I got clean. This time for good. My mind boggles at the thought that through digital media, I became connected with people from all over the world, brought together by one common trait. Before social media this would have been impossible.
We may never meet but these people are my friends and they know the real me. Not something a lot of people can say about their physically available friends let alone their online companions. I no longer see my demons as moral or character flaws because I’ve seen good people suffering the same afflictions and I no longer feel the need to hide who I really am – online or otherwise.
Featured image sourced from Flickr by Ervin Vice