Lies, damned lies, and Facebook

 

It’s 9 am on a Tuesday, and my boss walks into the office.  He stops to joke with the business manager about the day of stressful meetings ahead.  “Come on!” he sighs.  “Let’s just crack open a bottle now.  I’ll drink the Scotch, you can share around the white wine.”

Of course he’s joking, although wine, Scotch and beer take up one shelf of our tiny shared fridge, but it snags my ear nonetheless.  So I open up a browser window, intending to record any further alcohol references in my day.

Much of my job involves writing, and I keep social media open during the day which exposes me to a range of conversations I wouldn’t otherwise notice, but apart from that I wouldn’t say that I move in an unusually alcohol-soaked circle.  And yet.

9.45am: a friend posts in my parenting group about her rough school drop off.  Another friend sympathises: “Sounds like you need one or two very large glasses of wine this evening!”

10.30am: read mildly humorous article on parenting small children in the morning.  Quote from the article, which is set at 6 am: “Too early for a drink? Fuck it. Where’s the Baileys?”

11am: conversation about who makes dinner in your house and who does the planning.  Friend: “Last night we just heated something up.  And then had cocktails”.

11.30am: Facebook. Shot of somebody’s whisky glass with the caption ‘last one for the night!’.  They’re in a different time zone, and that’s another thing.  These little references ping all day; I can’t merely turn off the computer at happy hour and hope.

By noon, a twitter buddy has announced her book launch with an Instagram shot of a bottle of gin, and I have seen at least three humorous e-cards referring to mommies who drink wine.   I give up recording.

ecard

It’s all very well telling people in recovery to avoid their old triggers – stay out of bars, dump the heavy drinker friends – but that ignores the fact that we live in a media saturated world, and that alcohol is normalised and even glamorised in that world.

There’s an AA saying: don’t judge your insides by another person’s outsides.  And that’s a huge issue when we’re talking about social media, because programs like Facebook allow us to curate our lives more carefully than we can in person.  If you’re newly sober, and you go to a party, you’ve probably had the experience of watching people progress from those first couple of refreshing glasses of beer to the stumbling, slurring end of the night.  Oh, that’s why I don’t drink, you think, and go home relieved.  But on Facebook, you don’t see those end-of-the-night shots.  You just see the first drinks; the tumblers of whisky lit by the golden light of a London bar, the champagne held aloft in sparkling flutes, the cocktails on a cruise.  Look at us, and our lovely lives, with our lovely drinks in hand.

And more than that – you don’t see the lives behind the drinking.  You don’t see the hangovers.  The irritability.  The fact that the couple sharing a bottle of wine haven’t made love in months.  Here is an embarrassing story: Eighteen months before I finally gave up drinking, I sent a desperate, drunken email to a friend who I knew had quit some years earlier, asking for help.  She offered that help, and I chose not to take it.  I made only one change: I started editing my Facebook posts to remove too many references to alcohol, because I knew she read it.  By then, I knew that my unedited life showed a problem, but social media makes it easy to spin any story you like.  As that same friend put it to me the other day, talking about this subject, ‘your eyes may be blurry, but the camera is clear-eyed’ – and those of us on the other side of the screen see only the clear, sober photographic evidence of a perhaps-chaotic existence.

The truth is that we have no way of knowing what goes on in another person’s life.  Social media gives us an illusion of total transparency – but the lament that  ‘kids today live their lives right out in the open!  No sense of privacy!’ ignores the fact that actually, privacy still exists, and so does untruth.  We use the beautiful, sparkling moments of our day to distract from the sordid, like a magician’s fancy cape swirling in front of the rusted mechanism underneath.

It doesn’t matter to my sobriety, in the end, whether my friends are enjoying one drink on a Paris balcony or passing out under the Ponts des Arts.  It’s all just outsides.  What matters is my inside, and no amount of Instagram shots can threaten that.

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20 thoughts on “Lies, damned lies, and Facebook

  1. Awesome post. I needed to read this today. Had one of those days when Facebook was all about people at fancy parties- social media can create quite an illusion, can’t it? I caught myself feeling sorry that I can’t be a “carefree drinker” like they can, when I know full well the toll it takes on some of them. I am working on filling my life with things that are important to me, and alcohol and partying is not– and that is what I need to remember. Thanks Allie! Hope you’re well x

  2. Great post. I’ve been traveling in Italy for bit with a group of lovely people that enjoy life to the fullest. The conversation at breakfast usually starts with “How are you feeling this morning” and finishes at the end of the night with “Shall we grab a bottle of Proseco and go for a stroll?”. I’m fine with all of it and enjoy all of it even more because I’m not drinking. I’m 15 months sober but I did the same trip last year just 3 months sober. That wasn’t hard but it took some conscious will power. A year out from that, it’s even easier.

    My memories of my drinking days are good in an odd way, I totally remember how I was then and won’t go back there, even for a second. I don’t drink and I never did like wine so my photos may show glasses and bottles of wine at meals, they are not mine. I can’t manage what my friends see in those photos or what they are assuming about me being one of the happy imbibers. I am thrilled to be here and I m thrilled to be the one enjoying my aqua minerale and the pleasure that my friends find in the amazing wines. Joy shared is a wonderful thing and I enjoy it even more sober, it’s not up to me to take deny nobody their own choice. A wise and sober friend told me “Some people can drink like a normal person, I’m not one of them”, we’ll neither am I.
    Hang in there.

  3. I get myself into intermittent lathers about alcohol posts on FB. it is infuriating, isn’t it? there should be a crack squad of sober paparazzi poised on motorbikes to follow up every posting of the first glass with a shot of the FB poster and the last glass…. not so soignee now, hmm?

    in one of my lather phases I read up about self-justification and cognitive dissonance. essentially the problem of holding two different beliefs in your head at the same time: eg “I want a glass of wine right now” and “wanting a glass of wine at 3.30pm is not normal” is solved by putting it on FB and waiting for the torrent of comments saying “you deserve it sweetie!”

    there. justification process complete. it’s ok to drink! it must be, everybody says so. next stop: jumping off a bridge 🙂

  4. That’s so funny Allie. I was just thinking that yesterday – if I counted how many bloody pictures of alcoholic drinks/references to same do I see in one day (one hour!) on Facebook. But you are right. I can think of the glamorous shots I put up from Xmas day last year that didn’t show the end of the day where I was practically incoherent, and my children weren’t even in bed yet.

    Yes – we “curate” our lives on Facebook and none of it is really true.

  5. The way that FB presents just one facet of our lives is one of the reasons that I find it difficult. During a period of my life when I was feeling pretty down I had to avoid it completely, because I was doing that old insides – outsides comparison thing. And Primrose is *so* right about using FB as boozy justification – look how funny it is to drink wine all the time, look everyone does it it’s fine. And the idea that looking after small children necessitates the drinking of wine is one that I am finding particularly grating at the moment. I seem to come up against it everywhere. I used to get it from my mum, too: ” Just put your feet up and have a glass of wine.” Sigh.

  6. It is depressing the way society and the media glamorise alcoholism. I never understood why it is supposed to be funny that someone is claiming to be getting wasted first thing in the morning or needs half a bottle of wine to cope with the stresses of parenting. That’s not funny at all, that’s depressing. It makes me think something must be fundamentally wrong with society that its such a casual thing to need to turn to drink.

    And don’t even get me started on “Oh lol and then I woke up in a pool of my own vomit, it was everywhere, and I had a broken foot lol, no idea how I got it, my friends said I was having seizures and shitting myself lol WHAT AN AWESOME NIGHT! 😀 😀 :D”

  7. Bravo Allie! What a well-written post and so poignant. So often we’re cautioned about how FB/social media doesn’t show us the whole picture and we shouldn’t compare, but I’d never really thought about what that means for those of us in recovery AND those of us who are struggling. Thanks for putting this out there.

  8. Sure it’s prevalent on social media, and then again, it’s prevalent everywhere. When I got sober, it was like every liquor sign, ad and placement was surrounded by flashing neon lights (some actually were) with arrows pointing at them and saying “here!”. It took me a little bit of time to have that fade. Sure others will talk / text / tweet / post about their booze, but that’s okay, because for 90% of the population, it’s not going to turn into a problem. It might make their lives yucky at times, but I can’t make an passing judgements on them or society (not to say that you were!) – it just is what it is. And my alcoholism is what it is. And the two shall never meet 🙂

    So in the end I just ignore a lot of that stuff. Or avoid it (on twitter I follow other sober folks, runners, and a few straglers…lol)

    Those who are posting all that stuff aren’t try to rub our faces in it – they aren’t thinking of those who struggle. Hey, I post about running often – but what about the person who had a tragic accident and can’t walk? Am I being insensitive? No – I am just writing about where I am in my life. I am not taking into account those who would love to exercise, but can’t, etc.

    Silly argument, perhaps, but I haven’t had coffee yet and this is the best I can do 🙂

    Paul….rambling

  9. I felt the same way when I was newly sober. I was flipping through Self magazine, a health and fitness magazine, and came across an article, “How to Drink to Stay Thin”. I chucked the magazine across the room, sent them a snarky email, and cancelled my subscription. I showed them!
    Social media is a false world where people only put up the happy and good. No one posts that the one beautiful glass of wine turned into a bottle and a half, a screaming fight with their husband, passing out, and waking up with hairy teeth.
    The constant references to alcohol that we are bombarded with daily are insane. But then again, we drunks are the only ones who really notice.

  10. This is something that often affects me. The magic, glittery world that people create using social media. I see photos “friends” post – giant bottles of booze, beer and wine every night…I almost feel like its justification for me. If they’re doing it, then why can’t I? It’s okay! But no, It surely is glamorized and romanticized and nothing is ever as it seems. I need to remember this. Thank you for yet another awesome post.

  11. I absolutely LOVED this post. You are such a gifted writer. I couldn’t agree more with you.It pisses me off so much that more people can’t see through the false b/s that we’re being bombarded with! Since I stopped drinking I have definitely become a better parent…and guess what? It’s a little easier than it was before…I wonder why that is?! Less irritability ( I’d love to say NO irritability but I’m not perfect!), no pounding head, spinning stomach, and restless anticipation…( when’s my next night out coming?…What excuse can I come up with for drinking while I cook waffles and chicken dippers?!).At the moment I’m involved with a project that’s just about to come to a close, and between FB references / photos / countdowns and verbal promises of how GREEAAATTT our wind up party will be because of the copious amounts of alcohol everyone is going to have…..blah blah blah……I’m fed up. Can everyone just grow up? Even a little…..please?!

  12. I never noticed all the social media, articles and advertisements until I got sober. I am grateful and many times i think the next day, how many are still in bed or struggling w/ a hang over. That is something I do not miss. Social Media hides many things… I feel sad for the ones who use it to make it seem their life is so great b/c I think many lives are not as perfect as they picture it. Great post~ thank you for sharing!

  13. I was thinking recently that my outward life has not changed all that much really. I do a lot of the same things, see the same friends, etc, but it seems so amazingly different to me. A lot of my most drunken moments were only witnessed by a few people, so most of my facebook “friends” never noticed a thing. Yet everything felt like such a damn mess before and now it doesn’t….it’s such a good feeling. Great post! 🙂

  14. I’ve unfollowed numerous people because I find it difficult to look at their arty beer shots all the time. I feel petty and righteous at the same time. Every day I feel a tiny bit closer to unplugging from facebook for good (already gave up twitter). It’s not real life – at all – though I love seeing pictures of my baby nephews and the sober groups I belong to. Pulling the plug completely feels like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. But it is hard to look at the drunken stuff with sober eyes. It has gotten easier compared to early sobriety, and I don’t judge as quickly those who I think might have a “problem”. I don’t have an answer, but I sure can relate. This was a beautifully written post, by the way. Really enjoyed it.

  15. Great post, again. A few months ago, I used to send and share those “funny” photos about needing a wine or three. It helped me feel normal, even though I knew how the party ended. I don’t comment or share those any more. I don’t make any negative comments about them, either, because that would be a little too close to the bone. So the illusion continues. I have wondered about one friend who makes nonsensical comments on fb late at night. Maybe one day I’ll ask him. I did open a discussion on fb, posting my observations one month into the 100 days sober that I’ve declared to my friends. Only one person was brave enough to comment. How many of them are insecure about their own relationship with alcohol, and find mine confronting? If I pluck up the courage, at the end of 100 days, to tell people I’m giving up for good, how many ‘likes’ will I get? Will there be an embarrassed silence. You’re right. We have no idea of the reality of people’s lives.

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