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.


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.


We are all the same distance from our next drink

I don’t write much about cravings and control any more, and that’s because it’s rarely an issue.  To the extent that I miss drinking, I miss it in the abstract.  I miss the idea of a future evening, curled up on the couch with LH, sharing a bottle of wine.  Or I miss the future toast I’ll make when my first daughter marries, holding vintage champagne aloft.  In the here and now, I very rarely think that what I want, right now, is some alcohol.

Yesterday, a craving hit me out of absolutely nowhere.  I had had a reasonable afternoon, the kids were in bed, I was cooking a couple of meals for the freezer.  I didn’t really want to be cooking, but I’d promised the school that I’d donate a pot of soup to an evening event, and some casserole steak needed turning into casserole, so there went my evening.

Anyway, I was most of the way through this process, and I picked up an open bottle of cabernet to pour some into the slow cooker.  Usually, I get a brief wave of ‘Goodness, it’s lucky I’m not going to go out of control and just gulp this down’ in the same way that one thinks, near the edge of a cliff, ‘I could throw myself off this cliff.  I won’t, though’.

Yesterday, the urge to glug some down was immensely powerful.  Even as I willed my arm to keep moving so that the liquid glugged out into the casserole instead, I was watching myself from the outside.  Right now I’m managing to resist, but God.  I still really want to drink this.  I could pour some into a glass and just drink it fast.  Then it’d be done, I wouldn’t have to struggle with the craving any more, and I could just move on as sober again.  Even if I regret it, regret is easier than this wanting.

Just as I used to when I drank, and I wanted to drink, and I knew I was going to break the promise I’d made to myself that morning, or the previous night, or last week, about cutting down or stopping.  There’s a disassociation that happens in those moments.  The addict brain starts frantically wheeling out every single argument in favour of the fix.  It jabbers so fast, sometimes, that the arguments don’t even coalesce; there are just remnants scattered across the brain.  I deserve, it’s only one, just liquid, stop again tomorrow, moderate, self-discipline, everyone does… And the other part of you sits clear of the shrapnel.  Watching.  And that voice is cold and clear and it says ‘you’re lying to yourself‘. It says ‘you’re lying to yourself because you have a problem, and you know that you’re going to drink and you know that you shouldn’t drink and you’re going to anyway‘.  And then you drink because both voices are going to shut up if you do, and that feels like a good enough reason, frankly.

So there I was, thinking my thoughts about this.  And the icy voice crept in.  Here you are, watching yourself pour wine into a dish.  You’re holding a bottle of wine.  You’re an alcoholic, and you’re alone in a kitchen, and you’re holding a bottle of wine.  Your arrogance will be your downfall.  (My inner voice really does speak like this.  It has Shakespearean aspirations).

You know those movies where someone has telekinetic powers and they can control inanimate objects with the force of their mind?  That’s what I felt like I was doing, when I forced my arm to put down the bottle, screw the lid back on and take it into another room.  As if it wasn’t my arm, as if it wasn’t my mind.  There was me and there was the body holding the bottle, and they were not the same person.

I’m not going to lie, it pretty much scared me.  And once I’d got past it, and finished cooking, and was once more safely ensconced in my well-lit lounge room with my creature comforts – specifically my comfortable creature – around me, I immediately wanted sugar.  I wanted an entire packet of Haribo Tangfastics, those nasty, chemical-laden, artificial-in-every-way chewy sweets that I relied on heavily in my initial withdrawl from alcohol.  Sugar from shock, or stepping down to a secondary addiction?  I don’t know.  But that craving persisted throughout the entire evening, whereas the alcohol craving hit hard and fast and was gone as soon as I put the lid back on the bottle.

And tonight I’m going to eat slow cooked beef casserole, and enjoy it.

Little victories

It’s winter here in Australia, and if you live in the Northern hemisphere you probably don’t believe me, but actually it gets really quite chilly.  A couple of days ago, it was hailing as Little Girl and I picked up the children from school (Big Girl and Visiting Child, whom I look after in the afternoons).  Getting fed up with the cluster of parents and children waiting for it to die down, I did my best prim British nanny impression, Mary Poppins style, and told the girls to come along, they weren’t made of sugar, we’d all get wet and cold and that was alright because as soon as I got them home we’d turn the heating on and warm up.  So off we went, the three little girls obediently trotting at my heels, drove home through some really quite unreasonable weather, and ran for shelter at the other end.

At which point I discovered that there was a suburb-wide power outage.  My home is entirely electric; there is no gas or oil heating.  There is an old wood oven in the kitchen, Aga-style.

So I sent the children upstairs with a slice of chocolate cake each and an admonishment to “run around, or something” while I tried to light the old stove.  It was already getting dark, of course, which may explain why, in searching for the firelighters, I opened a precariously-balanced cupboard and smashed three large casserole dishes.  It’s quite hard to ensure that you’ve swept up all the shards of china from three large casserole dishes, in the glooming, which would be why I then snapped at Little Girl when she wandered downstairs – barefoot, naturally – to enquire mournfully ‘We watch Pe’a Pig now?  Peeeeeeease?’.

Rang the electricity company. Power might be back on by 9 pm.  Rang Lovely Husband, who is sympathetic but oh, did he say, he has to work a bit late tonight?

At that point, down on my knees in the semi-darkness, trying to see shards of china while shooing away small children, worrying about dinner, I had this faint, theoretical thought that went ‘this would have been about the time when I would have felt Very Justified in having a glass of wine‘.

And in that moment, I felt so much better.  I was still cold, and it was still dark, and the kids were still bickering.  But I wasn’t drinking!  And thus a successful evening was born.

Once Visiting Child had been despatched, not visibly shivering but relieved nonetheless, to her mother, I handed each of my girls a torch.  ‘Right’, I said, ‘we’re going to have an adventure.  How many clothes can you both put on?’.  Once swathed in layers, we ran to the car and I introduced them to their first ever pizza bar.  ‘Can we help choose the flavour, Mummy?  What flavours do they have?’. There are more flavours in this pizza bar, daughter mine, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.  Also, there are olives.  Fill your boots.

By the time we got home, LH had arrived and succeeded in lighting the wood stove, which meant that once the girls were tucked up in their warmest pyjamas and three blankets each, we could heat coffee and lentil soup and glean a little bit of warmth from the stove.  ‘It’s just like camping’, he said, ‘all we need is some chocolate and a glass of port’.

‘You might.  I’m very happy with my coffee’.