Facebook, Drinking, and Illusion


It’s funny how life works.

Sometimes I get the exact phrase or story or song lyric that I will need right before being blindsided. It’s as if someone hands me a lifeline just as I’m about to go overboard.

Yesterday’s lifeline came in the form of an email from a friend in early sobriety, and she included a link to Brene Brown’s Ted Talk on The Power of Vulnerability. (I’ve seen it before but was happy to listen to Brene once again discuss how embracing our weaknesses can help us connect with life and other people.) My friend described how she was using the Ted Talk to ‘lean in’ to uncomfortable feelings. I’d been trying to do that as well because I am forever scheming to avoid discomfort and pain, like most people. I am a great stuffer of bad feelings. Of course, I used to have alcohol to dull or sharpen or release ‘bad’ feelings, but that stopped working long ago.

My friend wrote about those overwhelming feelings and urges you get when you first stop drinking. I was beyond all that, I thought. I couldn’t really remember when the last strong desire to drink had hit me. I had graduated. Armed with almost a year of studying sobriety as if I were majoring in it, I felt safe.

On to Facebook ….

I rarely look at Facebook, mostly because I don’t have much interest in what people I knew years ago are having for breakfast. Or where their great-nephew is going to school. I do like to keep up with distant relatives and close friends, but that only takes the occasional glance at Facebook, and I wade past all of the invitations to like this or that. Consequently, I rarely post anything.

I was on Facebook to invite another friend of mine, Kim, on a spiritual retreat I was thinking of attending. I quickly Googled the retreat’s website to judge if it might be something that appealed to her. Unfortunately, the site featured a photo of a tired-looking  group of mostly older women acting kooky to demonstrate that they were having fun. (Never mind that they were probably my age.) Ah, well … hopefully she could see past the images to the more spiritual aspects of the retreat.

Clicking on Kim’s Facebook page, I saw that she was on a boat somewhere in the Caribbean. There she was, frosty glass of mimosa hoisted in the air. “Breakfast of champions!” was the caption. She looked tanned and happy, and I casually scrolled down through her photos. Kim in a cocktail dress, glass of wine in hand. Celebrating a birthday with a gang of friends, all casually strewn about an island bar. More photos of friends, friends, friends. So happy, all of them.

And a feeling I didn’t like began to wrap itself around my heart.

Envy. Hurt.

I used to do that. I used to be on those beaches, feeling the warm sun on my skin, hugging people I barely knew, hoisting my glass in the air. I wanted that back again. It was mine too. I felt a familiar wave of grief wash over me.

Then I thought about the spiritual getaway I would be going to. That awful photo of sober, kooky fun. I didn’t want to do that! That wasn’t me. I am one of those women on the boat. That’s where I belong.

But this time I recognized the feeling I was having, because I had named it before. Heartbreak.

And I sat with the feeling. I let myself feel it. It hung on tight around my chest, and then began to dissipate. I honored myself, acknowledging that it was OK to feel this grief, however misguided.

It hurt to let go of who I was. It hurt to suddenly be the kind of person who talks about mindfulness and yoga and healthy food, sprinkled in with a few anti-drinking anecdotes. A person who goes to bed by ten and has become predictable and has successfully driven most every drinking friend to the sidelines of her life. And has yet to search for new ones among the non-drinking world.

But that’s OK. That’s change, I told myself. Change for the better.

More reasonable thoughts began to enter my mind. As if on cue, a quote from an Eckhart Tolle article that I had written down rose in my mind: “Now you can use thought instead of being used by it.”

The photographs, and my thoughts that went with them, were an illusion. I knew that. When I was drinking with friends, the photos never covered the following morning, hung over and remorseful. Or the drunken arguments that took place late at night. Or the swerving cars leaving the dock. And this idea that drinking somehow led to vacations was also an illusion. It led to overdrawn bank accounts and money wasted on gallons of alcohol.

And broken families.

And I knew Kim was actually having a crisis of her own right now, wondering about her marriage, her career, her kids. And her drinking. She also was trying to save herself from a life that looked glittery and colorful on the outside, but that she found increasingly empty and unfulfilling.

I sent her the invite. And I look forward to the retreat, with her or without.

I went back to the retreat photo, to see it through my own eyes instead of how I perceived Kim might see it. On second glance, the people in the photo seemed genuine, like they didn’t take themselves so seriously. They were unconcerned about their image. Hell, they probably posted the photo on their Facebook pages.

Maybe they were just waiting for me to grow up enough to appreciate them. Maybe this group, I decided, was exactly what I needed.

49 thoughts on “Facebook, Drinking, and Illusion

  1. Bravo!! This is so good. Every now and then my mind goes to those “happy” times when I was drinking, the fun.. the adventure, all that stuff. And just like you said, the morning after alone is enough to make me rethink “missing” those things. Waking up thinking you won’t make it until Bloody Mary time. At least that was me. Thanks for sharing. Love it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly. And I’m not sure why I’m always picturing exotic islands. I haven’t been to an island in over a decade. I still somehow think that if only I drank again, life would take off like an exciting adventure. If I take the time to remember what it was really like … sitting on the couch, inebriated by 7:00 … then I can take the romanticism out of it.
      Thanks, Janet! xoxo

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m a bit younger, but I’m having a similar problem – most of the people I love are still in the place (addiction) I was two years ago, and I hate to say that I’ve outgrown them, but there’s no other way to say it. I still love them and have a lot of hope for them, but it’s just…sad.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It is sad, but if they ever reach the place where they want to change, they will think of you. You might be the catalyst that makes them think about their own behavior. What I’ve found is that sometimes sobriety drives people who are too close to the flame away because they don’t want to look at their own behavior. Regardless, I commend you for doing this so young! You’ve saved yourself a lot of pain.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Anne. I need to study these stages because I am just now hearing about this way of dealing with problems. Have I been living under a rock?
      Once again, I am thankful to the sober blogosphere for educating me. ; )


  3. I agree with ainsobriety. I also have a friend just like Kim. I used to feel envious when I looked through happy photos of my friends. On the other hand, I am so grateful for having a sober and healthy life in which I can find joy. Later I realized that some of those photos of my friends are not based on reality. I just wish I could help them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know what you mean. One thing I have found out the hard way is that inviting them to join you in sobriety doesn’t always turn out like you’d hoped. I read on one blogger’s page that she just tries to make her sober life look as attractive as possible to people who might be watching. Because of that post, I no longer apologize EVER for not drinking. I used to whine to friends that I really wanted to drink but had to give it up for “health reasons.” Now, that is actually not true. I don’t want to sacrifice tomorrow for a drink today. xoxo

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Such a brilliant post! This is one of the things that always pulled me back is that my identity was tightly wrapped up in the partying lifestyle. I was the rock chick downing tequila – I wasn’t the tea drinking, meditating flax seed eating type!

    When we let go of that identity what is left is a badass authentic human being experiencing life straight up. That’s courage and truth and rebellion everything I love. Maybe it’s not glamorous but at least it’s real☺ xxx

    Liked by 5 people

    1. What a fantastic description: a badass authentic human being experiencing life straight up. And it’s so true! That is the one attitude that keeps me fired up about staying alcohol free. I do want to “own” this badassery.
      (And I also eat flax seed.)
      Thank you!!!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. This is such a great post. I loved how you worked through your feelings and acknowledged them. I feel like I really romanticize the thought of drinking when in reality I mostly just sat at home drinking by myself. I too experience the pangs when I see photos of other people having fun, and have to remind myself that sometimes things aren’t want they seem.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you. ; ) It helps to know that other people make it through this sort of thing without drinking. I have NO experience working through feelings. This might be something people learn in therapy, something I clearly need but have never taken advantage of. I think that’s why drinking worked for me sometimes. I could experience feelings instead of stuffing them down. That’s not a healthy way to live, apparently.
      Who knew? I thought it was a survival skill. But then again, look where it got me: sitting on the couch, or worse yet, calling people, while drinking myself to sleep.
      Thanks for the comment. xoxo!

      Liked by 2 people

  6. My friend once said that Facebook is like the “highlights reel” and it is staged to look enviable. I am the last human in western civilisation not to be on Facebook I think. I can’t even express how much I loathe it. Your post is about the third or fourth I have read in two weeks commenting on a similar theme. Two bloggers have shut theirs down to free themselves. I am not suggesting you do that but it seems like it has helped you focus on the illusion it is presenting rather than the reality.
    Like all your posts I love this and think it is so beneficial to read as it guides newly sober through the cravings but also acts as a reminder to those of us further along that out of the blue we can be smacked upside the head with a craving. I like the pacing of the realisations and remind me that I don’t need to create a drama storm before I can pull myself back to calm. I loved that you went back to the photo to view it with your own eyes, I do that too, imagine how someone else will view it therefor view me if they don’t like it. I have one friend that I don’t have to edit anything for which is so freeing.
    I’d be your sober friend IRL if we lived closer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Ginger! You underestimate my willingness to travel. I’ll just head your way sometime in the next few weeks. ; )
      I love the phrase “highlights reel.” I’ve posted photos like that myself, but I always feel kind of slimy posting something that looks more like a humble-brag. Facebook does not come naturally for me. I have one daughter on Facebook, but she never posts, so I could probably just give it up altogether as well. I only check it once every couple of weeks as it is.
      And I love the phrase “drama storm!” I am such a storm trooper. Even if it’s not an outwardly impressive thing, I will secretly begin to project my dissatisfaction with my life (after viewing images of drink after drink after drink), so that some innocent loved one will have to bear my misguided frustration.
      That’s really really bad. I am hoping to catch that type of reaction as well.
      And it’s funny what you said about viewing a photo the way you think someone else will. That’s what Facebook is all about for me. I post a photo, and then wonder what that bitch Marsha that pissed my off in the ninth grade thinks of me now! Yes, apparently the juvenile side of me can still rear its ugly head.
      Thank you for your wonderful comments, Ginger.


  7. Wonderful post. I really enjoy your writing and the honesty in them. And that in the end, there is a small transformation of sorts which brings it to a close, in some ways.

    Many, and I mean, many people in recovery I know have a hard time looking at the FB timelines for the reasons you mentioned. I am rarely on FB, and in fact, even though I follow mostly sober folks on FB, I recently shut it down. I don’t feel like I am missing anything there. But I do understand the “pang” of so-called “missing out”. But like you, I recognize it for what it is for a second, then dismiss it. I have gotten much better and faster at catching myself. And two things come to mind, which have been mentioned by astute readers here:

    1) FB and social media is often that “highlight reel” that we compare to our behind the scenes stuff. Lots of stories have come out about how people doctor photos and put on an idealized front.

    and related to that…

    2) we never know what it going on with other people…and you saw that too. People put their best foot forward, and to those people, I wonder “what is *really* going on with them?” It’s not all unicorns and rainbows.

    Being aware of this helps me when I get that sort of pang.

    Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you, Paul! I like the observation you made about getting “that sort of pang.” That is what usually happens to me when I scroll through the partying photos on FB, so this reaction (which seemed to happen without my permission!) was really surprising in how quickly it struck. It’s amazing that you can feel that way after not missing drinking for an extended period of time. But that could be said of all kind of things we used to “love.” Alcohol is unique in that it’s everywhere, and that we are sold the idea that you have to have it to really have fun and let go. But I was never taught to question feelings in the past as related to alcohol. I would just feel a pang and then either ignore the feeling or make an excuse to drink. Catching myself in these thoughts, as you put it, has made all the difference in me staying sober this time around.
      Thank you also for the writing encouragement. I sometimes think I would be better off just venting sometimes instead of waiting until there has been some kind of resolution. I love when other people do this, but I’m not very adept at it myself. I think it’s still a form of me isolating, in a way. I am not really taking advantage of the therapeutic kind of writing that other people are doing.
      As always thank you so much for your comments.
      xoxo, Shawna

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Amazing post Shawna. I’m bookmarking this one! You took me through what I haven’t been able to take myself through; I couldn’t name it all- thank you for your incredible insights and awareness. I’m blown away.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, sister! I have no experience in working through emotions. I had this idea that you had to be positive, or at the very least, ignore painful feelings. I still won’t go near the big stuff and that’s OK. With a little practice, I’ll get there, in the safest, most loving environment possible. I continue to be amazing at how you have done exactly that, however. Your blog has gone a long way in freeing me from these inhibitions.
      Thank you, Elizabeth. ; )

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks Shawna. You’re welcome. Did you use a specific technique to go through that process? I read about the RAIN technique on someone’s blog (can’t remember who’s) but it sounded great. Just curious. ❤


      2. I don’t know of any particular technique, but a book by Jan Frazier, When Fear Falls Away, talks about what it’s like to be ‘enlightened.’ She seems to feel immensely but then it passes right through her.

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Hi Shawna!
    I struggle with FB everyday, in one way or another.
    I compare my life to other people’s, or see pictures of things I wasn’t invited too, but everyone else seems to have been, etc.
    My family all live are away, and so it’s one way I can stay in touch, as the younger members use social media a lot.
    But I know the stories behind some of their posts, and they are not all happy times with dogs and kids.
    Much Love,

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Me too, Wendy. Especially things I haven’t been invited to! I know I would have been had I been drinking. (I also know that I wouldn’t go now because they are major drinking events and I get bored after the first day.) Still, I would prefer to turn them down sometimes rather than have it done for me. On second thought, maybe these people are trying to do what’s in my best interest. Never thought of it that way.
      Thanks for commenting. ; )

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Nothing like laughing out loud at 5:30 in the morning. Even the dog is wondering what’s going on. I do need a mu-mu! How did you know? And I am snow-bunny pale but will use a self-tanner to get a healthy glow. This sounds so much better than a ‘frosty glass of loathing.’ I am going to find a way to work that phrase into my conversations all week long.
      Thank you for your uplifting comments. It has set the tone for a kick-ass day.
      Off to yoga!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, at 5 am in the morning, you have beyond made my day. Thank you!
      And then I clicked on your website and was completely blown away. What an amazing tribute to your brother. I am so moved by it, partly because I have spent a lot of time researching NDE and psychics to find out what happens when we die. For me, your brother is still here, more than ever now because he’s helping you, and other people who have lost loved ones, to heal.
      I know my views aren’t everyone’s cup of tea. ; )
      I look so forward to reading your brother’s letters.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love this. I am guilty of believing the pictures and suffering the jealousy, hurt, dissapointment because of what I believe about those images. My own thoughts have caused me pain. Why couldn’t I see that. Not the photos but my thoughts about them!
    And so true how we view something as though we are looking through someone else’s eyes. I do that all the time. If I think they won’t like it then I don’t like it. A window has opened…..thank you 😘😘

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! It’s funny you should say that because as I was looking through Facebook recently, I could see the ‘staging’ in a woman’s photos that I used to know. In real life, she is very insecure and difficult to work with. To believe her Facebook page, however, was to believe that everyone at work adored her, and her friends can’t say enough good things about her. She posted photos of cards that people sent her (including the messages) and selfies with as many groups as possible. It almost looked like how I imagine she would want a dating profile to appear. It is not real! She has over 700 friends. She openly asks for validation, for example, she posted: Hi friends! If you could use one word to describe me, what would it be?
      As I was fuming about how fake this Facebook profile was, I caught myself, once again, being controlled by my thoughts about what I was seeing. I was judging harshly, though what I should have felt was compassion that she had to work so hard for approval. Once again, it was my thoughts about the photos that made me crazy. ; )


  11. After losing my Mom alcohol literally just scares me now. It’s poison really when you think about what it does to your liver. I stopped drinking shortly after she died… I have been sober since March of 2016 but I had started to slowly work alcohol out of my life in May of 2015. I saw the downward spiral it was bringing her and knew that coping with alcohol would not be effective in the coming months. I LOVE BEING SOBER. It brings me clarity to know that if I never pick it up again it won’t kill me like it did my Mom.

    That said, alcohol still leaves anger and hurt…working through these things finally now. But let me just say this I saved one 10,000 dollars with ease after I was no longer spending money on booze.

    And you’re absolutely right… the photos never capture the hangover, or the late night arguments, or the slurred words, or the DUI charges. So proud of you to be making a positive change in your life!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It looks like we went alcohol free about the same time: March 31, 2016 for me. That means my one year anniversary is … today!!!
      I so identify with your mom. I’m sure she’s so proud of the way you are blessing her by keeping her memory alive with your beautiful portrayal of her life. It will be such a gift to all of us when it’s become a book one day. By telling your story, you are encouraging the rest of us to do the same. Thank you for that. I’ve started a book as well, but get hung up on the details. I make it too complicated when in reality, it’s just telling your story.

      I love being sober as well, and I try not to waste time on regrets. There is no need because it all come together perfectly in the long run. We are off to a weekend celebration. I hope you have a wonderful day as well. ; )


  12. So true! I find Facebook utterly irritating … It seems to be all about showing the best possible photo of oneself on the most glamorous beach as if to say, “Hey! Look at how beautiful I am today and how lucky I am to be able to be here whilst you’re clearly not!”. It’s made me see a different side to them. And yet, they are indulged by others who comment and praise and give them likes …. I thought I was maybe just some sort of miserable jealous old miser! Thank God a) I’m not (I hope!) and b) I’m not alone in thinking this!

    Liked by 1 person

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