On March 17th, 2015, St. Patrick’s Day, I sat down at my computer and began to write a Facebook post that would be unlike any I had written before. I admit that I have been guilty of commonplace Facebook behavior: posting beautiful or flattering photos, cultivating a kind of appearance or persona that alludes to a life of happiness and perfection. Reality is not what is seen on social media, and with this post I was beginning the process of dismantling, or perhaps humanizing, the carefree persona I suppose I had attempted to create. Rather than merely sharing our triumphs or achievements on social media, why not also share our pain or vulnerability with our “community”? If social media is intended to “connect” us, why shouldn’t I use it to implement a kind of connection with my “friends”? On a day when many people were drinking with wild abandon, I wrote:
Hello Facebook Community!
It seems only fitting to share this on St. Patrick’s Day: after a long, tumultuous relationship with booze, I have decided to just break up with it — FOR GOOD. I am very excited about this decision; it feels right for me. Because of my choice, I may be seeing some of you more, others a lot less, but either way I am entering this new phase with love and acceptance. I have chosen to post this to dispel any sense of embarrassment or shame; it is nothing to be ashamed of and I know that this decision will positively impact my life. Thank you in advance for the support! Have fun and be safe out there today!
Before I could delete it I clicked the “post” button, logged out, and closed my computer, resolving to go on with my day and not give it another thought. Of course not giving it another thought was impossible, but I held out for a few hours, distracting myself with what I should have been doing anyway, homework. This declaration was a decision I had made recently, but the declaration itself was a separate decision. I had been asking myself for days on end, To post, or not to post? (Sorry, Shakespeare!)
About a month before my announcement on social media, I had decided that I was going to get sober, and sober not just for six weeks as I had been recently, but FOREVER. I’ve had many stumbling blocks over the years, many false senses of securities, valleys and mountains of drunk and sober behavior. Sometimes I could have a couple drinks and call it a night, other times I took a sip and couldn’t stop until I blacked out. All these instances, all these years, I have felt so guilty. The guilt is one of the worst things I have ever experienced in my entire life. Why can’t I drink like everyone else? Why have I done the things that I’ve done? These questions have been running through my head for years, eroding my soul and my self-worth. The only way to make the questions go away, even for a little bit, was to drink again.
Drinking to celebrate, drinking to quell uneasiness, drinking to numb myself. Drinking for any reason at all, just so I wouldn’t have to feel. Now, at the age of twenty-eight, I have to learn how to actually feel my feelings, to sit with them and identify them instead of drowning them. No matter how many times I tried to drown them, they were always, and have always been, there, just below the surface. Misguided escape from reality has led me to this point, to now. Simply being is a state that I now strive for, a mode of existence that I have avoided since the age of fifteen, when I tried alcohol for the first time.
Drinking was what you did in a small town like mine, it was a solution to boredom, a balm for insecurity, a staple of any party. As a freshman I was not yet privy to the party circuit, but my friends had parents who kept well-stocked bars that they left unattended. When I was fifteen I went to my friend’s house, where a bottle of Jack Daniels was procured. Hesitant at first because I hadn’t grown up around alcohol (my mother has been sober for nearly 30 years; Go, Mom!), I eventually thought, Why not? I was not my mother, and my friends’ parents were not her, either. They seemed fine with alcohol, better than fine, even. It seemed fun, carefree. As my friend’s mom and stepdad rollicked outside at a party with their friends, we sat cross-legged on the floor of her octagon-shaped bedroom and began to drink.
Ugh, the Jack Daniels tasted awful; how did adults drink this stuff? We remedied the burning, foreign flavor with cups of soda, experimenting until we found the perfect ratio of alcohol to sugary carbonation. As we drank, everything became hilarious; we were exuberant. The world seemed to open up in a way that I had never experienced before. Tongues loosened, we told each other things we had never felt comfortable sharing before, we bonded with one another, friendship bolstered by strange, sparkling liquid. We felt free.
Looking back, I think it is this freedom that kept me coming back for more. My worries and insecurities ebbed away, became nonexistent. I felt carefree, a state of being I suppose I hadn’t experienced since I was a young girl. My own self was mysterious and unknown, and I looked very different from most of the people who surrounded me in my day-to-day life. Alcohol changed all that. Suddenly I was invincible, perfect! I didn’t have a care in the world. I said funny, witty remarks, I flirted with abandon, I could be wild and charismatic. Until I wasn’t anymore.
March 17th, 2015, St. Patrick’s Day. After willfully avoiding my phone and the internet, I couldn’t contain my curiosity any longer; I had to see if anyone had commented on or “liked” my post. Since posting my declaration of being sober, I had been panic-stricken. Why had I felt compelled to post such a personal decision for the “world” to see? Would people think it was weird, would they judge me? I remembered a conversation that I had had with my friend a week beforehand, when I had asked her what she thought about me writing a Facebook post about being sober. I had been thinking about it constantly because I wanted people to know; it was a life-changing commitment, but I also felt like it would hold me accountable if I told everyone. I also thought that sharing my commitment on Facebook would help to circumnavigate the inevitable questioning I predicted I would receive. It was weird if you didn’t drink at functions, especially in “Wine Country.”
“I had thought about doing that,” my friend had admitted, looking thoughtful as she toyed with a piece of her hair. “But then I thought about all those people judging me, and I didn’t want to deal with that.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I had said, thinking it over. I thought about what she had said frequently over the next coming days, torn about what to do. As I weighed the pros and cons, I realized that no one can judge you as much as you judge yourself. And then, Who cares what people think? Yes, of course I wanted feedback, but if people didn’t understand or judged me when I was being honest and vulnerable, then screw ‘em.
I pulled up Facebook and was shocked to see that nearly 40 people had already “liked” my post. The comments that followed were so kind; my eyes welled with tears:
“I believe in you!”
“Good for you, Emma! That takes a lot of courage and strength. I admire you, girl!”
“Oh dear friend, you rock!!!! Each day battle those thoughts. love you.”
“I love you! Inspiration <3.”
“Congratulations beautiful Em! I support you totally and completely!”
I was overwhelmed by the positivity and support of a community, myself included, that was often prone to pretending that everything was okay when it wasn’t, to denying imperfections or vulnerability. A comment that really bolstered my slowly blooming confidence came from a girl I had gone to high school with but hadn’t seen in years. She said that she was proud of and happy for me; she has been sober for the past four years and said that they have been the best years of her life. I had had no idea that she was sober.
By the beginning of following day, my post had topped out at a hundred “likes,” a number that I’d never received on any of my previous blanketed posts. I also received a text message from a girl I used to drink with when I lived alone: “Hi Emma, I just saw your post on Facebook and I’m so happy for you! I’m so impressed. That’s something that would greatly benefit me too, or at least taking a break but it scares me. I would love to get together with you soon.”
When I read her message, I realized that laying myself bare had created the possibility for others to do the same. I realized that I was not, and have never been, alone. And with this realization, I felt free.
I wish you a wild, free life.