A glass of wine in hand, I'd scroll through my social media page and see the happiness I shared with the world. I'd also wonder how long I was going to lie to myself about my drinking is a problem. By the third glass, those thoughts stopped and I'd continue to scroll and pour, scroll and pour. My online life did not portray my reality. And I hid my problem well.
With new haircut selfies, family outings and motivational posts, you wouldn't have assumed the curator of this life actually hated herself, but I did. There was something really scary about how easy it was to mislead people on social media.
I'd wake, up every day on autopilot – to kids, the chaos, coffee, my phone. The routine became so regular it no longer required much mental effort. The problem with this is I stopped paying attention to myself. I wasn't checking in. I was hurting. I was getting by, but only by buying into the so-called reality, I shared, convincing myself that I was okay. But I wasn't.
I felt sorry for myself for eating dinner alone. I was left inside my own mind with the person I resented the most. So, I drank. It started with one glass of wine and usually ended with a bottle, sometimes two. I hated myself because I couldn't identify with who I was anymore. I left my career to stay home with our two children and, like many moms, I had trouble adjusting to my new role. While my friends and followers saw the life I wanted them to see, inside I was messed up. A lot.
I drank and lied to myself; I convinced myself my husband was having an affair. I was certain that he chose work over his family. He was working for us, for our family, but I had trouble seeing it because I chose to take my hate for myself out on him.
I began to read stories about drunken mothers so I could tell myself I wasn't like them. Instead, I recognized the justifying and the hiding of alcohol. I understood that the amount I consumed was not healthy. I recognized how much internal damage had happened. This was a wake-up call, but I didn't stop drinking. It was like someone had opened a door to my future. Only, instead of taking advantage of it, I panicked and slammed it shut.
In the middle of this madness, I decided to go back to school to study nutrition. I so badly wanted to be something (anything but the lonely stay-at-home mom). I feared failure, yet I'd continue to drink on the nights I was supposed to be studying – better to have something to blame when my grades weren't up to par! And getting a babysitter when my husband worked late so I could go out with friends did nothing but continue the drunken hiss of everything wrong in my life. Regardless of what appeared on my social media feed, my reality had zero substance. I had completely disconnected from who I was. I lost myself.
On the fifth day of a drinking binge, I recognized a blackout on the horizon. How on earth could I take care of two small children, let alone myself? A little glimmer of light ignited inside and I knew if I could make myself vulnerable, I could expose this thing for what it really was – a problem. I picked up my phone and called a friend for help.
Pieces of that phone call haunt me – how many times I whispered "help me" and how I couldn't stop crying. I couldn't catch my breath. The pain had never felt more real. All of my emotions exploded in the most uncomfortable and raw way. I was speaking to another person, but for the first time, I was listening to how I felt. I was coming to terms with where the unhappiness came from and – at that moment – began to develop trust with myself.
The next day when I was sober, I exposed myself to everyone. I called my parents first (who immediately came over) and then sent texts and group messages to my friends. I needed everyone to know that I was building myself back up. I decided alcohol could no longer be a part of my life. I was supported but along with that support came the judgment. Some didn't take me seriously. Maybe they didn't understand.
When the drinking stopped I had to relearn a lot of things, such as existing around alcohol without using it, how to strike up interesting conversations, and how to have my own opinions without the crippling fear of what I thought people would think of me. I had to learn to eat right, take control of my health and stop sabotaging my goals. I had to learn to like myself again.
It's working. I feel lighter. Physically, after dropping 35 pounds, and mentally, I've dropped the guilt. I feel strong. But the rawness of that self-destructive time lives inside me. I don't, however, feel shame for messing up and I respect that about myself.
During my recovery, my posts became far and few between. I often felt so delicate and emotional that I couldn't post my vulnerability on social media right away. But when I did post it was real: a poem that I wrote about a picture I took of a stormy sky or posts of my husband's recently opened restaurant. Eventually, I was even able to address my sobriety and struggle.
Now, I can honestly say I am happy. As I continue to pursue my certification in holistic nutrition, I don't fear failure, but fight it. I'm impelled to motivate others, and in doing so, I relive the painful, messy parts of my life, but those raw parts are what drive change.
Where I once used social media to cover up and silence my secrets and demons, now it is my voice and platform: together we can address the things that hurt us and talk about them, safely.
Natalie Fader lives in Toronto