Two years ago I outed myself as obsessed with food and my body, and eventually named it as a relapse into the bulimia that had plagued me in my late teens and early twenties. My addiction to “healthy”/clean/Paleo eating was obvious to anyone who had cared to look for it from my frequent posts of social media, my restrictive eating habits in social settings and my frequent and elongated, intense, gym sessions which I proudly touted as “keeping me sane”.
There is no question that my addiction was showing. There was only wonder at what one should do about it, if anything. What role does the casual observer play? What place is there for acquaintances, family, and friends?
For six years in my twenties I was sober. I was sober because my bulimia led to drug addiction, and sobriety saved my life. I broke my sobriety in my late twenties when I began my career and the need for alcohol-infused networking struck my square in the face. Or maybe that is just the excuse I use. I drank socially for years, my drinking curtailed by my food and body obsession. As I began to let my grip on that lifestyle go, I found alcohol crept in more and more. If I’m not in the middle of a Whole30, what is there to keep my from drinking tonight? Every night?
The answer was nothing.
And I didn’t hide it. I posted pictures of the booze I consumed most nights. Hashtag selfcare. Hashtag fuckit. Hashtag champagneandfrenchfries.
My new addiction began showing. Again, I picked something socially acceptable. Socially revered even. Daily drinking may not be held on the pedestal that daily workouts and ever-increasingly restrictive eating is, but it’s far from discouraged. Memes of moms needing wine to survive a day of parenting dominate the internet. We are a culture steeped in alcohol use–and too often exalting alcohol abuse.
I happen to live in Portland, Oregon. Which means that marijuana is as legal in my state as alcohol is. I found the alcohol-weed combination especially appealing. So what if I was a sub-par parent, partner, and likely employee. I could shake that reality off at the end of the night with a bottle and a blunt, and crawl loaded into bed to do it all again the next day. I may not have smoked/ate weed as openly as I drank, but you can be assured the two often went hand in hand together–even if I didn’t feel safe to say so on social media.
Sometimes you don’t have to say much to say enough. A friend of mine says she knows when things are up in someone’s life when they get quiet online and start posting quotes instead of photos accompanied by personal anecdotes. We say what we need to say in the ways we can say it. We post articles, or react to viral photos, or avoid interacting with certain friends/topics. We out ourselves with location check-ins and filtered booze shots.
I don’t drink or smoke weed anymore. I went to rehab in the spring and did a brief stint in outpatient treatment after a relapse this summer. I haven’t been perfect, but I’m sober for the present. That doesn’t mean I’m not addicted. My vices these days tend to be shopping and social media. Which means that, once again, my addiction is showing. You who are my friends–and maybe some that aren’t–can see it.
What does that mean?
Should you say something if you can recognize the struggle of another? Is it your place? Is it helpful?
I used to think any addiction was something that should be immediately remedied. That it bespoke of something in charge of your life and entailed a need to admit, succumb, and succeed in altering behaviors, attitudes, environments, etc. I’ve veered from that belief. Because I think now we’re almost all addicted. And addicted doesn’t rule our lives so much a flavor them. It’s up to us to decode our own tolerance to what may be perceived as bitter by others.
I believe we are all doing our best. I have to, to survive in this too often cruel and confusing world. And with that belief I gift the benefit of doubt to people. Maybe they’re in denial. Maybe they know but can’t act. Maybe they’ve tried and right now are failing. Maybe they don’t know better. Maybe they don’t care. Likely I cannot see the whole picture and there are many truths that I’m not personally privy to. Who am I to judge? Who are you?
And yet…what if concern could be helpful? Is offering it warranted?
I say, yes. Conditionally. Carefully.
Being seen by others is perhaps one of the most powerful social tools in our collective arsenal. We can use this truth wisely, with grace and compassion. To express concern is a loving act. To express judgement is a violent one. Be careful which side you fall on. Be considerate of how your actions may be perceived. Be conscious of the chasm between intention and interaction. Be willing to admit your ignorance and apologize for your intrusion. Only when you can adequately adopt this complex myriad of truths and trials, are you ready to address something in the life of another.
Don’t kid yourself that caring should be easy or compassion simple. This life is messy.
Social media has smeared shit all over it.
But here we are. Finding our way through it together. Wondering where we stand with one another and how we might affect change or offer caring. We have more power than we know. We must use it carefully.