What Being Shamed for My Sobriety on Social Media Taught Me

This was originally published at The Fix. 

I’ve always had a bad habit of checking my phone when I wake up in the middle of the night.

So last Saturday, when I woke up around 3 a.m., I reached for my phone to check the time. As I did, a notification caught my eye. Someone who I rarely spoke to and wouldn’t even consider myself friends with had tagged me in a post on Facebook two hours earlier. Curiosity got the best of me, and I clicked on the notification in my sleepy stupor.

Upon reading what I had been tagged in, I was suddenly wide awake. I was livid. I was confused. But mostly, I was hurt. This person had made two public statuses, tagging me in each. One read, “Hey y’all, if your sins ever weigh too heavy, don’t worry, you always got Beth Leipholtz to guide you from her vast experience with drug addiction.” The other read, “There was this one time Beth drank a beer and she understood the nature of addiction.”

It was clear that these statuses were made with the intention of hurting me and making fun of me. I made the decision right then and there that I would not engage. I simply untagged myself from each status and blocked the person who had written them. I tried to go back to bed. But my mind was turning.

This person, most likely drinking at the time, had pushed exactly the right buttons in me. Upon getting sober a little over four years ago, one of my biggest fears was what people would think. I was in college when I got sober, which made my experience unique from the get-go. But to add to that, I had only been drinking for two years. I hadn’t faced any extreme consequences financially or legally. I hadn’t ruined many relationships.

When I made the choice to embrace sobriety, I was terrified that people would think I was being dramatic and overreacting, that I wasn’t really an alcoholic, that I didn’t understand addiction because my bottom was higher than others. Luckily, I’ve only encountered a few of these types of people over the past four years. Still, that’s a few too many for my liking.

You see, getting sober takes a hell of a lot of courage. Speaking out about your sobriety takes even more. And each time someone makes a comment that makes you feel as if getting sober was an overreaction, the wheels in your mind begin to turn. The addict in you starts to think maybe they’re right, that maybe you don’t understand addiction because you were never an addict in the first place. You start to think that if you don’t understand addiction, then who are you to be sharing your story and trying to help other people? You start to wonder if it’s even worth it.

It’s sad that one person’s words can have that much of an impact, but it’s also reality. I’m sure the person who posted these hurtful things simply wanted to get a rise out of me. I don’t think they realized just how deeply their words would cut, though. While this situation was hurtful, I think it was also a learning experience. After some reflecting on the situation and surrounding circumstances, I figure one of two things provokes this sort of behavior:

  1. People mock what they don’t understand. The unfortunate truth is that people are not always going to support your sobriety, and most often this is rooted in a misunderstanding of what addiction is and what it looks like. People who try to interfere with another person’s recovery are not well-educated on addiction in the first place. They don’t realize that addiction does not always look like sticking a needle into your veins, or living in a cardboard box, or overdosing and nearly dying. Sometimes addiction looks like saying “yes” to a drink when you really, really want to say “no” but don’t know how. Sometimes it looks like slowly losing sight of yourself and your values. Sometimes it looks like deteriorating relationships in your life due to alcohol, yet continuing to drink. Addiction is not black and white, not by a longshot. If a person thinks they need to stop drinking in order to live a more fulfilling life, then that is their choice and theirs alone. This is what outsiders looking in need to try to grasp.
  2. People mock what hits home for them. The only other reason I can figure that someone would go to such lengths to be hurtful is that they themselves are hurting. People in active addiction (myself included) tend to lash out and become uncomfortable when something resonates with them and makes them realize they may actually have a problem with a substance. It’s an uncomfortable realization to come to, one that takes people many years to confront. So rather than sitting with that discomfort and determining what to do about it, they mock others. They take other’s experiences and try to minimize them. They use their words to inflict pain on others and deflect it from themselves. Unfortunately, the best course of action here is probably to take the high road and to not engage, hoping that someday the person on the other end will come to terms with their own issues.

Of course, there’s always the possibility that some people are just rude and like to stir the pot. But more often than not, I think such a strong reaction to another’s sobriety is likely rooted in one of the above reasons.

Initially I was worried that people would see these statuses and jump on board, determining that I was a fraud and knew nothing of addiction. Of course, that was ridiculous on my part. By the reactions of other people, it was clear that the statuses that were posted reflected more on the one posting them than on me or my sobriety.

In the end, after some comments supporting my sobriety were posted, the poster took down both statuses. I can only imagine he woke up from a night of drinking and realized what was posted while drunk and felt stupid. If I’d taken longer to check Facebook, maybe I never would have seen them in the first place.

But I’m glad I did see them, and I’m glad it hurt me. Because it hurt, it made me consider things from the other side. It made me realize what drives someone to be unkind to a person who is trying to better their life. It made me realize that sometimes things aren’t about me, they’re about the other person. It made me realize that I really DID have a problem and I really DO need to be sober, regardless of the opinions of outsiders.

When it comes down to it, you are the only one who needs to support your sobriety. Sure, having others along for the ride makes recovery much more enjoyable and manageable. But you do not need anyone else’s approval or input. You get to decide what is best for you, no matter how many people try to tell you otherwise.

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