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First Person

Social media hid my secret life as a drunk mom

I posted about my 'perfect' life, but I had disconnected from reality, Natalie Fader writes. Now in recovery, social media is my voice and platform to address the things that hurt us.

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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 being 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.

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.

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I'd wake, 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 any more. 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. 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 – in that moment – began to develop trust with myself.

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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 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, 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, to take control of my health and to 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 the 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 it, safely.

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Natalie Fader lives in Toronto

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