There is a photo hanging in my daughter’s room that makes me cringe each time I look at it. Based purely on what the picture conveys, though, you wouldn’t know that my heart breaks for all the photo isn’t saying.
I am smiling, kissing my six-month-old daughter, and bursting with new parent pride. But I was also drunk on gin. I was a good drunk. I was high functioning, overcompensating in many areas of my life to combat the guilt and shame of drinking into numbness each night. Most people never knew when I was drunk, and, when I admitted I was an alcoholic and ready to get sober years later, those people didn’t realize I had a problem. But in that photo, the one that looks like I have all the happiness in the world, I am on a slow descent that will send me down to the darkest moments of my life.
Photos pop up in my memories on Facebook or any of my photo apps and remind me of the 1,000 words not said on a particular day. I have never been shy about sharing my thoughts and feelings in a very public way. I have posted photos of the hardest, most exhausting moments of parenting. I have flaunted my love for my kids. I have announced personal and professional victories. And I have provided a sneak peek into the way I see the world with photos of random, everyday things taken at angles that are pleasing to me. Yet as transparent as I am, there are still layers I am either not ready to see for myself or not ready to show the world.
This is true for everyone. Some people only post the happy and sweet moments to their social media channels. Others tend to only post when there is hardship or sadness to share. I am not saying there is a right way to do Facebook, but I can sure as shit tell you that Brenda’s kids are not that perfect and her marriage is not that great. I am also sure that Negative Nancy has joy in her life, even when her world seems to be falling apart next to another photo of a broken appliance.
Pictures are so much more than the moments we choose to share. We need to stop putting pressure on ourselves to keep up with false perfection. Nor should we get too full of ourselves after reading a post that makes us think we have it so much better than someone else.
As real and vulnerable as I am online, even my photos don’t tell the whole story. I withhold stories of anxiety that go along with happy family outings because shouldn’t I just be grateful for three healthy and happy kids?
I made light of my drinking by using my kids as an excuse for needing alcohol to get through the day.
And the pictures of my time as a SAHM with my twins were ones full of coffee, messes, and funny porta potty selfies at the park with potty training toddlers. But I didn’t let on how lonely I was. The pictures didn’t show how guilty I felt for feeling unsatisfied with being a stay at home parent.
I am now 18 months sober and leading a more authentic life, but there are days when I don’t explain the pain behind my smile. My pride for my sobriety does not take away the shame of my addiction.
I will show you a post-workout glow, but I won’t tell you how agitated and uncomfortable I was before I began to sweat. Pushing my body to its limits helps me push thoughts of self-loathing aside. Feeling strong helps me find strength to battle my body dysmorphia.
I can express gratitude but still feel unworthy. I can share good news and still feel like an imposter. I can show you the shittiest of shit shows and still laugh.
We can all be a bit more compassionate with ourselves and others if we remember that the photo doesn’t capture it all. It would help us let go of the judging, the comparing, and the guilt. Snapshots of our lives are beautiful glimpses into our truths and our lies. We show people what we want them to see. But we do this to ourselves too. We overlook unhappiness in relationships with a fun date night selfie. We post vacation photos and ignore the debt. Or we visually showcase all the complaints while choosing not to see the goodness in our lives.
The reality is that nothing is as good or as bad as it seems. Photos can never tell the full story, so we shouldn’t put too much weight into the volumes we think they speak.