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The Case for Keeping Your Recovery Off Social Media

Go Tell It On the Mountain?

In the early days of recovery, it’s tempting to shout our recovery from the rooftops.  After many years of hiding, feeling ashamed, and often lying, we want to share our progress with the whole world.  We crave support from others when in recovery.

But is sharing our recovery on social media, especially public social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, really the best for our long term potential?

Sadly, the rest of the world is not as supportive of people in recovery as those we meet in our support groups.  While it is illegal under the Americans With Disabilities Act to discriminate against a person for being in recovery, there is no law prohibiting employers from doing extensive checks on a potential employee’s background, using both official records and less official sources.

A 2018 survey conducted by Career Builder showed that 70% of employers use social media in the screening process for prospective employees.  57% of those employers have decided not to hire an employee based on discoveries they’ve made on social media.  The second largest cause of employers not hiring a candidate based on information they found on social media was; “Job candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs.”

But I’m Sober Now!

It is a sad and difficult realization that many have when they emerge from rehab or the isolated environment of recovery communities, but much of the world does not look on a “recovering alcoholic” or “addict” with admiration.  As authors of a recent article in Health Affairs, one of the most respected journals of health care policy, write:

“As attorneys at a non-profit legal organization, we not only routinely communicate with substance use disorder advocacy and treatment organizations, but we see clients who have experienced significant negative consequences as a result of prejudice and ignorance.”

Please Don’t Post That!

As an administrator of a Facebook group for people trying to change their alcohol consumption patterns, Harm Reduction, Abstinence and Moderation Support, I see many tales of serious problems caused by alcohol use.  This group is closed, so the harrowing stories are not posted on the public pages of members.  Some members use false identities, though this is becoming more difficult to do on Facebook.  The social support provided by this worldwide online community has been, in the words of many members, lifesaving.

Everyday I see our HRAMS members post updates on their progress to their personal pages, visible to anyone who is their “Friend” and possibly more.  Many accept friend requests without much consideration, so it would not be hard for a potential employer to gain access to all their information.

I cringe when I see people posting publicly about drinking more than they intended, problems with depression, and the damage their alcohol or other drug consumption inflicted on themselves and others.

Even employers sympathetic to those in recovery has the success of their business first and foremost in mind.  Do you want to hire someone who is posting daily about their ups and downs in recovery?  Do you want to hire someone who you, quite understandably, fear will turn into a high insurance cost or a no-show due to a relapse?

“But Shouldn’t We End the Stigma?”

The counter argument to keeping recovery off social media is that the more people who are open about their struggles, the more will feel safe to come forward. More will see that substance problems are not limited to homeless people they step over in the street, but touch the people closest to them.

There is also a great deal of social support to be gained from social media.  For those who live in areas where in-person support  is not available, online support can be a true lifeline.  Talking to others day or night, all over the world, who are going through the same things and do not judge you for your pain, can make the difference between making it through the night and getting wasted and ending up in the hospital or jail…or worse.

Getting Support – While Protecting Yourself

I suggest a middle ground between going radio silent on social media and broadcasting your every up and down to the world.

  1. Post about your recovery only on closed, secret groups populated by like-minded individuals.
  2. Even within those groups, do not assume that people will protect your privacy.  Members have been known to track down the employers or families and friends of other members and contact them.  Consider using an alias for your postings about substance use issues.
  3. Maintain a strong, in-person support group of people you truly know.
  4. Never, ever post to social media while under the influence.
  5. And, most importantly, consider waiting a year before you become public in any forum other than your support groups (in-person and online) about your recovery.  Choosing to “come out” as in recovery is a major decision that can wait until you’re on solid ground.

Recovery Can Mean Different Things At Different Times

Another, more personal, reason to remain private about your recovery is that your views may change over time.  You may start recovery as a Big-Book-thumping, 12-Step enthusiast, and gradually move toward other groups, such as SMART Recovery or the Buddhist-based Refuge Recovery.  You may even find that, over time, you no longer identify with abstinence-only approaches, and like many who recover into non-abstinent recovery (according to the giant public health survey the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, explained here by Pro-Talk Columnist Kenneth Anderson, MA.), you go on to drink at moderate and safe levels.

Recovery Should Not Be A Spectator Sport

It is very tempting not to turn our recovery into a TV movie starring ourselves.  We want to prove that we’re different, to show those we’ve hurt or disappointed a new version of ourselves, and to win back our self-esteem and the respect of others.  In the beginning, it can be tempting to report every meeting we attend, every service activity we do, and every day we don’t pick up a drink or a drug.

However, turning our recovery into a reality show makes it about how we look, not who we are.  The changes of recovery are deeply personal.  Anyone can tell you that who they were straight out of rehab or after they attended their first few support group meetings is not who they are years later.

Making your recovery public can put you into a box, limiting your growth as a person.  Most people find that after some time, they no longer want to think about recovery all the time.  They don’t want others to think of them mostly as “a person in recovery.”  Some find that identity valuable, but it may be best to give yourself a year to decide that for yourself.

You Can Always Go Public Later

Some of the biggest names in the neuroscience and politics of recovery were silent about their own past drug use until long after their careers in academia, psychotherapy, or journalism were established.  Marc Lewis, author of Memoirs of an Addicted Brain and The Biology of Desire, describes his addiction to pills years later, after he was well established as a neuroscientist and professor.  Maia Szalavitz, author of Unbroken Brain and many other books and articles on addiction and trauma, came out about her personal struggles in great detail, but after she had been writing and publishing for a long time.

Our identity takes a long time to form, in recovery just as in life.  Slapping a label on yourself – a label that could stop you from getting a job, renting an apartment (landlords do background checks too!) or even getting a first date – may hinder your recovery more than it helps.

Send that Sober Selfie to Your Sponsor or Your Mom

Consider giving it some time before you post that, “I’m sober!” picture online.  Share your glowing look, your new optimism, and the changes you’re making to have the life you want with your friends, family and support network – not with the internet.