Pictured / Not Pictured

Dear Laura,

Do you ever/did you ever look at friends' Facebook posts, or hear good news about their lives, and be filled with a combination of jealousy and rage? Sometimes I feel that way and I am so ashamed that I can't just be happy for other people without feeling like my life in no way measures up. I have good things in my life...but not the marriage, house, and kids that everyone posts a million pictures of. And my instinctual reaction to watching other people be happy is, "Why can't I be like that?" Sometimes I just have to stop looking because otherwise, it makes me so sad.

Do you relate at all?


Girl, I have no idea what you’re talking about. I can’t relate at all. You should be really embarrassed. Definitely ashamed. I mean, I didn’tjust yesterdayfeel my heartbeat rise to the back of my eyeballs as I read a post on Facebook about a friend getting her first book deal.  I didn’t feel possessed, and scroll endlessly through the comments looking for lack of enthusiasm, and I definitely didn’t think any nasty thoughts about her character (what a braggart, ugh) or her writing (it’s really not that great, at all) and within 45 seconds turn the world into an unfair place and her into an enemy and myself into a hopeless, untalented loser. I also didn’t then go searching for proof of my own worthiness by checking my Instagram and Facebook follower counts, and then the traffic to my own website.

Nope, none of that happened. I’m just imagining what it would be like. I’m reaching for what someone who’s less spiritual than me might feel. Just a stab in the dark.

...

OH MY GOD.

YES, I CAN RELATE.

WE ALL – EVERY SINGLE LAST ONE OF US – HAVE BEEN THERE. (Don't believe anyone who tells you they haven't.)


Before I go on, I want to take you on a little tour. Below are a few of my Facebook posts from the last decade or so. Moments one might, I imagine, look at and say, Why can't I be like that?

Pictured below: me and my girls getting down on the dance floor at our dear friend's wedding. 

Not pictured below: I was 16-weeks pregnant and threw up in the bathroom both before and after this picture was taken from morning sickness. I was so angry I couldn't drink at the wedding, I didn't want to be pregnant, and I was also afraid I didn't want to be married. 


Pictured below: Me, with my brand new baby, looking glowy and soft in the afternoon light. Peaceful, content, and all is right in the world.

Not pictured below: My nipples were cracked and I couldn't figure out how to breastfeed without having white-light-level pain. My husband didn't have a job and I had just been let go from mine.


Pictured below: Me, having a Hallmark moment on the beach with our baby girl.

Not pictured below: Me, severely hungover. Me, wishing it were cool for parents to drink on the beach with their babies. The moments before this shot we were all hot, sweaty, crying and trying to keep my daughter from suffocating herself with sand. My husband still hadn't found a job (it was 2010) and the fact that when we drove "home" from the beach, we would be staying at his brother's house, where we'd been living for a month. The $110 dollars combined in our bank accounts. 


Pictured below: Me, the night before running my 3rd Boston Marathon, looking proud and confident and Oh-my-God-how-do-I-make-it-look-so-easy?!

Not pictured below: My injured foot, my acute drinking problem, and my hands that were shaking because my marriage was at its end. Also, my very sad, frustrated, disappointed husband on the other end of the lens.


Pictured below: Me, finishing my 3rd Boston Marathon and waving happily to my friend Kate who snapped the pic.

Not pictured below: It was 93 degrees that day and I barely made it. The insides of my mouth were raw and bleeding from chewing on ice to keep cool.


Pictured below: Me, with my awesome colleagues, getting an award for our work and looking so super proud and together and like, whateeeever, I am just KILLING IT at life!

Not pictured below: Me, very, veeeery drunk, blacking out and missing my train home. Me, spending the next several days wracked with anxiety and shame about the things I might've said or did, but couldn't remember.


Pictured below: A family being goofy and happy on a hike in New England in the spring.

Not pictured below: This is the last photo we would take together, the three of us. A few weeks later he would move out.


Pictured below: The breathtaking view from my beautiful, seaside home.

Not pictured below: all this.

Pictured below: Me, in Jackson Hole, with my gaggle of amazing girlfriends, having the best time ever.

Not pictured below: I had to do a lot of drugs to keep myself straight that weekend and I was dangerously untethered from the recent separation from my husband.


Pictured below: Me, having a Hallmark moment with my daughter. Cutting down our own Christmas tree!

Not pictured below: I had totaled my car the night before because I was drunk, and had spent most of the evening in the hospital. Me, trying to appear okay because I didn't want my now ex-husband to know how bad it was.


Pictured below: Me, dressed up and looking sparkly while holding my beautiful girl, also dressed up and looking sparkly at a friend's house for Christmas Eve.

Not pictured below: I was sober for the first time in my adult life on Christmas Eve and all I wanted to go home and scream into a pillow and cry because there was just. no. way. I could do it.


Pictured below: Me, dressed up, hair done, with my arm around my best girl before we headed to my mom's 60th birthday. Her, looking adorable but tired.

Not pictured below: This was my Last Day One. Anxiety level = 15. Heart = absolutely shattered.


I could keep going. I could trace all the way back to Junior High or before (but Facebook wasn't around then, praise baby Jesus for that) and show you the difference between what you see and what's actually going on. I don't need to, though. You get the point.

I want to be clear about something. I'm not saying that behind every fun, pretty, filtered picture on social media there's a darkness you don't know about, or a disappointment, or an unfulfilled life. I'm not saying that it's ALL a big ruse. I just saying it's mostly like that. I'm saying you should carefully consider what you're not seeing in those pictures. There's a smart saying in 12-step programs: don't compare your insides to someone else's outsides.  


Okay, so now. What do we do about the jealousy and rage?

Like I said earlier, everyone feels jealous at some point. It's just one emotion in the grand spectrum but societally we've pathologized it and labeled it bad because it doesn't look or feel that great. When we're under the spell we call it "green with envy." Nobody wants to be green with anything. But the truth is, none of our emotions is good or bad, they just are. They exist the way the ocean has tides, and breaks, and still points, and sometimes wild hurricanes. They’re part of the deal of being human, they come and go, and if we’re willing to not beat ourselves up and go into some inquiry, we can learn a lot from this stuff.

Jealousy isn't my main thing in that it's not what has historically caused me the most pain (clearly there are exceptions, based on the thing that didn't happen yesterday). Rejection is more my jam. I am like a rejection seeking missile. Show me a man that will reject me and I will hurtle myself toward him like a hot dog to a bun (?!).

I mention this because the things we experience often, or cause a really specific reaction in us, are important. I didn't see rejection as theme and not as a totally personal experience at first. Maybe for a long time (ahem, 35 years+). And it wasn't until I could see it as a storyline I was creating, instead of a thing that kept happening to me because I am wholly unlovable, that I started to really learn from it

So what can jealousy teach you?

First, it's helpful to understand what it actually is and where it comes from. Jealousy and envy are related but different. I'm guessing what you feel is more envy, but perhaps not. Jealousy is a reaction to the threat of losing something or someone, whereas envy is the feeling that we're not getting what's due to us - be it resources, recognition, or connection. 

When I felt my eyeballs bulging yesterday, it was because I believed in a finite stash of success and resources and I was going to MISS OUT. I forgot that the universe is not a zero sum game. I forgot that someone else being successful and recognized for her brilliant writing doesn't mean there's less for me somehow. Did I realize that in the moment? God, no. What I felt in the moment was awful, hot, icky, sticky.

But once I calmed down, called Holly and confessed all my unspiritual thoughts, and said some big prayers, and then talked to my brilliant writerly friend who just got a book deal I could see it all as...interesting. I could see that my envy was pointing me to something I deeply, deeply desired. It was clarifying. It was confirming. The sharpness of it drowned out all the chatter and, like smelling salts, sobered me up to my reality. Again. 

I am a writer.

I need to write.

Writing holds my sweetest longing.


So, girl, I ask you: what are your feelings telling you? Where do they point? What is it you believe you don't have, or will lose? When did you learn this, and most importantly, is it true? Maybe you do want what's in those pictures, but won't let yourself. Maybe you don't want what's in those pictures, but you can't accept that, because it won't be celebrated. Maybe you've just fallen into the same trap so many of us have, where we believe the highlight reel. You've forgotten what's Not Pictured.

Next time you see one of those posts and you begin to shut down, try this:

Kindly close your computer or phone. Put one hand on your heart, and one hand on your belly. Breathe. Let the stories go and focus on how your body feels. What does it taste like, this emotion? What does it smell like; does it have a sound? Where do you feel it in your body?

Now listen.

What is it trying to tell you? What is it you desire? What are you afraid of wanting, or losing? Where does it point you?

Maybe the first time you will get answers. Maybe it will take 200 more tries. The truth is in there, though.


It's worth noting I had a really difficult time being happy for others about their loves, marriages, having kids, thinness or great success until I experienced all those things and, to my great disappointment, wasn't permanently fulfilled. Many of those experiences brought me happiness, but not without struggle, pain, frustration, confusion, anger and ambivalence. 

One of the greatest surprises of my sobriety journey was an awakened sense of joy for other people's success and happiness. I think this is partially because I'm in integrity with myself, and so I just generally feel better about who I am. Partially because my past illusions of what would make me 'whole' have been shattered and I now rely on myself and God for that. And partially because, getting older.

It's not perfect. Yesterday was pretty ugly for a while. But I bounce back more quickly. I can see this stuff for what it is, and when I can't, I have people in my life who will remind me.

I'm glad you wrote. Keep going, beauty. Let the Pictured point you to your longing. Consider the Not Pictured and adjust your perspective. Build your own wall and stand on top of it.

Laura McKowen

Laura McKowen, PO Box 315 , Swampscott, MA, 01907