I would like to explain what is happening with Chrissy Teigen and the media storm around unearthed mean and spiteful tweets she made about other women. Early this year, after reading Quit Like a Woman by Holly Whitaker, Chrissy stopped drinking alcohol. She said, “I was done with making an (expletive) of myself in front of people (I’m still embarrassed), tired of day drinking and feeling like (expletive) by 6, not being able to sleep.” This may have come as a shock to some people because Chrissy doesn’t fit the stereotype of what someone with an alcohol problem looks like. From the outside, her life looks pretty good. But an alcohol problem is not about how things look on the outside — it’s about how someone feels on the inside. It’s an internal problem rather than an external one. Their drinking may look “normal” (whatever that is), but how they feel inside is very different. Alcohol problems don’t appear overnight; they take years in the making. Chrissy Teigen should be congratulated on recognizing that alcohol was no longer serving her and for taking steps to be healthy both physically and emotionally.
When someone struggles with an alcohol problem, something inside of them disconnects. You become someone you don’t recognize and behave in ways that are abhorrent to yourself. And I’m not just referring to dumb stuff we do and say when drunk — it’s the whole period of our lives when we abuse alcohol that we become lost to ourselves. Alcohol abuse takes up valuable bandwidth. Thinking about drinking, thinking about not drinking, drinking, and recovering take up at least 20-30% of our bandwidth and often more. Now, we can still do a lot operating with 70-80% bandwidth. We can build careers, have families, become famous — but what we can’t do is grow emotionally because we don’t have the necessary bandwidth. Alcohol becomes the default method to deal with uncomfortable and unpleasant emotions. It steals emotional development opportunities from ourselves. We can function in the world, we can even be successful in some areas — but what we can’t do is emotionally develop in the ways we were designed to. We physically age, but emotionally we remain teenagers (and often behave like them). We have sacrificed precious bandwidth and pay an enormous price for it.
Alcohol abuse and a lack of emotional growth will inevitably lead to our feeling uncomfortable in our own skin. Feeling this way is not pleasant so we invariably seek an anesthetic. We want to take away the feeling of being who we are. A dislike of ourselves creeps in. Who we have become is not who we are and we don’t even know we are lost. We become trapped in a cycle of feeling uncomfortable and using alcohol to ease the discomfort. Our behavior reflects how we feel about ourselves. There have been many previous incidents of well-known figures saying and behaving in ways that are repulsive and abusive. Fashion designer John Galliano made some vile antisemitic comments which cost him his job; former premiership footballer Paul Gascoigne spewed racist abuse whilst drunk. And now Chrissy Teigen has been called out for encouraging self-harm and suicide to children and vulnerable young women (Lindsay Lohan and Courtney Stodden). I have no idea if Chrissy was drunk or sober when she made these comments. I do know that if she suffered from an alcohol problem, it’s very likely that she said these things when she wasn’t fully connected to herself. The ugliness of her words was an expression of how she felt about herself, not the person they were directed to. However, it doesn’t mean that comments like this should be without consequence. Apologies and amends need to be made. For example, Galliano went into rehab and embarked on a lengthy and thoughtful process of contrition and amends with the Jewish community. What I want to say is I don’t believe any of these people are evil or wicked or spiteful, but that in fact, their nasty words were actually a reflection of their own inner life, self-loathing, and turmoil. When you are uncomfortable in your own skin and dislike yourself, you behave in ways that reflect these feelings. In fact, you almost want them confirmed. You think, “I will do something so disgusting that you will loathe me too.” Getting sober requires effort.
Many people think that stopping drinking will fix everything and are surprised to learn that it doesn’t. It is merely the first stage. The main work is emotional sobriety — learning the emotional tools that we missed because we used alcohol instead. Emotional sobriety is about returning to yourself. It’s really an inside job. I admire Chrissy Teigen’s efforts to change her life and I hope she continues to make amends and put right the pain she caused. A social media post is not enough. She needs to do more. And in return, we can give her space and grace in this very human process. I don’t think any of us can say that we have not said or done things that have caused hurt to other people, particularly when we lacked the bandwidth to do any emotional growth. Chrissy herself describes herself as an “insecure, attention-seeking troll” when she sent those tweets. Our self-disgust manifests itself in our behavior and we hurt people. In many ways, we are all Chrissy Teigen.
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