The Recovery Room: An Awkward Instagram Grace

I’ve been writing a series on recovery. My particular bag of choice was liquor, but yours might be different. Perhaps you’re into pills, or eating, or not eating, or materialism. No matter; we’re all in recovery from something. Welcome to the Recovery Room. (And while you’re here, please consider liking my Facebook page to receive Recovery Room updates.)


On an average Monday evening, my Instagram feed is composed of the following: three selfies of women in various department stores modeling dresses; five children with spaghetti-smear warpaint; six plates of slimy, grey, meatish substances tagged #foodporn; and, fifty-two adult beverages, most of which are red wine, some of which read “wine-thirty,” or “it’s 5:00 somewhere.”

My social media feeds are a veritable booze blitz, a virtual bar without the tacky smooth jazz. All my favorite lovers are there–wine, beer, whiskey, and the occasional gin cocktail from the more discriminating drinker (I follow a few classy instagrammers). Yes; I called the booze my lovers. What of it? I’ve said it before: I have an unhealthy relationship with the bottle.

In a truthful moment, I might tell you that the Instagram photos set the butterflies in the stomach to fluttering. The sides of my tongue tighten and draw inward in a pavlovian response to the thought of supple tannins. I can smell the rosemary drifting from the gimlet, the caramel rising from the bourbon. The fire of desire rises and my breathing quickens. This is the mild anxiety of desire.

Perhaps you are, at this particular juncture, accusing me of hyperbolic overstatement; allow me to assure you–it ain’t.

The truth is, the social media universe has never contextualized well, and oft fails to consider that one man’s freedom might be another man’s bondage. Photos of everything from liquor, to food, to quippy fundamentalist church signs might bear the hashtag #trigger, and so long as you participate in the medium, there’s no hiding. Perhaps that’s okay, though.



Perhaps it’s okay because it teaches the dependent a curious thing.


We often associate grace with forgiveness and acceptance of the one with The Problem. It extends from the place of power, from the place of health. The healthy extend grace to the ragamuffin on the down side of self-control.  That being said, in this particular space, through flash-fire desire,  I’m learning that grace flows upstream, too; the sick can extend grace to the healthy.

Certainly grace gives space for my own desire, allows anxiety to trigger simple prayers, like “have mercy on me.” In these moments, too, grace extends to those who do not understand the way the dominoes fall when they post a photo of a mega-rita. (After all, it is for freedom that the imbiber has been made free; right?) Grace holds the tension in check, asks me to examine my own problem more than the wielding of their freedom. Yes, grace asks me to let them have their drink, and post about it, too.

It’s true; you wouldn’t ask an alcoholic to the bar, but the rules of the internet are a bit different. We’re living in a brave new world here in this age of instant communication, and the ethos of digital sharing is an ever-developing thing. That being so, those of us who struggle with dependency–with food, or drink, or materialism, or any other socially acceptable vice–must develop a thick-skinned grace, one that extends both to the self, and also upstream to the healthy.

Yes, this is an other-side-of-the-coin type of grace. But, as old Pete once said, “we give out grace in its various forms.” I suppose I count my self lucky to be learning this form of grace.

Photo by by André Banyai, Creative Commons via Flickr.

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  • It is not just the grace you are learning, but the grace you are offering, as unexpected and unrecognized as it might be. In fact, some might find it down right offensive (grace often offends the receiver). Thanks for helping us recognize, and deal with the repercussions of, the grace that is here.

    • sethhaines

      No doubt some will find it offensive, John. No doubt. But thanks for calling a thing a thing.

  • We’re all recovering from something, yes. I wrote a whole book about my recovery, which is in process. Funny, how the book itself can become a trigger. For the book itself is now up for review, and for approval or disapproval, via a five-star system and sales-ranking system. is the local tavern, tempting me in my own recovery, and I have to walk through the virtual saloon doors with a heart that’s armored in grace. Never have I needed such a thick-skinned grace.

    We’re all in process, but thanks be to God, we’re not abandoned in process.

    I appreciate you, Seth Haines.

    • sethhaines

      I love this comment because it shows just how recovery takes different shapes. Drinking, eating, drugs, cutting–sure. There are sneakier things that root down deep and are just as destructive, though. Right? We need recovery from those things, too. Yes?

  • One of the hardest lessons of my recovery from being a Pharisee was that I can’t judge those who are still self-righteous, self-important Pharisees. (Hashtag irony.) It’s all grace. Grace to me, grace from me.

    • sethhaines

      Grace to you… yup. Peace in that, Kelly.

  • I love the way you express yourself, Seth. You challenge us to see–to really see what it is we are contributing to, what we are receiving, and how none of it may be as inconsequential as we may have led ourselves to believe.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks, Kris. Really.

  • Katie Rush

    “I’m learning that grace flows upstream, too; the sick can extend grace to
    the healthy. ” I love that, Seth. I think it puts so much into perspective, especially with social media. We often write others off for posting/doing things that trigger us, but maybe that’s just another space for grace. We all have our own lens through which we view and experience things, and I think grace makes a bit more room to let that happen without casting blame or unnecessarily cutting ties.

    • sethhaines

      Yes. We’re often quick to point out the things that offend, when maybe we should just turn to grace and self reflection. At least, those are my two pennies.

      Thanks for stopping in, Katie.

  • pastordt

    Beautifully done, Seth. Kudos for keeping on keeping on.

    • sethhaines

      Thanks for cheering, DT.

  • Deborah Hudson

    So many things I want to say about this but I’ll narrow it this line: “the sick can extend grace to the healthy.” Ten years ago we found ourselves working in the recovery community and what I’ve learned more than anything is how much grace I need. I have learned and continue to learn so much from them and after a difficult first couple of years I find myself feeling more at home with these men (we run a residential program for men) who are continually reshaping my faith. Wonderfully said, Seth. Thank you

    • sethhaines

      I’m excited to hear more about this community and the reshaping.

      • Deborah Hudson

        Anytime you’re ready with the questions, Seth. It’s a conversation I enjoy as there is so much to learn. I replied to your email but from my personal email account and not gmail. Hope you got it.

  • I’ve been sober since 2001 so it really has become easier to extend grace to things like this. I even have some friends who have made comments on a facebook status suggesting I have a glass of wine, etc…maybe after a hard day or something…they either don’t know or don’t remember that maybe that’s not such a good idea for me. Very true that, like you said, “people fail to consider that one man’s freedom is another man’s bondage.” I have to extend grace because, unknowingly, I’m assuming I’ve done it too.

    • sethhaines

      I can’t wait till it’s been 13 years for me, and these things don’t cause mild anxiety. And yup… I know I’ve done it too. I know it.

  • i appreciate your perspective, seth, and your use of the word trigger caught my eye. there’s been a ton of backlash lately against trigger warnings, and so much of it strikes me as indefensibly callous. your grace is commendable, certainly, but i don’t think it too much for the rest of us, particularly as christians, to think about the larger community before we speak or post. just because i’m not in recovery, suffering from ptsd, or marginalized in a specific way, doesn’t mean i can’t take a moment to consider those who are–and then use my freedom to extend a bit of care to the ones who might be having a harder go of it than i am.

    you’re a better person than i am for seeing that grace goes uphill. surely the rest of us can extend at least as much effort to ensure it flows down, too!

    • sethhaines

      You are a good one, Suz. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that.

  • HisFireFly

    the tension here
    steaming up to surface
    the desire, the licking of the lips
    and choices
    to hold on to freedom
    and choose grace
    for them, for yourself
    only in Him, through Him
    all is grace
    keep choosing Seth

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    I am so late to this post, but man, I am SO glad I read it. Really good words, Seth. Thank.You.

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