June 9, 2011

Facebook: A net(work) of Love and Support. ~ by Sue Jones

These days everyone from grade-school kids to my friend’s 88 year old father have a Facebook page. Let’s face it, if you are not on Facebook, then clearly it is because you are making a conscious choice not to be.

In March of 2008, I was invited to join Facebook by a friend. My non-profit organization already had a MySpace page and so I joined Facebook strictly for professional reasons. Quickly I could see that Facebook was more of a personal sharing tool and I thought,  Meh, I don’t have anything that interesting to share, and so I didn’t. The status report bar has since been replaced with What’s on your mind? But back then it read: how are you feeling today? and I just couldn’t imagine that anyone would really care.

A month later my world came crashing down. Actually it was more like a rapid dismantling which began with what I like to call the moment of discovery. One moment—one click of a mouse to open a carelessly-left-open email. One glance at a picture sent from one lover to another, and one split second realization—betrayal. Those rapid moments served as the winding back of the cruel fist that delivered a devastating punch in the gut. I could not breathe.

What followed was an exhausting evening of tears, lies and denial. Extracting the “truth” out of my husband felt like squeezing blood from a stone. Finally, he admitted to what I knew to be the truth. A truth that I saw right in front of my eyes on a flat screen computer monitor in brilliant digital mega pixels.

The next morning over coffee at a local café I pressed him further and he admitted to more. One affair, then two then three. Instantly I felt nauseous and then my body took over. I had what I can only describe as a biological survival response and without a word I high-tailed my ass out of there.

I ran home and turned on my computer. In shock and consumed with grief, I could not control my sobs. Calling a friend was out of the question but I needed something—some outlet for my emotions. I logged on to Facebook and wrote Sue Jones is sad.

Instantly I got a response from a friend that simply said I love you. For a moment I was confused. This was not a friend who I knew very well. We had spent one week together with 125 or so other people in Hawaii for a yoga Teacher Training. How well can you get to know someone in a sea of people for one week? Yet here she was, writing I love you to me on Facebook. I burst out crying. I felt heard–and held. I did not have the strength to explain or talk about what was happening. This was all that I needed.

Then another response: Are you ok? I love you

I thought, Me? What’s going on?

Friends with whom I had more history  messaged me with what’s going on? With barely enough energy to compose a thought,  I did my best to bullet-point my crisis. Mostly, those Facebook friends did not need an explanation—they just offered me love and support.

In the following days I turned to my family as my world began to crumble. The moment of discovery was a devastating blow to the stability of what I had known as my life. But the blow created a fracture—a crack in the container of all that felt safe and secure—and that fracture was looking pretty irreversible. More and more information came to the surface until it became clear that the fracture would only lead to more fractures—the trajectory could not be stopped. Like a tornado that strikes with no warning and leaves you staring agape at the unrecognizable ruins that had just recently been your life, I could not deny that I was facing full-scale devastation.

As the days and weeks continued I learned of my husband’s life of lies, affairs, betrayals and manipulations. That which I thought was my life—wasn’t. The man who I thought was my husband—wasn’t. I felt a little like Alice in Wonderland as each day I would learn of some new betrayal, many involving close friends—and think to myself this is absurd! None of this makes any sense!

And—I am aware that my story is not unique. Unfortunately I have heard a version of this story from many, many women. But this story, which begins with the systematic crumbling of what I once thought was my life, and the subsequent full scale helpless free-fall, allowed me to realize that there is a net of love and support out there with arms outstretched—and that net is Facebook.

The year that followed was pure hell. As the separation and divorce came to pass, I remained in the family home yet the children did not. At least not full time. The days that the children were with their father (half the time) were the hardest days of all. I was alone in this big empty house, with only my cats and my pet hedgehog to keep me company. In that year I completely  retreated. I could not show myself. I felt devastatingly vulnerable. I withdrew to my third floor office and did not come out. I could not bear to be anywhere but closed into that little room as I medicated myself with work and writing—and Facebook.

I sat in front of my computer day in and day out. I spent my time researching, doing office work, writing and sharing on Facebook. I wrote essays and posted them on Facebook which led to connection. I had IM conversations with friends old and new. I shared my feelings and felt heard and supported. Though I was physically alone, I felt surrounded by so many friends all showing love, support and  empathy.

New friendships blossomed as people who’s experience mirrored my own reached out to me. People who I had little to say to in the past, suddenly were connecting with me in a very real and authentic way.  I expressed my sadness and grief around not having my children in my home, or just being angry—or sad, and with each update I was supported with words of compassion. No one needed to do anything. It was enough to hear I get it.

My Facebook community kept me from sinking into a deep depression. This incredible network supported me from the sanctuary of my third floor office while I was not strong enough to physically emerge out into the world. If yoga saved my life 3 years prior to the discovery, Facebook saved my sanity in the aftermath. I felt connected, I felt held and I felt loved.

In the years since then I have emerged from my home and actually flourished in my new life. I use Facebook daily because I have had first hand experience in the healing aspects of being connected to a support group. Via Facebook I have been able to support a friend as she received a devastating diagnosis and spent a year battling for her life. She passed away before she was 40 years old, leaving two young children behind. This year on Mother’s Day her daughter posted this on her wall:

I love you, and i wish with all my heart that you where here for mothers day. I hope that in heaven theirs some awesome party for you, because you deserve one. I really really miss you and my life will never be the same without you. I love you mom.

It was reading this post that made me A) Cry and B) write this story.

Initially I found it strange that as friends, colleagues and family members pass away their Facebook profiles remain. But as time goes by, I witness those left behind taking steps toward healing by posting on their loved ones walls. In grief we often wish that we had the chance to say something to the person we lost, and Facebook gives us that chance. Of course we know that our sentiments are not falling on the ears of the ones we lost, but somehow by falling on the ears of the collective consciousness (or at least our social network) our heaviness is lifted.

In my research on stress and the direct effect it has on physical health, I came across this interesting paragraph in Dr. Gabor Mate’s book When the Body Says No:

“A seventeen-year follow-up of residents of Alameda County, California, looked at the possible links between people’s social connectedness or sense of isolation and the onset of cancer. “The risk of major interest for women appeared to be social isolation, not only being isolated, but also of feeling isolated…Given the effect of emotions on hormonal regulation, it is not unlikely that isolation may have a direct promotional effect on the development of this set of cancers’”

Now, I’m not about to get on a soap box and pronounce Join Facebook and avoid cancer! but my own experience has certainly given me some first hand experience in the myriad benefits of an online community.  In my year in the third floor office, I may have been physically isolated yet I didn’t feel isolated—I’m not sure how I would have gotten through the past three years without it.  Now, my status reports on Facebook are a little more light-hearted. Often, I run into people who tell me that my Facebook posts make their day. I’m glad that my sharing of the mundane comings and goings of my life with my children, my yoga students and my best friend Amber bring smiles to this community that helped me in ways more profound than they will ever know.

I often wonder if Mark Zuckerberg has any idea of the healing and even preventative capacities of what he has created—probably not. To Mr. Zuckerberg, I say, Thank you for creating a profoundly healing network. Whether he intended it or not, his creation has benefited the lives of millions of people across the world.  To those of you who poo-poo Facebook I say why not sign up and do something good for your heath!

And to those of you who are on Facebook I say Friend me!

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