I’m not the kind of person who should have to quit drinking.
Or at least, that’s what I used to think. I drank in moderation and on the odd occasion when I did allow myself to have a bit too much, I just became a little gigglier, a little more openly complimentary, and a little more likely to participate in karaoke.
But after being diagnosed with endometriosis, and taking a serious look at my family’s predisposition to cancer, I asked my doctor if cutting out alcohol altogether might be beneficial. She said yes.
I had my last drink just before the stroke of midnight on Dec. 31, 2020 and entered the new year as a teetotaler. Thankfully, I didn’t find the transition difficult. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to see some benefits right away. My skin looked healthier. My face was less puffy. My eyes were brighter.
Even more profound were the internal changes that came in the months that followed. Given that I didn’t drink all that much to begin with, I assumed that I wouldn’t experience much improvement in mental health from quitting. But I felt undeniably happier. Clearer. More even keeled. My intuition got stronger. My creativity improved. And I felt like I had a better understanding of my emotions.
I didn’t speak much about my adventure in abstinence until I hit the one-year mark. By then, it felt like the right time to share. I’d gathered enough evidence to make a solid case for what I’d seen take place in my life.
On Jan. 5, 2022 I shared a video about my experience quitting with my nearly 11k TikTok followers. In it, I described three things I learned during my year without alcohol:
1) Drinking drowned out my intuition.
2) Drinking numbed emotions that I needed to feel.
3) Even though I didn’t have a “problem,” my life drastically improved with sobriety.
Very quickly, the post garnered some attention. I wasn’t altogether surprised; with the popularity of “dry January” and the sober curious movement, limiting or quitting alcohol consumption is on a lot of people’s minds right now. But I definitely was shocked as the numbers kept consistently creeping upward, eventually nearing 400,000 views.
At first, the comments were entirely supportive. Many people shared their own stories and generously congratulated me. It was nice to feel like I wasn’t alone.
Slowly though, as the view count rose, comments began to stray from positivity into criticism.
The trolls had arrived.
“Fuck it made u old. Drink more.”
“You’ll be drunk by Tuesday”
“If you didn’t have a problem no need to make this. Sounds like you did have a problem”
“If it wasn’t a problem, why did you quit?”
“How much were you drinking? Be honest.”
“No one cares”
“You still look like a drunk”
“You did have a problem, a serious one”
“Ye but be honest it also turned you into an incredibly boring person”
“It’s boring isn’t it?”
Initially, I’ll admit, my feelings were hurt. But as a certified mindfulness instructor, I’ve cultivated the ability to lean in and get curious in difficult moments rather than resist them. After allowing the hurt to wash over and through me, a question started to form in my mind: Who were these trolls?
I decided to take screenshots of the troll comments one by one, separating out the accounts with generic usernames and blank avatars since there wasn’t much to be gleaned from this group. There weren’t very many like this. I took the remaining group (trolls with a human profile photo and/or a human username) and compared them to each other to answer my burning question: What did all these trolls have in common?
Immediately, one thing popped out: They all appeared to be men.
This struck me as strange, given that across all the platforms on which I share content, I’d say that my following is well above 95% female. I’m no math wiz, but statistically speaking, this was an odd juxtaposition. It made me want to poke around a bit more to learn how gender factors into trolling. As it turns out, there’s a growing body of research regarding online harassment and abuse, and the humans who dole it out.
Studies have found that internet trolls are in fact disproportionately male, and that women receive a greater amount of attention from trolls than men. Transgender individuals experience more digital abuse than cisgender individuals. Women of color are 34% more likely to receive online abuse than white women, especially Black women and Asian women. And when women receive online harassment, comments are more likely to extend into their sexuality and appearance.
One of the next commonalities I noticed among my troll comments was their insistence that quitting drinking had made me boring. Apparently in my 11.63-second video, I had failed to convey the vivacity of sober Kyra.
Granted, as an elder millennial, I’m far more comfortable on Instagram, where I have a community of over 5,000 followers who truly feel more like friends. My comment section on Instagram tends to be full of deep conversations between kind-hearted, like-minded folks. By comparison, TikTok feels a bit like a foreign landscape.
Seeking reassurance, I went straight to TikTok’s target demographic: I talked to my 12-year-old daughter.
“The TikTok trolls think quitting drinking made me boring,” I told her.
“Yeah, but they don’t know that you were boring before too,” she said.
Though she meant it in jest, she was right: As a lifelong bookworm and diehard introvert, my idea of a good time has always been a night at home in my jammies. Sobriety hadn’t changed much in this regard.
If anything, I had discovered that without the crutch of alcohol, I became more honest about what I sincerely enjoy doing. Quitting didn’t make my life less fun, it made my life more true. When you can no longer “take the edge off” with a glass of wine, you’re less likely to say yes to things you hate, and more likely to explore new options that are aligned with your actual interests. In my opinion, that’s way more fun.
What occurred to me was this: In a social media post, we get one tiny glimpse into the content creator’s identity, not nearly enough to gain any real understanding of who they are as a person. Thus, what trolls react to is less the individual who is posting, and more what the post means to them within the greater context of their own beliefs and perceptions.
When they watched my video, they didn’t see “sober Kyra.” They don’t even know me. What they saw was “sober girl.” And from there, they drew their own conclusions. Namely, that being sober meant I must be boring.
It made me wonder: If a sober girl is a “boring” girl, then is a “fun” girl a drunk girl? And perhaps the more important question is, fun for whom?
“I just don’t get it,” my husband remarked after hearing my findings. He’s a brawny, ex-military type and couldn’t wrap his head around what I was uncovering. In his opinion, people should have better things to do with their time than criticize strangers on the internet.
“Agreed,” I replied. “I think it’s weird they’d even watch the video, to be honest.”
“They watch it because they think you’re cute,” he said. “And in their weird little fantasy, they think maybe there’s a chance that they could get with you. Then they see that you’re a deep, whole person communicating a real message, a message about sobriety, and the bubble is burst. They’re not in the fantasy anymore. You’re no longer ‘that chick at the bar’ to them.”
Because in my opinion, my video didn’t make me look boring. It made me look real … and perhaps a little too smart to take shit. My trolls may not think that makes me much fun, but I personally believe that it’s something worth toasting.