Coming Clean: We’re all drunk on something

Essena Oneill #celebrityconstruct

“I was just living in a screen, wishing that people would value me, that people would hear me, that people would just know me.”

Listen closely to the confession of 19-year-old social media celebrity, Essena O’Neill, from the Sunshine Coast, Australia. With a lucrative modeling contract, half a million followers on Instagram, and several hundred thousand followers across other social media channels, she recently released a heart-breaking video admitting that she just wants to be valued.

Essena is coming clean.

Some highlights from Essena O’Neill’s confessional:

“At twelve. . . I told myself that when I have heaps of views, people will view me. I will feel valued; I will feel happiness. I let myself be defined by numbers and the only thing that made me feel better about myself, really. . . was the more followers, the more likes, the more praise, and the more views I got online. But it was never enough.”

“I had it all and I was miserable. When you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not pure, that is not real, and is not love.”

“I did everything in my power to prove to the world, hey, I’m important, I’m beautiful, I’m cool.”

“You want to be valued and loved but you also want to be free.”

“I quit social media because of my twelve-year-old self.”

“I don’t even know who I am, I don’t even know what I stand for.”

“I don’t even know what is real and what is not because I’ve let myself be defined by something that is so not real.”

“I was just living in a screen, wishing that people would value me, that people would hear me, that people would just know me.”

“I’m not against social sharing, I’m against the current status of social media.”

“It’s easier to want, and sit, and view online. It’s a lot harder to sit alone with yourself and get real with your life. No one does that anymore.”

“I realized that I didn’t know who I was without social media and being online.”

[Watch the entire video here.]

Essena Oneill truth telling #celebrityconstruct

Her story, our story

The scope of Essena’s story isn’t common to most of us. Very few people I know amass hundreds of thousands of followers online or make their living from modeling or being brand ambassadors. Of the few online entrepreneurs I know who make their income from this type of work, most do their jobs with integrity and fear and trembling, not wanting to be eaten by the internet machine that will chew content curators up and spit them out if they aren’t producing enough results. It’s a precarious business, calling for thick skin and more personal integrity than most of us are used to having to muster.

So maybe you and I can’t relate to Essena’s story in entirety but I think it’s safe to bet that a lot of us can see ourselves in her desperation for authenticity.

“I want to feel valued,” she says. And don’t we all?

How many times have you posted a carefully staged photo on instagram or written a clever status on facebook or an inspirational quote on twitter only to be disappointed that it didn’t receive more likes or retweets?

Or how many times have you closed down your pinterest feed and looked around at your living room, deciding it wasn’t good enough so you made a late night trip to Target to spend money you didn’t have on décor you didn’t need?

How many times have you read a blog post and closed it in discouragement because you didn’t leave feeling inspired or equipped as a parent, but condemned because your kids just don’t fit into the neat and tidy boxes that they’re “supposed” to?

#celebrityconstruct Essena Oneill

We’re all drunk on something

My friend Seth Haines released his first book last week, Coming Clean: A Story of Faith. It chronicles his first ninety days of sobriety, but it’s so much more than a story of quitting the bottle. Really, it’s a story of finding yourself—finding inner sobriety in a world that offers a galaxy of ways to go into hiding and circumvent the harder parts of the human experience (pain, disappointment, anxiety, fear, grief. . . need I go on?).

I’m still discovering what my own hiding looks like, but I know part of it often looks like the drive to produce something meaningful and to garner the affirmation of those I deem ‘important.’ (Because perhaps that might help me to feel like my life is “enough” and that it counts for something.) For Essena, hiding looked like seeking approval, fame, and wealth through social media. For you hiding might look like crafting a flawlessly decorated home, the relentless quest for a marriage partner, obsessing about your next overseas trip or adventure, being the first among your hipster friends to discover a new café or microbrew, creating the mirage that you’re a perfect parent, curating the most enviable closet, or being sought after by the right people for your fabulous dinner parties.

We often think of addictions to food, gambling, sex, drugs, or the bottle. . . but what about when we become addicted to ourselves? To our image? To our busy? To our calendars? To our success? To our bank accounts? What about when we become addicted to ‘noble’ Christian pursuits like having “right” theology or “saving souls” or doing something “big” for God? Is it too risky and politically incorrect to suggest that some of us are even addicted to being martyrs? To suffering? To becoming defined by grief or illness or being a minority?

“We’re all drunk on something,” Seth writes.

By sharing the private, frightening journey of his eyes being opened, Seth challenges us to discover our own hiding place, and—ultimately—find our way to what he calls inner sobriety, that place of quiet and peace where we can sit with our own pain, our own inadequacies, and our own need for a God who is comfortable with us in our weakness.

“There are always feelings to be numbed, anxieties to tamp down, and panic attacks to avoid,” Seth writes. It’s part of the human experience.

Through their confessionals, Seth and Essena are essentially telling us the same thing. (Remember what Essena said? “[It’s] harder to sit alone with yourself and get real with your life. No one does that anymore.”)

Essena Oneill fighting #celebrityconstruct

It seems that Essena has realized that from the age of twelve she’s been drunk on an image. Seven years later she’s on her way to find her inner sobriety, and I sincerely hope and pray she does.

Seth found that his affection for gin wasn’t his real problem, and that sobriety is much more than keeping the lid screwed on tight.

I’m finding inner sobriety, too—one performance addiction confession at a time.

We all could stand to find the courage to identify our own drunkenness and come clean.

With hope,

p.s. I wonder how many young girls and boys are the twelve-year-old girl Essena described. Perhaps as we come clean ourselves, we can champion Essena and others to lead the way in speaking out to their own little sisters and brothers about worth, value, and inner peace.

Buy your copy of Coming Clean: A Story of Faith.

Watch Essena’s entire confessional here:
(Note: there’s some adult language sprinkled throughout the video so please screen before watching with young children.)

(If you’re reading this post via email, you may need to click here to see the video.)

*affiliate links used

About Author

Adriel Booker is an author, speaker, and advocate based in Sydney, Australia who believes storytelling, beauty, and the grace of God will change the world. Adriel has become a trusted voice in areas of motherhood and parenting, Christian spirituality, and global women's issues. She's also known for her work with the Love A Mama Collective—serving under-resourced women in developing nations through safe birth initiatives—as well as her years spent as a Bible teacher and leadership coach. Her latest book is Grace Like Scarlett: Grieving with Hope after Miscarriage and Loss and she's made the companion grief journal available for free. Find Adriel across all social media platforms at @adrielbooker or sign up for LoveNotes, Adriel's 'secret posts' that aren't published anywhere else online. ✌️


  • Jody Lee Collins
    3 November 2015 at 2:34 pm

    My copy came today….his words ring true on so many levels. Great post, Adriel.
    Jody Lee Collins recently posted..Happy Merry BeautifulMy Profile

  • Dream House Trish
    4 November 2015 at 10:19 pm

    WOW!!! Very confronting but so true, what a wise young girl. Such a great read, thank you!!!

  • Jill
    21 November 2015 at 2:43 pm

    As always, you inspire me, Adriel. More than usual, I am focused lately on my gratitude. I count you and your wisdom among the things for which I am grateful. 😊 Thank you.

  • Tameka
    24 January 2016 at 12:47 am

    What an encouraging story. I am so busy worrying about looking like the perfect mom, sister, teacher, having a presentable home….it’s just so overwhelming. I don’t take time to just sit and focus on who I truly am, and let that be enough. I am encouraged now to take that very scary step to just stop and get to know my true self. I haven’t seen her in a while. Thanks for helping me take the first step.

  • Carys
    25 April 2016 at 2:54 pm

    I’m Carys, and I just found your blog. I think it is fantastic! I’m not christian, but i think that your posts to do with faith say something to all of us. Thank you.
    From, Carys
    PS. I’m 11.
    PSS. I live in Australia too! And my family is going to travel Australia next year, like you did!

    • Adriel Booker
      29 April 2016 at 9:57 pm

      HI Carys. Thanks for stopping in and for saying hello. I hope you have a wonderful time traveling Australia! It sure is a great, big, beautiful nation. x


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