Social Anxiety in Recovery, Part 1: Loss of the Lube
A common struggle for people in recovery–and a scary part of deciding to get sober in the first place–is navigating social situations without the glorious, wondrous, magical super lube. I’m sorry to say part of me still views it that way, but there it is. Which doesn’t mean I haven’t had any fun in social situations since I quit drinking. I have genuinely enjoyed myself at some gatherings where I was the only one not drinking. This has given me hope that my new sober life need not be devoid of fun, and I don’t have to become a boring party-pooper. I’ve had glimmers—a taste of what will hopefully become the rule rather than the exception. I have felt what it can be like—true presence with people, listening fully, without half my focus being pulled elsewhere (sometimes toward the effort of trying to keep a lid on my alcohol intake, and sometimes toward the nagging guilt in the background for choosing to drink with abandon). I have already experienced the blessing of leaving a gathering grateful for having what felt like the best of all worlds—fun with friends, total clarity, and knowing I’d wake up in the morning feeling great, with unclouded memories.
I’m not going to hold on too tightly to those glimmers, though. I keep hearing that as time goes on, social events get easier and sobriety can mean socializing with joy and ease. I am hopeful that will be true more and more often as time goes on. I really believe it will happen. And yet, I’m not going to bank on it. Because I need to stay sober either way. Even if the social aspects stay challenging forever.
The toughest time was my sister’s wedding about five weeks after I quit. I so wanted to rise above the struggle and simply be happy for my loved ones, untainted by this beast. I wish I could say I was grateful to be fully present and alert for every moment, focusing only on them, not my own inner drama. Nope. It absolutely sucked not drinking. That’s the plain truth. The ceremony was beautiful. Then, the cocktail hour was of course ALL ABOUT THE BOOZE, and I felt deprived. Instead of focusing on the occasion and enjoying the lovely people around me, I was having my own little personal pity party about my seltzer with lime. I scolded my kids harshly for getting their clothes dirty rolling down the hill. I never get uptight about that kind of thing—I like my kids to have fun and get dirty—even at a wedding. I was trying, trying, trying, but I was so tightly wound. The dinner was hard. The dancing was hard. I love to dance, and I made myself get up there for a couple songs, but I didn’t really feel it. The whole day and night, I felt raw, shaky and awkward and like I was on the periphery of it all. I simply had to soldier through it. I did the best I could and I didn’t drink. Everything went perfectly for my sister and it was a beautiful wedding. I’m sad that I couldn’t be present in the way I would have liked to be, but I guess I wouldn’t have been if I’d been drinking, either.
That was the only occasion so far where I had to fight the strong desire to pick up a drink. Other times, the difficulty is feeling awkward and nervous. Feeling shy. I never even knew I was shy. I’m not, really. Actually, I don’t know whether I am or not! How crazy is that? I’m 43 years old, and I don’t even know anymore if I’m shy or not, or if I’m really an extrovert like I thought I was. I feel more like my gregarious self in small gatherings. At the few larger parties I’ve been to, I’ve clammed up and shut down, just waiting for it to be over. I’ve also felt overstimulated by the noise and number of people. It all makes me wonder if I’m not something of an introvert after all, sans booze.
I guess most of us must rediscover (recreate?) who our social selves really are when we give up alcohol. My friend “Joe,” who has 30+ years of sobriety, says he likes being around people who’ve had a couple drinks. He says they are a lot of fun, and they are more themselves. I think that can be true with people who don’t have a problem, or even sometimes for people who do, before it gets bad. I miss how it was when it was good. We don’t have the luxury, says Joe. Even as it gets easier, that will always be a sad thing for me. I believe it’s good for my sobriety to give that its due, rather than pretend it was never any good anyhow. It’s a loss, period. Not the end of the world, not insurmountable, and not more significant than the gifts. But a loss nonetheless.
How is your social self changing since getting sober?
© soberfire, 2015