IT’S YOUR PARTY AND I’LL…

Missing a friend’s birthday party tonight and feeling pretty shitty about it. It starts at 9:30PM and is being held at a bar and she’s booked a DJ. The old me (stupid drunk asshole) would have jumped at the opportunity to go. I would have pre-gamed before so I felt socially prepared to mingle and would then arrive and very quickly pour an entire bottle of vodka down my throat. I would have danced even though I would have looked ridiculous. I would have talked to strangers and hatched elaborate plans with them to become the best of friends. FIND ME ON FACEBOOK! I’d talk about collaborating on art projects with people and completely not mean it or forget about it the next morning. And the worst part about it? I’d be at the friend’s birthday part for all the wrong reasons. I’d be there because I wanted to be drunk. That would be my priority. It doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t have cared about or loved the friend, but alcohol was always and forever number one.

Toward the beginning of my recovery I was declining all invitations to do anything remotely social for a few different reasons. First, I was afraid that I would drink. Being around friends who are very merrily imbibing is a recipe for disaster in the beginning. I would also decline the invites because the social anxiety that I would feel without alcohol in my system was just too much for me to handle at the time.

This particular invitation decline has troubled me a little bit. I said no like I typically do, almost automatically and without thought. But the more I think about it, the more I’m starting to question whether or not I’m falling into a pattern of unnecessary isolation.

I can tell you without any doubt in my mind whatsoever that I would NOT drink if I were to go to the party tonight. It just wouldn’t happen. First, everyone knows that I’m a drunk in recovery. I told them all. And I did that specifically for accountability and because I’m no longer ashamed of it. Second, I would be with my boyfriend who absolutely would NOT allow me to consume alcohol. He’d probably body slam me and pull my hair and scream a lot.

So why am I still refusing to attend functions if I am so certain that I would not drink? Anxiety. I don’t want to deal with that awkward and uncomfortable feeling that bubbles up when it’s time to converse with other people about who I am and what I do. I know that if I absolutely had to, I could. I wouldn’t die. I might say ridiculous things. I might be caught off guard and not listen appropriately. One time someone asked me how my job was going and I said, “YES.” I might make a complete ass out of myself and sweat and feel totally out of place… but I wouldn’t drink.

In very early sobriety, I dealt with so many uncomfortable emotions and feelings that it was perfectly acceptable to stay miles away from any kind of social function. Even if it were going to be an alcohol free event, it makes perfect sense for an addict in early recovery to avoid those feelings of imagined inadequacy and anxiety. The need to protect your headspace from any kind of unnecessary trauma and stress is just as important as avoiding booze. 

But when is it time to venture out? When am I ready to bite the bullet and accept the fact that I might feel shy or awkward but it’s my friend’s birthday and I should be there? When am I crossing the line from a valid practice of self-preservation in sobriety to an unhealthy and potentially harmful practice of fear avoidance and self-imposed isolation? Put simply, when am I ready to force myself into situations where the only fear is OMG I MIGHT FEEL WEIRD.

Don’t get me wrong. If I had any inkling of a concern about my ability to remain sober in a social setting, I wouldn’t be the least bit conflicted. But as I mentioned, today I am secure in my very strong belief that I have the tools to stay clean and that a relapse would take much more than me walking into a bar to drop off a gift, eat some cake, and say a few hellos. But how many months, years, am I going to keep myself locked up?

I think my biggest concern is that by excessively avoiding uncomfortable situations, I might end up in a dysfunctional pattern where the very tools I’m using to protect my sobriety end up stunting me even further in terms of relationship development and social skills. Maybe I need to feel the awkwardness a few times before it becomes less awkward?

There are some specific types of situations where I’m able to manage fairly well. Business meetings, for example. Last night I met with a few friends about an upcoming production of mine. The purpose of the meet up was to talk shop and start making plans for the formation of a band that is going to play in the show. If you insert purpose and intent into a meeting, somehow my brain switches gears and I’m no longer overly concerned about what I’m saying or how the meeting is going to play out. We were also seated at dinner which also seems to calm my nerves a bit. There is an activity happening. We are collectively consuming something (food) and the pressures to perform socially aren’t as urgent.

What it boils down to, I think, is that I’m still extremely insecure and in the process of relearning how to just BE. And I think the only way to really start to work out these sober muscles is to get out there into situations that perhaps I’m not entirely comfortable with. Still, the questions remain: When am I ready to do that? How do I know if I’m unnecessarily isolating? Am I protecting my sobriety or am I protecting my fear of pain and discomfort?

The conclusion is that I’m not going tonight because I don’t have the answers to these questions yet. But I have a sneaking suspicion that I’m getting to the point where I really need to grow up, be a big boy, and go sing happy fucking birthday.

15 comments

  1. I found that I was ready when I was ready….and I KNEW it in my gut. There is no shame in avoiding stuff until you feel ready to do it. Your friends will still be there and the world will still be doing its thing. This phase will pass and you will be ready to be more social again. I am the WORST at patience, but here I am, telling you to be patient. xo 🙂

  2. I agree with Jen….there is a time for everything yada yada yada. You’ll know when you are ready. Give yourself the time and space to be where you should be now. (Wow– do I sound zen-ish today…..)

  3. I agree with the ladies above. As time has gone on, I am more comfortable being around alcohol. That said, I was close to 8 months sober, and still felt a twinge or two at the open bar party. I know that I couldn’t have gone to it at that any time before then.
    Do what you feel you can, and don’t sweat it if you can’t. Great thing about birthdays are they come every year whether you want them or not. 🙂

  4. god this is an awesome post!
    you are asking all the right questions, you already ARE a big boy!

    I agree with the comments above, that I just knew when it was ok, but I asked all the same questions you are now prior to the knowing.

    One thing that helped me so much was the accountability to my friends, which you have in spades, and my commitment to myself that i could leave any time I wanted to. I live in L.A., so that meant I drove every single time, no matter how inconvenient it might be. If I got too uncomfortable I left. And I have to say that helped me feel so much more comfortable; I controlled my destiny, I could leave at any time. That also helped me feel less anxious and more able to talk with others. I could leave if you got boring…what a concept!

    Plus, there are in the bathroom texts to your sober friends for support….the importance of those cannot be denied.

    Thanks for posting this process….it will help a lot of people I am sure.

  5. Oh maaaaan I know this feeling! You’ve done this before though, and you know that it gets better the more you do it. When you’re ready of course. No rush. You’re further ahead than I am, you inspire me to keep at it. Thank you!

  6. Agree with “mishedup”, I always have an out – I can leave if it gets weird or if I feel uncomfortable. I’ve been around people drinking all summer – I believe I’ve mentioned that once or twice. They’re pretty much at every function I go to – some are “normal” drinkers, others not so much. I’ve been around drunk people, sober people, at drinking events and non-drinking events. At first, it was hard but I have noticed the awkwardness starting to ease up a bit.

    It comes and goes really. I’m fine most of the time, then the other night we had a dinner party and I was laughing and being vivacious and I thought, I wonder if these peeps think I’m drunk since I’m having such a good time…….really? When I was drunk, I never cared what they thought, at least not until the next day when I couldn’t remember what stupid shit I did. But there I sat, thinking it. Am I having to good a time for someone sober? Oh man. I wondered after they left if they talked about me, if they thought I was drunk or if they thought I was weird.

    I finally caught myself, took a deep breath and did that self talk I do where I say “who gives a fuck, just be me”. Then, I tell myself, if I want to be loud and rock it, I will. If I want to be quiet and shy, I flipping will. If I want to leave b/c I’m not cool with it, I will.

    You will find balance. Put yourself first and do what feels right for you. It does take time and even when you think you have it down, that anxiety will creep back in occasionally. Pull it in, feel it and let it pass. Do some self talk, WTF yourself upside the head – that seems to help me.

  7. I just made a post “road trip with a smoker” before we actually left, because I just knew that my friends smoking wouldn’t bother me at all…and it didn’t. It would have been totally different just a few months ago, I couldn’t have done it. I would have grabbed one of her cigarettes and would have blown my quit out of the window and even if I wouldn’t have smoked I would have felt miserable all the time sitting beside a smoker, I wasn’t ready then! You are doing great and you should be very proud of yourself. Friends understand and support us in our decisions! You are not falling into isolation, you are protecting yourself and your young sobriety. One day you will know with absolute certainty that you will be able to master everything.

  8. Ahh yes I know exactly what u mean! I remember my 3rd month of sobriety… It was our dept. Christmas party & for the previous 3 yrs I was thee one holding center court as the jokster with the lampshade on my head.The yr before I had fallen down & had a bruise the size of north america on my hip…you get the idea ..but this was my first Christmas party sober and everyone at work knew I’d just gotten done w/ my OP program. I politely declined saying I just wasn’t ready for that “scene” yet. Everyone understood & the ones who didn’t knew nothing about alcoholics. I really did isolate that first yr because it was a MUST for my sobriety and sanity. These things become soo much easier with a lil time behind you. PS I’m even funnier now! I don’t pass out on anyone’s guest bed anymore. 🙂

  9. What a great post… I myself, in the early stages don’t have the courage to attend functions where there is alcohol. I don’t trust myself yet. It’s inspiring to see your post and be able to relate to the feelings of anxiety. Thanks!

  10. Thank you for sharing the deepest reason, serious, it helps me to understand my husband. From sitting across the isle / viewing from a different perspective I think it is just fine for you to decline. I bet your friends understand. However, maybe that is my anti social personality talking. The person that hates any type of party.

    At any rate I say well done, again. Keep up your hard work.

  11. I hear you! It’s our alcoholic brain talking when we are worried about what people think about our drinking or not drinking. Most people are wrapped up in themselves they are not even thinking about us. It’s good to stay away for a while until you are comfy. Your sobriety means everything to you and you need to do anything to protect it! It’s not unnecessary isolation. It’s you taking care of you! Finally!!!!

    Irishgirl

  12. Don’t get your knickers in a twist! Take it easy and try not getting in a state. I would go with my hubby, as you are too, for the utmost support. Say beforehand, when I feel bittern can we go? Just go to say happy birthday. You might just enjoy yourself. Great blog xx

  13. Franklin D Roosevelt said in his inaugural address against Herbert Hoover, I believe it was in 1932,”There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.” He was a man of very few words but this comment has followed us through all of these decades. So it must be true?
    You can do this, you are strong, you have overcome the biggest part of your life’s issue, by becoming sober. Let the people that you love and cherish see that you have accomplished your biggest fear and start up your relationships again and a new light, as a different person, a strong and sober person.
    Dance like no one is watching, sing as if no one is listening, and become that new person that everyone is rooting for and you will survive!
    Love, The Mom

  14. Hear ya!! A month or two ago I wrote a long response to one of your posts. Unfortunately I don’t think it went thru b/c it had x a n a x in it. I completely understand how with “addicts” pushing a substance to help isn’t the best idea; however, I think there are different levels of addicts – and not all of us are addicted to everything. Now, after 2 years sober, I’m sooooo much more relaxed in social situations and in meetings at work. Still have the rare-now off moments where I can feel the anxiety creeping in, but def can go to a social event with drinking and be waaaay fine, happy even, relaxed (and I’m waaaay more confident/self-assured). BUT I still have my x a n in my purse to “lean on” if needed. I’m sure it’s placebo’ish but it helps JUST to know it’s there – in case I start to have the sweating profusely, panicky/”I’m not able to control my face compared to what I’m saying to this person right now I hope they don’t see the fear in my eyes” feeling. I usually take before our huge corporate, all-employee meetings with the lined up chairs that are literally almost touching they’re so close. But I’ll only take a half if needed. And I’ve had the 30 p ills for seriously almost 2 years now – to prove I rarely take them. But have you thought about some type of medication?? However, if you know it can become an issue for you/you’re prone to getting addicted to them of course don’t and stick it out. But have you talked to a doc about it??? And I hear you on the isolation, I have a somewhat self-imposed isolation but I LOOVE my alone time. I just only do the things I REALLY want to do. However I do think you should force yourself to do a couple things to help lessen the social anxiety. What’s the worse thing that could happen??? You’re not going to drink :). And if you’re not going to drink, you won’t do anything worse than you would do drunk, right?? 🙂

  15. Totally with you on this post, I had my first proper social event last night since coming into recovery. Sure I had social events with friends, but a cocktail party where I only knew two people? I was seriously sweating at the thought of it. The alcohol didn’t even bother me, and the fear of what other people thought of me soon left. I ended up having a fantastic evening, safe in the knowledge that my higher power keeps me safe if I do the right thing.

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