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.