This one is a head scratcher.
If you’d have told me on New Years Eve that I’d be writing this today, I’d have laughed. One of the things I was most afraid of was socialising without alcohol. I didn’t want to be the boring one on the outside of the group.
In fairness, on the few occasions when I’ve socialised, I have felt a bit ‘outside’ – but I was still learning how to ‘do’ social situations without alcohol. I’ve also learned that some situations just aren’t fun for me – that’s one of the reasons I used to drink so much when I was in those situations!
How sobriety reduces social anxiety:
1. It teaches you about what you enjoy and what you don’t
I don’t like loud places and huge parties where I don’t know anyone. In those situations, I am anxious until I’m ‘merry’. Then I end up drinking too much and spending days examining my behaviour and berating myself.
In my previous attempts to give up drinking, I thought “I’m not enjoying this because I’m not drinking.” This time, I realised I had it wrong. It would have been more accurate just to say, “I’m not enjoying this because parties aren’t my thing.”
I like conversations. Deep, interesting, meaningful conversations that scratch my brain. I love those types of conversations! Not everybody does though. In much the same way as I needed alcohol to get through a loud party, I’m sure there are people who need alcohol to get through a dinner party sat next to me!
But that’s the thing – we never NEED alcohol. We only need to work out who we are and where we feel a sense of ease and belonging. In those places, anxiety is lessened.
2. You don’t spend days replaying your misdemeanours
Ugh. That feeling when you wake up in the early hours of the morning, head banging and mouth parched and that first wave of shame hits.
I’m in my forties now so those moments have been mercifully rare in the last decade or so but in my twenties and early thirties, they were a weekend staple.
The problem is they make you even more nervous about going out the next time and you drink to feel less nervous – which makes the pattern repeat itself.
In the last 95 days, I’ve had a few moments where I’ve replayed my social awkwardness in my head but instead of feeling anxious, it leads me to ask two questions:
- Was I awkward because I’m still learning how to ‘be’ in those situations without alcohol?
- Was I awkward because I was doing something I don’t actually enjoy?
If the answer is yes to the first question then I know it’s just a matter of practice – when it came to boozy lunches and dinner parties, I usually answered yes to question 1. I love those types of social situations and I felt awkward because I wasn’t used to doing them sober.
Answering yes to question two leads to a different solution. In that case, it’s better to say no to those sorts of events in future – or plan really well so you have a way to enjoy them or feel calm and safe while you’re there. In my case, I won’t say no to every party or gig but I know it will work better if I have a friend with me who also likes breaking away from the group and spending a bit of time standing outside chatting before we go back in for more noise and chaos.
3. You make more meaningful connections
It’s funny. When people find out I’m not drinking, they share their stories. Not a single person has said, “I love that I drink! I want to keep doing it!” We end up talking about their lives, their interests, their early adulthood, their fears, all kinds of things.
There is no way we’d have had these conversations if we were both drinking. Alcohol makes people talk more. Sobriety makes people listen more.
I used to think if I wasn’t drinking I’d be the most boring person in the room. Now I think I might be the most comfortable person in the room.