Ways to Socialize Soberly

I’m going to make a fool of myself.  I’ll feel out of place.  People will see how anxious I am.  If I don’t say much, people won’t know how boring I am.

 

These are the things that I would tell myself when I thought of social situations involving more than just a couple people.  If you can relate to this, then welcome to the world of social anxiety.  And, yes, it can be a huge burden and, yes, there are ways to overcome it.

 

Amazingly, it has taken me a lifetime to come to terms with my own social anxiety.  Many people shield themselves behind friends in social situations. Others become wall flowers.  Still others avoid socializing at all costs and, sadly, live a very lonely life.  For me, I discovered a cheat for social anxiety in my junior year of high school.  And that was alcohol. Unfortunately, when we continually use any coping behavior, we never address the issue—we only hide from it.  Soon I was drinking whenever I socialized…and then when I was alone as well.

 

The fact that nearly all people experience social anxiety should be an assuring thought to anyone.  But it wasn’t for me.  When I looked around at parties, I saw everyone else appearing so relaxed and so confident with others.  Why couldn’t I be like that?  Then I discovered pre-party drinking and embraced the magic of alcohol.  When I drank, I became the person I wanted to meet.  The more I relied on this social crutch, the more weight I put on it.

 

Dinner parties with guests sitting around a dining room table gave me the greatest social jitters.  In these situations, people could too easily see just how much I was drinking. I felt that I had to limit my drinking which reduced the effectiveness of my coping behavior.  Eventually, all my decisions about social situations boiled down to this:  If I couldn’t drink freely, I wouldn’t attend.

 

That crutch, however, became as heavy as a boat anchor, and it plunged me into the abyss of alcoholism. From the clarity of recovery, I clearly see that social anxiety was one of the most powerful forces that drove my drinking. I had a living problem and a drinking solution.  Now, in my tenth year of sobriety, I still push myself to more frequently attend social gatherings. It’s amazing how confronting our problems reduces their power over us.  Does social anxiety still haunt me?  For the most part, no.

 

But that old phantom returned this week.  I have a fairly big dinner party I promised my girlfriend that I would attend with her this coming weekend.  These situations are my Achilles heal.  With the invitation came a rush of anxious thoughts and a tightening in my stomach.  Yes, I have made progress with social anxiety in my recovery, but I’m still not immune to it.

 

This time I finally decided to seek out the advice of professionals.  This time I would take a different approach. This time I decided to confront my social anxiety head on, armed with new techniques rather than just ignoring the issue.

 

In his wonderful article “7 Techniques for Overcoming Social Phobia,” therapist Mark Tyrrell provides easy to implement ways of relieving social anxiety.

Here are his suggestions:

  1. Prepare to relax

Tyrrell says worrying is self-programming.  When we worry about an upcoming social situation, we are projecting ourselves into that situation and seeing ourselves failing once again.  Little wonder we experience anxiety when we are actually in that social setting.  Instead, he recommends that we take a warm bath or sit in a comfortable chair and visualize ourselves in that situation looking relaxed and confident.  Repeatedly doing this will create positive associations with socializing.

 

  1. Seek out social situations

The more we avoid something the more we send the message to the unconscious mind that it is dangerous and should be avoided.  This is true of socializing.  The solution is to actively put ourselves in social situations both in our imaginations (visualizations) and in person.   Soon, Tyrrell says, our conscious minds will begin to see socializing as safe and normal for us—even something to look forward to.

  1. Look at your surroundings

Oftentimes, when we are socializing, it is like we are walking around with a mirror in front of us, continually viewing how anxious we imagine ourselves looking and telling ourselves negative messages like “I’m boring.”  Tyrrell recommends moving our focus outward to the people in the room and to the room itself.  Notice the color of the walls, the room décor, and what other people are wearing.  After all, social situations are about focusing our attention away from ourselves.

 

  1. Ask questions

Tyrrell says that social phobia is all about worrying what other people think of us.  So shift the focus to other people by asking them questions that go beyond “yes” and “no” answers.  Google “Forty Fun Icebreakers.”

 

  1. Switch off your imagination

Imagination is one of our greatest assets but not when it comes to imagining what people are thinking of us.  When we find ourselves trying to mind read, we need to shut it down.  Yes, we can influence what others think of us, but we can’t control it, so why try, Tyrrell says.

 

  1. What do you want?

Our minds need positive instructions.  Tyrrell suggests asking ourselves, “How do I want to feel in these situations?”  He recommends closing our eyes and feeling how we feel when we were in the company of our loved ones.  Now, in social situations, bring those warm feelings with you and make a habit of sending them out to everyone.

 

  1. On being yourself

When we try to present ourselves as perfect, we come off cold and stilted. People who are willing to allow themselves to be a bit of a fool, Tyrrell says, are more socially confident.  People actually connect with us better when we are willing to show ourselves as flawed.  We wouldn’t be human if we weren’t.

 

 

And here is one of my own.  I have a habit of looking away immediately after someone asks me a question.  People can associate that with lying.  So lately I have been standing in front of a mirror and asking myself common questions I would be asked at a party.  I work on keeping eye contact with myself while answering.

 

All people suffer some degree of social anxiety. For alcoholics, we have relied on alcohol to provide us with the social “grease” to help us relax in social situations.  Other people become addicted to their own coping behaviors.  After the 12 Steps, we face the challenge of socializing cleanly. But if we take on this challenge with the same courage as we did our 4th Steps, and we apply these seven techniques, we can overcome our social anxieties.  We then look forward to socializing rather than dreading it. And what a feeling of accomplishment that will be!

If you’d like to be free of  your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com.  I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling.  I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.

RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach

Seven Benefits of Loneliness

Loneliness needs to be celebrated.   We are all familiar with the pang of loneliness, but few of us are aware of its perks.  Despite the stigma associated with loneliness, it may be one of the greatest contributors to creativity, productivity, spirituality, empathy, and, paradoxically, to relationship building.

Some of history’s most admired figures— Leonardo di Vinci, Shakespeare, Jesus—would be seen as lonely in today’s terms. “Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone,” according to Theologian Paul Tillich, who sees the duality of being alone.

Our Growing Sense of Loneliness

As a nation, we appear to be getting lonelier. Ironically, as we have become more and more connected through social media, the lonelier we have become.  The latest Census figures show that 31 million Americans are living alone, which accounts for nearly 10 percent of the US population and one quarter of all US households.

And recent studies reveal that chronic loneliness has increased dramatically over the last decades. In the 1970s and 1980s, the percentage of Americans who regularly felt lonely was between 11- 20 percent. By 2010, it had increased to 40 – 45 percent, according to a nationally representative study by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).

A 2016 Harris Poll found that 72 percent of Americans admit to feeling lonely at least once a week.

Whether it is chronic or occasional, most people feel the pang of loneliness. Social scientists believe that part of people’s painful reactions to loneliness is due to the social stigma that modern psychology has attached to it. Those who suffer from loneliness often see themselves as social defectives.

Solitude is loneliness’ happier cousin

Although both describe a state of being alone, the difference between loneliness and solitude is choice. When people make the conscious choice to be alone, they experience solitude. When being alone is not a choice, people experience loneliness.   Loneliness implies an undesirable state whereas solitude suggests a desirable one.

As you know from my previous blogs, I see relationships with others as being one of the most crucial facets of life. As human beings, we are built for relationships. They have the power to make us more emotionally mature, revealing to us our blind spots and the areas in our life where we have problems giving or receiving love.

Yet, psychologists are also realizing the need for time alone to nourish a balanced life. Twitter, Facebook, and SnapChat are wonderful for social snacking, but we need the nourishment of solitude in order to sustain a healthy lifestyle, which includes the demands of work, family, and friendships.

Here’s why:

The Benefits of Solitude

  1. Solitude can infuse relationships with freshness.   Time alone from loved ones spent reading, playing music, completing projects, or exploring new ideas can breathe fresh life into a tired relationship.

 

  1. Solitude allows us to recharge our batteries. This is truer for introverts than extroverts, but everyone needs time alone with their thoughts and feelings.

 

  1. Solitude provides us with the focus to problem solve. The corporate model of teaming can increase productivity, but it comes at a cost for those who may feel marginalized. This outside or minority voice is often silenced when it would appear to go against the prevailing grain of group thinking.

 

  1. Solitude fosters productivity. There are vocations that require time alone. Artists, writers, musicians, and others require solitude in order to create.

 

  1. Solitude is especially important for teens. They need time alone from self-consciousness and peer pressure to develop their own sense of personal identity.

 

  1. Solitude deepens our desire for connectedness with others. Although this seems paradoxical, we need time alone in order to greater cherish the time we have with loved ones.

 

  1. Solitude gives us the inner space to improve our conscious contact with God.   Prayer and meditation require freedom from distractions.

 

If we can recognize that being alone is a part of a balanced life, maybe we could shift our perspective on loneliness. When we become aware that being alone is not always the personal crisis that we were taught to believe, then we can embrace our loneliness, dispel some of the negative emotions associated with it, and see it for the benefits it can bring to us. In fact, if we apply its benefits, loneliness may even become a friend. Then loneliness becomes solitude.

If you’d like to be free of  your addiction, please contact me at ValuesBasedRecovery@gmail.com.  I work with people who suffer from alcohol and drug addiction as well as behavioral addictions such as food, porn, and gambling.  I work with clients in person or on the Zoom live video platform.

RJ Handley, Addiction Recovery Coach