Sunday, 27 May 2018

Some lessons in sober socialising

I'm well into my first alcohol-free year and while a lot of the time I feel like I've mastered this new lifestyle, there are other times when I feel a little unsteady and insecure.  Although I haven't once been tempted to drink, there are certain situations that trigger my feelings of anxiety, discomfort and awkwardness.  These are all social situations as I attempt to remain part of my friendship group and try to keep my life carrying on, as much as possible, as before.

In the past week there have been three different situations that have triggered these feelings - all of which I have tried to learn something from.
Alcohol-free socialising

Socialising with close friends

Earlier this week there was a public holiday in Hong Kong so we went away for a long weekend in Bali with close friends.  One night everyone wanted to go drinking at a place which was a 45 minute taxi ride from where we were staying. I didn't want to disrupt plans or stand-out as the pain in the arse non-drinker, however I felt anxious about this all day.  I realised that the source of my anxiety was that I didn’t have an escape route, I was tied to the group because of the expense and potential danger of travelling alone in a taxi back to our villa.

It was the first time I’ve become aware of just how important it is for me to have an easy escape route once friends get their drinking heads on and I need to be able to slope off before we reach 'wheels falling off‘ time.  I know just how selfish people can become under the influence of alcohol as I was one of the worst!  For example, one New Year's Eve I was partying with my best friend who was heavily pregnant and I had promised her that we would leave when she had had enough.  When she eventually came up to me to say she was ready to go home I told her not to be so selfish, berated her about why our night had to end prematurely just because she was pregnant and then carried on partying.  She still brings this up with me today.  So, I guess I'm frightened of being trapped with people like me, who once they start drinking, don't want to stop until they're annihilated.

In the end, it was fine as everyone wanted to leave before things got out of hand but I wasn't able to relax or enjoy myself until I was back in that taxi heading home.

Lesson number one:  always have an escape route


Partying with strangers
One of our friends is leaving Hong Kong and had invited my husband and I to his leaving party.  My husband couldn't make it but I wanted to say goodbye and it was a party on a tram which was going to be a new experience for me.  I was very conscious that this was going to be a challenging evening because I only knew two of the guys attending the party but I decided to be brave - besides I had an easy escape route if things became too difficult.  

I spent the first half of the party sitting quietly on my own, sipping my Coke Zero and observing everything that was going on around me.  What was interesting was that I was quite at ease observing and blending into the background, up until the point that the host came up to me to apologise for the fact that I didn't know many people and I was all on my own.  Then I started spiralling into paranoia that I have turned into a boring, anti-social misfit now that I don't drink and everyone was judging me.  I started to resent the fact that my Coke Zero wasn't making me feel comfortable enough to make small talk with strangers.  Fortunately, some good friends joined the tram party half-way through and these feelings evaporated and I ended up having a really fun night.

Lesson number two: make sure you always have a few allies on-board to hold your hand


Brunching with friends and strangers
Yesterday I went to a brunch with a group of women, half who I know, half who I've never met.  I had a really lovely time and met some really smart, interesting, strong, feisty women - my favourite kind of ladies.  However, I did feel I was much more of a listener than a contributor and I wasn't holding court in the way I might have done if I had been drinking.  I had flashbacks to my awkward teenage years when we would meet up after school with boys from the local boys school and my confident friends would chat away effortlessly with them, while I sat awkwardly twiddling my hair wishing I could find something interesting to say.

It made me realise now that alcohol has been stripped from my life, I really am quite a shy, self-conscious person until I get to know and feel comfortable with people.  The real me is that awkward teenager and booze was just providing me with the bravado I lacked with strangers.  I felt quite exposed without my wine security blanket but I know that coming to terms with the fact that I am not the person I thought I was is just part of this process.

Lesson number three:  learn to accept that you are a slightly different person without alcohol


I sometimes have to remind myself that I am only a few months into changing habits and behaviours that I have been practising for thirty years.  It is not always going to be plain sailing.  The key to keeping on track is to remain aware of how situations make me feel, learning from uncomfortable experiences and putting in place strategies that will protect me from feeling insecure and anxious the next time.


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