In early October, I was invited to a dinner party in Los Angeles by a good friend who was visiting from out of state. The hosts were a rather popular couple of food bloggers and, along with me and my friend, the party was rounded out by another young, lovely couple and a sharp and funny gal who also happened to be a Los Angeles Times food writer.
I had a horrible night (sorry, Jen, if you end up reading this, but I did). For days and days afterward, I was absolutely traumatized. Socially traumatized. Over and over again in my head, I went through what I said, what I did, how I behaved. My stomach was in knots every time I rehashed it. I knew something was very wrong with that evening, wrong with me, and I couldn’t quite figure out what it was.
It took me a good couple of months for it to really hit me: I wasn’t myself. The entire night I acted how I thought I should act with these people, these “famous” bloggers, the writer. I wasn’t at all me. And though I’m sure they don’t realize that, I also know there’s a good reason I have never been invited back, even though I live close by. I have no doubt the energy I gave off in their presence was not particularly appealing.
I’m not saying all this now to beat myself up. I grant that I was not quite a few months sober at the time. It was early. I was not feeling emotionally settled and, really, I don’t think I knew who I was yet; I was still peeling away the false layers I piled on during my years of drinking.
Still. It was a lesson, a hard earned lesson. I must be myself. Because if I am not, my mind and body will stage an excruciating revolt.
This realization sat in the back of my mind for a few weeks and solidified itself, ultimately, in a dream. In the dream, I was speaking with a couple of girls I knew in childhood, telling them that I finally figured it out, that I don’t have to have social anxiety any more, ever, because I know the truth. And the truth is that I don’t have to be perfect.
When I meet new people (or hell, even when I get together with the old ones), I don’t have to say all the right things or behave a certain way. I can say something silly and not panic that no one will ever want to hang out with me again. I can let the conversation lag a bit when I am trying to get to know someone new, since I don’t have the ease of familiarity and time yet.
All of us are putting ourselves out there, just doing the best we can to connect with one another, aren’t we? And I can, too.
I woke up smiling. I felt rejuvenated. Aware. Deeply happy. For the first time in years, I knew I could go out in the world and be with others in a state of serenity and trust.
I carried this truth with me for weeks and it only continued to get stronger. Then, a couple of Saturdays ago, Steve and I went down to San Diego for a good friend’s birthday celebration. There was a great dinner and then afterward, we all headed down the street to a club where said friend was spinning a set around midnight.
So many times I danced and smoked and talked ever so loudly and incoherently with people in clubs just like this one. I would wake up the next day wondering if people thought I was an idiot, if I said ridiculous things, if I looked stupid on the dance floor. I hadn’t done much of this music stuff sober yet.
We arrived at the venue around 9:30 and for the next few hours, we watched people drink and chat and flirt and dance and we listened to each of the DJs doing their thing. And yes, it felt like a different world without a drink in my hand. But somehow so good. And around 11, as I was bopping around to the funky tunes that were playing, I stopped, turned around and looked at Steve and said:
“I love being sober. It gives me the freedom to be myself.”
God, what a gift.
I danced and danced the rest of the night away, not caring how I looked because the movement of my body was natural, spontaneous. I talked and laughed with friends and new acquaintances alike without worry because my words were coming from a clear heart, a clear head. I was being me, fully present, fully engaged. Honest. And silly. And having the time of my life.
And if people didn’t like me after that? Well then it was definitely their problem and not mine.
Social anxiety, be gone. Be. Gone. And don’t you ever come back.