Last night I was in a grotty mood. Really, really grotty. It hadn’t been a particularly bad or depressing day; it usually only takes something minor and trivial to set me off, and the thing that set me off last night was really trivial, which made me feel even more grotty. I attended a friend’s birthday meal in Soho; the friend, S, is in AA. I was really flattered to be invited a few weeks ago. S is part of the ‘cool’ group in AA, and the opportunity to hang out with him and his cool friends in a non-AA setting seemed rather tempting. Let’s face it, being invited out to dinner was one of the things I dreamed of when I first went to AA. It’s one of those things that ‘normal’ people do, and I desperately want to be normal.
I first met S at a 6 o’clock meeting in Central London, where I had the chance to share about my social phobia. I’ve talked about feeling nervous in social situations in meetings before, but not for a while. When I got to the meeting last night I felt those old nerves, for some reason, telling me that I didn’t want to be there. I certainly didn’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t think that social phobia has got any better since I first came into recovery, to be honest. That really bothered me last night so I told the room about it, and everyone was really understanding, telling me afterwards that I was ‘doing really well’. I know I must be doing really well now because about a million people have told me that in recovery.
I’m doing all the right things for my program, keeping all my shares honest, heartfelt and to the point. But when it comes to the social aspect of the meetings, I can’t help feeling like I’m doing worse than ever. Once again yesterday I felt completely awkward after the meeting, trying to fit into people’s conversations but not quite managing it. I had to wait around for S and some others as we would be going to the restaurant for S’s birthday meal together; for five minutes they stood around chatting while all I could do was look at the floor, wishing it would swallow me.
Eventually we left and on the way to the restaurant it was just me, S and another AA friend, so I felt OK for a bit. I did notice a lot of banter passing between them, though, which I couldn’t be part of. I don’t think I know them well enough to engage in proper banter with them – by ‘banter’ I mean taking the piss out of them (in a friendly way, of course) – it’s one of those things that has always eluded me in friendships. Being able to politely take the piss out of someone signifies for me a very strong bond of friendship, not something I remember having with many people over the years. So for most of the way to the restaurant S and his mate were doing that, but it’s not like I was completely excluded from the conversation.
Still, I couldn’t stop the nerves from enveloping me as we entered the restaurant, as I knew that most of the people meeting us there would be strangers to me. There would only be a few of us from AA at the meal; all the rest were S’s outside world friends from work, etc.
Until yesterday I was, as I say, really looking forward to the night out. I’ve been on very few proper nights out since coming into recovery and it was nice to think that my social life might be about to get back on track. Sadly, as I sat down at the dinner table it was all I could do to stop myself from freaking out at the thought of eating in a fancy restaurant with loads of people I didn’t know. I guess I haven’t been used to the ‘eating out’ situation since coming into recovery, and I certainly haven’t been in any social situation where there are people I don’t know.
It didn’t help that many of S’s trendy, good looking friends were drinking red wine around us from the start. I was surrounded by red wine all night – it’s a good job I never liked the stuff, even when I used to drink it regularly. For about the first half hour, though, I felt totally out of place. After house parties, big meals in restaurants are probably my second most nightmarish situation. The idea of how much I was going to spend was on my mind big time, and on a basic level, I did not feel able to ‘fit in’ with the group at all. Apart from me, S and two other AA friends, everyone else was heterosexual, posh and (as I said) extremely good looking. I felt like a scruffy, poor student. I didn’t know how to participate in the conversation; it didn’t help that S was busy keeping up the impenetrable banter all the time.
After a while I seemed to adjust to the situation, as S and the others began to make a real effort to include me in the conversation. I ordered a gorgeous pizza, really satisfying my appetite. I eventually had a bit of a chat and a laugh with S’s mates, and by the end I was having a reasonably pleasant evening. To begin with I thought I was going to have to run to the toilet to cry; by the end I wondered what all the worry had been about.
I wouldn’t say it was the greatest night out, though. No matter how you look at it, I didn’t make any new friends. After everyone had finished eating we paid the extremely large bill, then headed out into the pouring rain. I had assumed the evening was over, until S started talking about moving onto the gay bars. Which I thought was a wonderful idea – I’ve not been to a gay bar for ages, I wouldn’t have to be up particularly early in the morning, and with AA friends I would have been fine not drinking. I’m sure S felt the same way, which is why he suggested it. They don’t tell you to stop going out to bars altogether in AA, it is completely one’s choice.
Strangely, before I could tag along to wherever S intended to go, he was waving goodbye at me, saying he’d see me soon. He’d either mistakenly assumed that I didn’t want to go to a bar, or he simply didn’t want me to come along. Maybe I was so unsociable and quiet in the restaurant that I would have been an embarrassment to him. Being the way I am, I couldn’t tell him that in fact I did want to stay out a bit longer. I turned and headed home, not stopping to say goodbye to anyone else.
I started off feeling furious at S for not inviting me to stay out later; when I remembered what step 4 was supposed to be teaching me about resentments at other people, I turned on myself, blaming myself for being so crap at the social situation. If I had been completely fine in the restaurant from the start, surely he would have wanted me to stay as long as possible. Because I’m so rubbish at talking to people I don’t know, I guess I was never quite at ease all evening, and maybe S’s friends thought I was weird. I spent the entire journey home analyzing every conversation I had had in the restaurant, and it wasn’t hard for me to pick holes in things, to think of ways I could have done so much better.
I know I shouldn’t care what people think of me; I know it shouldn’t matter why S didn’t invite me out to the bars. In all likelihood it was simply a mistake on his part. But with my background, how can I help believing the worst? I spent my entire childhood being left out of the fun. Last night fits the mold of that situation: being left out of all the fun again. I could have corrected S and let him know that I wanted to go wherever he was going, but I didn’t because I was too embarrassed. Why does socialising with other human beings always have to be so frigging difficult? Why can’t I even say “hello” to people I don’t know without being prompted?
At the end of the day, missing out on an extended night out in the gay bars isn’t the most important thing about last night. It’s the fact that I still have this huge issue with other people, this complete inability to be normal. If I thought beating myself up like this would stop me from getting better, then I wouldn’t do it, but the truth is, in this case I don’t think it matters how much I self-flagellate. I performed badly in the social scenario because I didn’t try hard enough. I let myself get so nervous that for half an hour I was literally shaking with fear, scared to cut my pizza into pieces in case I accidentally took my own eye out.
This problem isn’t getting any better. I can’t wait until I’ve finished all the steps for this situation to improve. It’s my birthday in two weeks and I can’t take it turning into another disaster. Knowing everyone there might make it better than last night’s fiasco, but if I’m feeling even slightly off on the day, it could all go horribly wrong.
I’m not stupid, I should know that allowing myself to wallow in this negativity will probably make the situation worse. If I anticipate my birthday being terrible then I could end up creating a self fulfilling prophecy. It’s so silly. I shouldn’t be worried about this any more. It’s not fair. The stupidest thing is that my sponsor will probably tell me I did really well last night. I got through the entire meal without taking a drink, even when people around me were slinging the red wine down their necks. To be honest, I didn’t want a drink all night. The thought crossed my mind a few times, of course, but it didn’t appeal to me. I wouldn’t have been able to afford to get drunk, anyway. I spent £15 on the meal altogether. That’s £15 I haven’t really got. I’m so tempted to pass it off as a wasted £15, but I can’t do that. I have to struggle to find the positives now.
From now on I think I’d like to end each blog entry by writing about what I’m grateful for. It is one of AA’s main suggestions, after all. So, today I’m grateful for my sobriety. I’m grateful that I was able to share confidently and freely in the meeting last night. I’m grateful that I saw friends there. I’m grateful that I survived S’s birthday celebrations without a drink. I’m grateful that I was able to come home at a reasonable time. I’m grateful that I have a secure, warm home to come back to every night. And I’m grateful that I feel much, much better now.