It’s been an average Monday. This morning I did some studying before heading to the Abnormal Psychology lecture in the afternoon. It was the first time I’d been to that lecture in weeks. Until now I’ve been so focused on my dissertation I wasn’t making the effort to go to lectures. This week I thought I’d better go as it would be the last lecture of term! It was a very interesting lecture this week, focusing on anxiety disorders. Afterwards I could be sure that I definitely suffer from social phobia, one of the main anxiety disorders. It was very strange sitting there listening to the lecturer describe the symptoms that I’ve been experiencing all my life. I’m certain to do well if that question comes up in the exam!!
The main thrust of the discussion was about the various treatments on offer; most people with the disorder are prescribed drugs such as valium as well as a course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which has proven to be very effective. I’ve never been given any of these things. I’ve gone to my doctor a few times over the years with worries about my excessive anxiety, but I’ve never been listened to. He always seems very busy and only half interested. Maybe I haven’t been assertive enough with him, maybe I ought to have been more specific about my problems. But the problem with social phobia is that one has no assertive skills!! He’s my doctor, he should have spotted the signs a long time ago. I still can’t get over the fact that I’ve gone through this thing all my life on my own. I nearly died because of it!
I suppose it’s lucky that I just happened to choose to study psychology three years ago. Otherwise I would know none of this now. It’s also lucky that I’m an alcoholic, because the AA program does happen to provide quite an effective set of principles which can help with social anxiety. Alcohol abuse has been shown to relate to all the anxiety disorders, therefore it’s not surprising that the program has come to be an antidote to the problems that anxiety disorders pose. Living in the day, being honest and thorough with oneself, putting one foot in front of the other during difficult times, calling one’s sponsor every day are all brilliant antidotes to fear and anxiety. The most important thing to have when one is suffering with such illnesses is a social support network, and Alcoholics Anonymous is one of the world’s biggest sources of social support.
Still, I wish that my illness could have been given a name years ago. I wish I could have had that social support network when I was a frightened, angry, suicidal teenager who believed that no one in the world cared about him. Of course, steps 4 and 5 are there to teach me that it’s not my place to regret and resent the past. That’s not my life any more; I have a name for the illness now and it’s time for me to move on. I have a big lump in my throat as I write this, because I always get emotional when I have to let go of things. I’m at my life’s biggest turning point so far. Everything is about to change for me, and it’s happening at exactly the right time. From here on in I will never be a child again. I’m ready to be an adult who is present in all aspects of his own life. I have to say goodbye to the past, with all its mistakes and disasters and darkness.
In many ways I’m lucky to be able to understand all this at my young age. The person doing the chair in tonight’s meeting was 50 years old, and he’s only been sober a year, and he kept saying that he wished he could have got this program 25 years ago. In many other ways, I know my life hasn’t been so entirely awful. My friend S shared tonight about the abuse which he’d suffered during childhood, and he was almost reduced to tears by it, and I don’t have things like that to share about. I went without material things and social support in my childhood, but I never went without food or affection from my mother.
Since I am about to become a real adult in the real world, there are lots of things I have to learn to do. Another thing that alcoholics/sociophobes don’t do is ask for help – unfortunately one can’t get by in life without asking for someone’s help sometimes, as I’ve discovered. I do the tea at the meeting every Monday and until now I’ve never asked the treasurer to reimburse me for the tea and biscuits, because the meeting was struggling for money before. Now that we’ve moved to a new location it’s got a lot busier on the whole, so it’s not struggling financially any more, and I can ask the treasurer to start reimbursing me if I want to. I ought to ask him, because I can’t afford to continue spending £7 every week on it. But I hate asking for money from people. Even though I have a right to ask for that money, even though the treasurer is a friend of mine, I haven’t been able to approach about it him yet. I know I’ll have to ask him next time I see him, because it would be silly to leave it any longer.
I also need to learn to start being more assertive with my doctor. Although the AA program has many useful principles that can help me with my anxiety, it doesn’t cover absolutely everything, and the more I learn about theraputic techniques such as CBT, the more I’m sure that I could really do with it. I know I have a right to change my doctor if I so wish, but I probably ought to give my current one another chance. If I was really going to be an adult about this, I’d make an appointment to see him tomorrow. I hope I can find the confidence to go through with it tomorrow. This is not just a minor side issue, it’s a major part of my life, especially now that I’m about to start looking for work, a situation which will undoubtedly play on all my fears big time. I can’t say for certain that I won’t be tempted to drink when I go to work and experience that social phobia on a daily basis. So I must take this seriously, and I must get my doctor to do the same.