Monday, 4 January 2010

Social situations

I've learned several things over the last week which is always a very pleasing state of affairs, for there's nothing more frustrating than stagnating in a feeling that you're getting nowhere fast.

Firstly I had what felt like a setback on New Year's Day. I'd managed fine going from the weekend of the 27th until then without having anything. I'd intended going through the wedding I was at the same way but I pretty quickly discovered what is probably one of the biggest reasons I drink at things like that. I found myself in new company and while they were all very nice people it was the fact alone that they were new to me that filled me with a heavy sense of unease and worry. To be specific, it's not a generic shyness around new people I feel, for in day to day situations I can carry myself perfectly adequately, but in social situations it's an overwhelming sense of disappointment in myself for not naturally being able to be as funny or interesting with them as I can be with people I know. The sense of disappointment quickly becomes all I can think about, even when I'm conscious of it and am willing myself to just think straight and act as I would with people I know.

Drink comes into this as it puts a foot in that revolving door and has the same effect as if I was magically suddenly sat at a table of friends - the mental block clears and I find it possible again to think clearly and without hindrance. Part of it is psychological in that having a drink in front of me makes me feel less of an outcast and more a part of the group, but part of it is the physical relaxing effect of a beer or two. I've come to see that this is one of the reasons I have instinctively drunk at occasions like this, because I'd got used to it as a way of killing off those feelings of unease before they had chance to kick in - feelings of unease which I've never really learned to handle.

Despite there being a free bar at the wedding, I maintained a good degree of sobriety and managed to think logically and calm myself about a moment of anger I had when I saw someone ordering two strong drinks at the end of the night - I had a flash of anger that if I had done that I'd be leapt upon as a raging alcoholic, but then I remembered that it would be justified to do so as I've shown that I react in a different way to that kind of drinking than other people - a worse way. What's not okay for me is okay for them, you know, and I remembered that and stopped myself before I got angry. It might not sound much of an achievement but normally I find it quite alluring to succumb to those flashes of anger and switch off any resistance to them, because they feel like such a change from the normal hyper-self controlled me.

Anyway, in summary, when faced at the wedding with the pressure of a new social group, I learned that I'd gone too far by thinking I was ready to totally not drink at things like that. Maybe in the future, when I've done it a few times with less drink than usual, yeah, but not yet. I kept the drinking to a normal level, though, went home fine and was A-okay the next day, so I think I just did enough to kill off my freaking-out that night and get me through to the next stage.

So what was the next stage? Well part of what I've been doing on here and in person is being honest about as much as I can, so before we went into the reception I told my girlfriend I was panicking a lot about the next six hours and I'd be having a few drinks. She took it well which was a relief as I can understand that I change my mind a fair bit on here - as I mentioned in a recent post, it's because I don't know myself what the best route is from day to day. A fair point she had was that a few drinks that night might kick off my usual urge to have a few more the next day, and then a few more, and then the whole "stopped drinking" thing is dead in the water again. Being honest I only fully understood what was happening at those times about three or four months ago, when I began to see a pattern emerging after yet another stupidly intense weekend. But I get it now, and I think it's one of the main things I need to be doing to keep in control - avoiding the one night leading into another just because I get that feeling inside and my body tells me I'm fine. The lesson has been that my body lies to me and the voice making me want another is the remnants of last night's alcohol leaving my system; two simple but duplicitous chemical facts.

So, and I felt a bit lame for suggesting it, I asked if we could spend some of the next day together. There was no need to explain why - obviously partly it was to give me some company to help me avoid the boredom that makes me want to give in, and partly to show her in person that I wasn't falling into that trap again. And it is a trap - as I mentioned some time ago on here, when I think back, almost universally, the times I've ended up stupidly drunk and ended up upsetting her or being an all-round wazzock haven't been after a night out but after a second or third night out, when it's built up inside me but for lord knows what reason I seem unable to recognise it. It seems to me then that if I can't rely on the instinctive feeling that "I've had enough" that most other people have, then I have to create and rely on an intellectual decision to stop myself and ignore what my body tells me. On the day following the wedding I did just that and once the pangs for more had passed by dinnertime, I felt back to normal once again.

I'm actually taking some genuine comfort from that because, and it's really hard to describe just how strong an urge it is, when I've had that wanting for more in the past I've normally just given in and let it beat me. It will be hard for me to exercise the same decision every time and I think I will have to actively plan to have something to do or have people around to help me avoid it, but I know now it's possible.

For the future, I'm currently going back to the idea I had several months ago that having something unusual to look forward to every month or so might help me get through the intermediate patches without feeling too cut off from the rest of the world, my friends and family. It's a hard trade-off for me, on the one hand the need to be more moderate and on the other the need to see people. I've been reading about the National Winter Ales Festival 2010 over in Manchester later this month and it's that kind of thing that I think I'd like to do more - go along for the day (having most definitely not had a beer the night before!), try the food, try some crazy new beers (which I really do love doing, always have done, just hidden it by the obviousness of my excesses), see a few friends I don't often see, and get the train home with a Sunday ahead to spend "in recovery" - not tricking myself I'm immortal and I can quite easily go out again that night. When I think about it, it feels like the solution that might work for me, helping me hit that middle ground. I'll be asking around anyway, putting some feelers out, and seeing what happens.

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