Drinking to medicate social anxiety, and The Mourning After
I went drinking last night. Today, I have a hangover of the mind.
People talk about hangovers. They talk about feeling sick in the morning, or the headaches, or thirst. I can deal with that. Those are things you can take care of. A tall glass of Emergen-C. Excedrin. A greasy breakfast packed with enough carbs to knock you out for another three hours. Water, and lots of it.
But there’s another sort of hangover I can’t deal with: the dread. Hangxiety. Shame shudders. THE FEAR. Whatever you want to call it, it’s killing me.
I used to only get it occasionally, but lately it’s happening every time I drink. Deep in my chest, it feels like it’s constricting my heart and I can barely breathe. An intense feeling of guilt and regret, for no reason other than existing. When I pull the blankets over my head, it’s not because I’m sick and the light hurts. I’m hiding.
See, the physical hangover goes away. The mental one does not. Long after the headache has dulled, I reel in self-loathing for days. Conversations from the night before play over and over in my head. I pause them, zoom in, analyze reactions and find everything I did wrong.
I start talking to one person, but wasn’t expecting everyone else to fall silent at once to listen. Panic sets in as everyone’s eyes fall on me. My brain ceases to function. What was I even saying? It peters off to a mumble on my lips. I can form words, but can’t string them into sentences. “I think that – well, you know – she’s just so – and if everyone could just -” and I dissolve into a helpless shrug. They nod slowly, uncertain, and look away.
Were they nodding because they agreed? Or were those, “Oookay, whatever…” nods? They thought I was an idiot. I was an idiot.
There I am again, bringing up the same topics I always do: Falling out with a friend, check. Losing my job, check. Tumultuous childhood, check. Don’t I have anything more interesting to talk about? Is my life really this boring? I always promise myself that I’ll stop beating a dead horse, but two drinks and there I go babbling about the same shit again. They must be so annoyed.
And again, even later, saying the same things I already said two hours before. And this time last week. Why?
I TEXTED. Who did I text! They didn’t even reply. You fucking idiot.
Do I even remember what anybody else talked about? Let me think. Nope.
I’m not sure I even let anybody else talk.
Wait. Was I just not paying attention when they did talk? Always so busy looking for a way to seize the conversation and make it about me again!
How did I get home? I should be in so much trouble. I am such shit. I’m not even worth this bed.
Why are you whining? Get over it. You’re fine. Don’t be so crazy.
By the time breakfast is finished, I’ve convinced myself that I’m the most annoying person on the planet, and I have two choices: I can either call everyone and apologize for being awful, or I can go radio silent until everyone forgets I exist.
What’s really frustrating is that I know I’m agonizing over nothing. Literally, it’s the nothing that I agonize over. The stories of my antics I hear the next day? Actual crazy shit I did that I should be embarrassed over? Doesn’t even phase me. I enjoy those stories.
It’s the minute, irrelevant failings at social interaction that haunt me. Stumbling over words, a joke falling flat, saying something everyone’s sick of hearing. Realistically, I might have mildly annoyed someone. At the worst.
But the voice of reason does nothing to quell my obsession. I’m glued to my bed the rest of the day, combing social media for signs that everyone hates me now. As I write this, part of me worries that maybe I’m not worried over nothing. Maybe I really was an idiot, and people will read this and say, “Amen! He finally knows it!”
I admit it sounds silly, and I’ve never been able to talk to anyone about it without them just laughing it off. But it’s not funny. At all. My mental sabotage is both thorough and savage. When I talk about dropping off the face of the planet, that’s not hyperbole. In those moments, I’m absolutely serious when I think of moving away, of never talking to anyone again. On darker mornings, suicide was not out of the question.
Clearly, I have social anxiety. Any more than three people at the table, and I clam up. Drinking became a sort of “social lube” – something to help me loosen up around people. Eventually, it became so wrapped up in my idea of socializing that it’s unfathomable to imagine hanging out without drinks. You go out for drinks – that’s just what people do. You need a drink to relax. You need it to talk to people. What are you going to do together, if you’re not drinking? Besides, it makes you more fun to be around!
But the next morning, always the spiral of shame, regret, and self-loathing.
Alcohol doesn’t give you confidence, it lets you borrow confidence. The moment you’re done, it snatches it back and sends you crashing down lower than ever before. The catastrophic thoughts leave you so low on yourself, that the next time you’re in a social situation it feels more important than ever to have a drink to ease the nerves. Just one. Which works until that one drink hits you, and: Holy shit, this is great! I’ve never felt better in my life! Look at how much I’m talking! I DON’T EVEN CARE what I’m about to say I’m just gonna say it! Drink more, more, more, never let this end!
And the cycle repeats: you unaware that you’ve convinced yourself that you need the very thing that created the problem in the first place.
Now that I’ve identified the loop, I’m asking myself questions. Do I really enjoy drinking? What is it about drinking that I keep coming back for? Why do I feel that I need to alter my mind to have a good time? What’s wrong with my regular mind? My regular mind doesn’t make me babble like a fool, and it doesn’t torment me for days about it. Why not stop?
But that same, self-loathing voice argues: Can you really have fun without alcohol? Are you sure? Is being comfortable in social situations a skill that can be learned? Maybe it would be better to just keep drinking, and stop talking to people instead. You never feel this way when you drink at home alone, do you? You don’t really like hanging out in crowds. Why stop the thing you love, to do something you don’t?
Besides, you know how this works. This time next week, you won’t be able to say no. You’ll have a long week at work, and want to let your hair down. Go wild for a night. Just give in.
Drink, drink, drink.