3 Tips for Recovering Addicts with Social Anxiety

Like many others I met in rehab, I started drinking at social gatherings. The reason was simple. I had always been known as quiet and introverted. But the truth was that I simply never knew what to say. I wanted to be around people, but always felt like I was making a fool of myself. I used alcohol to let go of my inhibitions, becoming the life of the party. It felt great, until I could no longer do without it.

Getting sober has been the best journey of my entire life. However, when I left rehab, I feared I would never enjoy a social event again. It had been years since I had navigated a gathering without alcohol as a crutch. Now, I would have to do so without a single drop.

Fortunately, I went to a dual-diagnosis rehab where I received treatment for my social anxiety in addition to my addiction. While it would still take time to get used to getting through social interactions without alcohol, I had strong foundations to work on.

If you are struggling with social anxiety and have used alcohol to navigate social gatherings, here are some tips to help you socialize sober.

Ease yourself in with a close friend

Many people in recovery have an all-or-nothing way of viewing life. Recovery does not work that way. Only in withdrawing from alcohol do you go all in at once (and even that depends on the level of your dependence and your particular health needs). With everything else, it is a process.

In other words, you do not have to be the life of the party despite not drinking. You don’t have to go straight to a gathering where you know no one and will have to meet strangers. On the contrary, baby steps will get you where you need to go, and it will be a much more pleasant and successful experience.

Start by going to social gatherings where you will know someone or where you can bring a close friend. This way, if your anxiety is making it difficult to stay present, you have someone you are comfortable talking to. They can also serve as a social lubricant, making it easier to meet new people without all the pressure being on you.

Carry a handkerchief

If you, like me, sweat and blush because of your social anxiety, this is probably one of your biggest concerns. The fear of sweating and blushing makes it inevitable, and also blows it out of all proportion in your head. There is no quick fix to this, and I’ve learnt that there doesn’t need to be one. The best decision I made was to embrace it, or at least accept it as fact.

Instead of hoping against all logic that I wouldn’t sweat, I started carrying around a handkerchief. This made it easy for me to address the issue without trying to be surreptitious about it. I know that it’s going to happen and I know that I can reduce its impact. And, by my tacit acknowledgement that it is happening, I take the sting out of what I imagine others will think.

It may seem counterintuitive, but this technique has actually reduced the likelihood that I will blush and sweat in a social interaction.

Have two exit plans

One of the things that can make social gatherings feel torturous when you suffer from social anxiety is that you feel like you have to just get through it no matter how long it takes. However, this is almost never the case. Rather, you can choose your exit time in advance based on how long you think you will want to be there. Have an excuse ready, and if you are enjoying yourself you can just let it go.

But having one exit plan still does not account for the possibility that you will feel truly distressed. Sometimes, a social gathering just feels really difficult and you may struggle to stay for any period of time. In the past, you would have reached for the alcohol. Now, you should have a ready alternative.

That alternative is a second plan for how to excuse yourself and leave very soon into the event. You are unlikely to use this second plan very often, but knowing that you have the option will help you feel more at ease from the beginning.

The above tips will help you ease into social gatherings without the use of alcohol. Social anxiety disorder can be effectively treated. By using these tips while working on your social anxiety with your mental health providers, you will gradually become adept at navigating social interactions.

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