Facing your Fears: Drugs, Booze and Social Anxiety
September 12, 2012 5:58 AM   Subscribe

Need some advice regarding facing your fears, starting a new life, self confidence, social anxiety and self-loathing (I will be getting therapy soon)

I'm a 24yo male and I've had very bad self confidence and self image issues since childhood. (emotionally abusive Mother) At 18 I developed social anxiety due to a number of years of smoking weed and using other miscellaneous drugs, and working at a job that made me feel very self conscious.

So I quit doing drugs (lost touch with most of my friends due to this) and quit my job. I pottered round the house for a month or two just reading books and doing nothing. I didn't want to be this unconfident, anxious, self loathing person any more. I wanted to be someone new, who I liked.

So I decided to ignore and try to escape my problems by traveling around America for 6 months. It was fun and I met some great people but it highlighted how arkward and unconfident I had become around others, becuse of how I felt about myself and how I thought others perceived me(very negatively).

upon coming back home to England to find no friends, a negitive family I can't stand, and no money, I descended very quickly into self hatred and self destruction and I started to drink (innocuously at first). The booze very quickly became an emotional crutch and for 4 years (I was 20 then) I drank heavily as a coping mechanism (self medicating). I'm not psychically addicted and I've been sober for two weeks and Im not going back to it.


my question- I'm ready to face my fears but I'm not sure how to do it. I feel completely unloveable and useless, And if I'm honest I'm really scared about what lie's ahead. I continuously read books and web sites about getting over SA and other things like building confidence and becoming the person you want to be, ect. I just want to be happy and able to live the life I want to live. Has anyone been here before or had any experience in the things stated above,
how did you gain true confidence or become happy with yourself, how did you become comfortably and confident around people again.

Thank you for reading my question.

(And yes I will be getting therapy soon)
posted by frenchfryfrenzy to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Until you get therapy...

It's easy to become overwhelmed and discouraged if you look at too big a picture. "I want a happy life" is almost useless because it's too big a goal. Who can say if they'll have a "happy life" until it's over, really?

What would make you happy today? What is it that "happy" people (by your definition) do each day that you would like to do? If it's something that can't be accomplished in one day (such as a career), what steps can you take today to work toward that goal?

Breaking things down into chunks that can be accomplished in shorter amounts of time may help to take away the overwhelming fear that you're not going to be able to be happy in the long term.
posted by xingcat at 6:30 AM on September 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

Where is the nearest park, or museum, or tourist attraction or library or recreational thing near you?

At the very next opportunity, ideally today, go over there for 15 minutes, half an hour, or an hour. If it's convenient, take pictures.
posted by tel3path at 6:45 AM on September 12, 2012

Therapy is great, and was definitely the thing that helped me the most. But in the meantime, exercise. You don't need to join a gym, just go for walks and do some pushups and burpees and situps (askme has Many questions about bodyweight exercises). This will help burn off a little anxiety and give you a sense of accomplishing things.

Other than exercising, I agree with the above: set yourself some small, doable, goals and work to acheive them every day. Be kind to yourself - you're already on the right track!
posted by ldthomps at 6:53 AM on September 12, 2012

I just want to quickly note that it's impressive that you undertook a trip to America for 6 months. Many people who are struggling in your circumstances wouldn't have undertaken that level of adventure. That experience may be something that you'd want to drill down on. It reveals something interesting (and rather bold and open-minded) about you, I think.

And yes, exercise. But exercise with a purpose. Are there local trails where you can, in the process, learn something about wildlife? Is there a nearby city where you can take a long walk and document street art? Wandering -- sometimes with music or podcasts and sometimes in total silence -- is massively therapeutic I've found. (Not that I'm suggesting that as a substitute for talk therapy or anything.)

Good luck to you. You sound like a cool person with many decades of life ahead of you to fill with good things.
posted by cymru_j at 7:18 AM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I second that - you must be a very capable person to have undertaken a 6-month trip to another continent. I don't know if I could manage that.
posted by tel3path at 7:21 AM on September 12, 2012

Hi, frenchfryfrenzy! I'm with the other folks commending you for taking such an active role in your life already and going on adventures that would be daunting for loads of people without the obstacles and learning curves you're facing down. I really hope you're taking that in and absorbing that you should be giving yourself credit for this.

These are the things that have helped me & others in a similar position in the past:

Build a structure into your day/week/month (perhaps even year) to give yourself a framework to launch yourself from. It doesn't have to be onerous or hyper-detailed (and probably shouldn't be).

If you start off with days loaded with some basics (like the general times you should expect yourself to be sleeping for optimum health, meal times that work best for your metabolism and other obligations, specific chunks of time reserved for necessary self-care like hygeine/exercise/etc.), you can get a pretty good picture of what time you have left each day and over the course of a week.

Pulling back a bit to viewing a week at a time, put in necessary things like the shopping, therapy appointments, laundry, etc., then look over event calenders and other schedules to put in activities you'd like to fold in (museum visits, walks in the park, creative time in a happy place).

You use the same tactic for a month and even a year - while those may seem daunting, they allow you to make short-term and longer-term goals and events easier to look forward to and plan for, which can be a major boost to your feeling of being involved in your world and gives you a kind of shield for going up against challenges: "I can't let this beat me, because I'm going to SUPER AWESOME EVENT in three weeks!" or "okay, I have six weeks to save up for LIFE IMPROVEMENT BONUS MOVE!" Even if you just fill in major holidays and life events and daydream about how you're going to get the most happiness and productivity out of those, you are another step ahead in grabbing the reins of your own life and enjoying the ride!

As leaned on heavily above, goals are a superlative way to keep you moving in your life and anticipating another day. Brainstorm about the short-term, mid-term, and long-term goals that you think will help you get to where you want to be. You might find mind-mapping a fun way to do this, or maybe just standard list-making with potential dates figured in...or, as described above, plopping it all directly into a calendar.

Books & Other Resources
I see that you've already leaned on books and that you want to actually do, but I'm going to throw a few things at you in case you haven't used them yet and are interested...
Feeling Good & the Feeling Good Handbook - frequently prescribed here, this pair of books offers the tools for really digging into yourself to find the roots of unhappiness and discontent and gives you excellent tools for hacking yourself.
The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety - step-by-step exercises that help you identify why you're anxious, how it manifests, and how you can start unplugging the non-productive elements of anxiety.
Co-dependent No More - this may not be entirely applicable to you, but it has some great foundational approaches to taking stock of your life, where you actually have control, what you can let go of, and how to make the best decisions for yourself in the future.
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway - a lot of this is fairly logical or simple hacks, but sometimes just reading an organised approach to this common reason for not progressing in your own life can help you get going...and maybe you'll find some new ideas you haven't tried yet!
Get it Done When You're Depressed - like the above, some of this is tried and true, some of it is novel, and there are likely a couple of things that will be useful for your own toolbox. I also found that reading the situation the author was in while writing it and how they motivated themselves to produce even when at their lowest points was surprisingly inspiring.
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius - I wasn't expecting to find these old words so helpful, but I did. Some are better than others, but they all give me a chance to think about the world and my place in it with a framework I might not have put in for myself.
Tao Te Ching by Lao-tzu - every translation offers something different, so try others if this one doesn't quite work for you. It's a fairly basic one, though, and is a good starter for meditation fuel.

MoodGym - specific exercises and assessments for helping you work through the emotional challenges you may have.

Strong Interest Inventory & other career-related assessments - if you can find these in any agencies available to you (school, employment, healthcare), they are great for helping you navigate what you've done so far, what you'd like to do in the future, and the gap in between while taking your actual interests and abilities into account. A book that can give you some of this is Do What You Are. They also help you size yourself up and consider your fit in the groups of people you find yourself in. Personally, I found them to also be a confidence boost, because there was so much potential and intrigue represented by the findings. I hope it's the same for you.

Consider where you are on Maslow's Heirarchy of Needs and what that means for the types of actions you can realistically take.

Identify what Irrational Beliefs, if any, you hold. Maybe experiment a little with Disputing.

Just giving yourself a little quiet time each day - 10, 15min even! - will help you to clear the chaos from your head, focus yourself, find what's really imporant, and enjoy some peace. Searching on "meditation aids", "meditation help", and "how to meditate" will net you many ideas for what others do to make this most successful for them, and you can build your own approach. A comfortable place where you won't be disturbed is the most essential, and people with a lot of chaos often find it useful to have a notepad and writing utensil nearby to record any insistent thoughts so they can let them go for the rest of the session, knowing they can safely return to them after meditation.

Dancing, traditional exercise, yoga, martial arts, cycling, swimming, longer walks in interesting places - these all get your brain & body chemicals moving in happier directions and build a stronger you. And they help you feel more balanced while putting you in the vicinity of other people doing healthy things, too.

Don't forget about the power of music! Make yourself inspirational playlists, go to music-related events, etc. A fun thing to do is ask questions at music-centric environments like, "I enjoy Greatest Band No One's Ever Heard Of - what else might float my boat?" and then go listen to the proferred matches. This is a great way to have real, authentic, non-awkward conversations with other people, too.

Being useful and seeing how other people are handling the world gives me joy, and maybe it could be the same for you...? It also introduces you to other people wanting to do good things, lets you exercise your altruism, and builds a connection between you and your community.

This might not work as well for you, but I put myself in places where I would be in proximity with people in relationship to interests I already had, like literary conventions, art events, gaming shops, community festivals, and the like. I didn't force myself to interact with anyone, ever. I just explored the way the other people interacted, enjoyed the associated activities, and let whatever natural conversations happen with no pressure on myself to take them further or let other people within my boundaries. It made me a LOT more confident around other people and taught me the rudimentary skills behind networking, one of the most confidence-building forms of casual socialisation out there (in my humble opinion and experience).

But, look, here's a thing: you are loveable. You might need to do some work to feel comfortable in own skin and mind, but just based on your desire to live and enjoy the experience without hurting yourself or others, I can attest that you are loveable.

On that note, here's one final thing that worked for me: be your own best friend & suitor. Really. Write yourself sweet notes. Say kind things to yourself. Take yourself seriously and honour your own concerns. Make self-care something you do out of love for yourself, not just because you must. Take yourself on outings, the kind that most folks only think of for when they're coupled up. Really look yourself in the eye a couple times a week and give yourself credit for all of the good you've done, all the work you're putting forth to exist and find joy, and just for being an aspiring good steward of your humanity. Make this part of your routine. Meditate about it. Wrap it deeply into your life. Until you love yourself for who you are - flaws and foibles, too! - you won't be able to fully give of yourself in a relationship, so make this one of the highest priorities in your efforts.

I know you can do this. You've already started. Just keep going!
posted by batmonkey at 2:58 PM on September 12, 2012 [6 favorites]

A few items for consideration.
  • Don't confuse self-esteem with self-confidence. Esteem is something you can just have. Confidence has to be earned.
  • Give yourself full credit for the good things you have done, like your extended travel. We tend to over-value our mistakes and shortcomings while undervaluing our good points.
  • You are not, in fact, starting from scratch even if you think you are.
  • Avoid comparing yourself to others -- this is very hard, I know -- because they are on an entirely different journey. Your progress is only valid when compared to your progress.
  • Be patient with yourself. Everything takes the time it takes. Rushing will only mess things up.
  • Be forgiving with yourself.
  • Everything you want to do or be is a skill you can acquire.

Take a look at The Power of Habit to understand the process of habit development. Once you can create the habits you want, there will be no stopping you.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:05 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've only read a bit of it so far, but http://www.succeedsocially.com/ is the best site I've ever seen on the topic. It's well-organized, comprehensive, and the author seems to have a real understanding of the issues and how to solve them.
posted by adgl at 3:52 PM on September 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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