Feel lost in life!
February 15, 2015 2:56 PM   Subscribe

Having a difficult time in this new period in my life dealing with sobriety, Social Anxiety, and other emotional stuff.

I'm having a difficult time handling life at the moment and feel quit lost. I'm a 27 year old male in early recovery for alcohol and drugs, no job currently, living at home and dealing with some mental health issues.

I've recently become gotten sober (45 days!), after using alcohol and drugs to self-medicate mental health issues for the last 10 years, and in my new found sobriety I'm beginning to feel emotionally overwhelmed, scared, lonely, and really really lost!

One of my bigger problems is my Social Anxiety, now that I'm not numbing myself my Social Anxiety seems completely unmanageable and insurmountable. ( I've done talk therapy and I'm going to be starting CBT soon which I'm sure will help. Meds are out the question for now.) Part of my plan for early recovery was that I needed to face and start dealing with my Social Anxiety no matter what, as overcoming it is the key to having a life again. I decided to start exposing myself to social situations again that didn't involve being around close friends or in my comfort zone in any way as there's no challenge or growth to be had there. So I started taking some classes learning physical stuff for most days of the week, and whilst I'm excited and really enjoying the learning and self-improvement aspect of going to these classes the social side is KILLING me, I'm just finding it so difficult interacting with the people there. It's been a couple of weeks since I stared going and I've started to notice that I'm becoming ostracized by people, not in a mean way, just stuff like avoided eye contact, emotionally distant, lack of interaction, limp handshakes things like that. And I get it, I completely understand why it's happening, I come across as weird and intense because I'm anxious and scared, I can hardly make eye contact because I have no confidence or self-esteem, I can't follow instructions well because the anxiety and fear make it hard to concentrate, but mainly it's because I have NO social skills, like, no social skills!

Whilst I was self-medicating and trying my best not to deal with anything emotional, everyone else was cultivating emotional resiliency, social skills, and interesting personalitys and characters. My personality and character has been, up until this point, stacked up substance's. Now that I'm sober I feel like I'm really far behind in developing these life necessities, it's really getting me down because I feel like I'm never going to catch up.

Even tho it's hard I'm glad I started going to these classes because the painful social interactions have shown me what I seriously need to work on and develop in order to start leading a happy meaningful life again. But I don't know how to start working on myself because there's so much to work on that I don't know where to begin and I feel overwhelmed and like a loser who should of had this stuff shorted out years ago.

I want a loving relationship. I want to move. I want to go to university so I can get a good job. I want to be able to socialize well and make need new friendships. I want happiness and contentment.

But I don't know how to work on myself or where to start or who to seek help from in order to improve so can start to get these things in my life.

How do I develop social skills when all my social interactions are always so painful and awkward that socializing in its self only reinforcers how bad I am at it and makes me want to isolate myself further? How do I get self-cofidence and self-esteem? How do I become interesting and likable?

I've been dealing with this for 10 years now, and I feel like I've completely lost perspective on this issue.

If anyone has any advice or opinions they want to give me that would be greatly appreciated.

Thank you.
posted by frenchfryfrenzy to Human Relations (15 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
First, congratulations on your 45 days of sobriety! If it's any consolation, as tough as things are right now, you really are on the right path. I believe you will be able to accomplish the lifelong goals you mention but I believe it will likely happen in baby steps. I say this not to be discouraging but rather realistically positive: Rome wasn't built in a day, and the life you want won't be either. But those steps, little by little, will get you there so please hang in and keep trying!

I think CBT will be the best thing to help you with your social interactions, and you're starting soon: great! In the meantime:

- What is something you to do relax when you're feeling rough that doesn't involve alcohol? I'd work on developing (and using) calming strategies because your life will likely have a lot of awkward moments right now, although I'm sure they will lessen with time.

- I recommend reading a book or two on small talk, conversational skills, and manners. I can't think of any off the top of my head but I checked out a few from the library when, a few years ago, I felt I needed a refresher. (I work with people all day and do a good job of being "professional" but needed a review for casual social interactions.) It might help you, too, if simply to give you some phrases to use or techniques to try out.

- Could you ask someone in your life -- a friend, nearby family member, close co-worker, etc. -- to give you feedback on your observed social interactions? I'm talking about something like: "You did a good job talking to both Person A and B but I'd do a bit more eye contact next time." It can feel awkward to ask but, if there's a kind dynamic and people know a bit about your situation, they could be a big help.

Again, I can imagine this is really tough to deal with right now, with your sobriety enabling you to analyze and change your life for the better. But you're on the right track and soon -- a few months from now even -- you will likely feel more comfortable with all of this. Good luck!
posted by smorgasbord at 3:21 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

One more thing: have you looking into volunteering? I believe that could help you build self-esteem, explore interests, and connect with people who could become potential friends and/or mentors.
posted by smorgasbord at 3:24 PM on February 15, 2015

Part of my plan for early recovery was that I needed to face and start dealing with my Social Anxiety no matter what

Tbh I'd recommend giving yourself more time and going easy. I expect you'll still be quite vulnerable and your state of mind will change much in the coming months. After I stopped self-medicating, it took me about 2 years (1.5 of which I spent in therapy) to reach a place where I felt I'd found stability and contentedness. So I really wouldn't push myself at this early stage. Get used to this new reality first - there is much to discover about your emotional responses to the world without your liquid crutch even without confronting scary social situations.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 3:32 PM on February 15, 2015 [6 favorites]

I suspect you're taking the reactions of your classmates too hard - not everyone in your classes is going to be there to make new friends, and not all of them are going to have great social skills. You may not have a great metric for how fast friendships should progress if you've been forming them based on drug use.

It also sounds like you're putting a lot of pressure on yourself to fix everything right now. Your number one job right now is staying sober, anything else is a fun bonus. Get comfortable with being bad at stuff and not catastrophizing it into you being a loser who will never catch up. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, most people are trying to fix things about themselves. With the help of your CBT, work on recognizing that a lot of this is normal.

Also, you mention that your close friendships aren't a possible source of growth for you - if you've been medicating away your emotions for ten years, close friendship is probably going to be a much different experience now. Obviously, don't hang out in any situations that might lead to you using again, but if you have friends who are supportive of your recovery, talk about what you're feeling with them. Your therapist should also be able to help you figure out where to start here if you're unsure.
posted by momus_window at 3:33 PM on February 15, 2015 [3 favorites]

If it works for you, I'd work on your baseline level of anxiety by going for long, calm walks as the first step. It'll give you time to learn to react to the world and yourself as they are. But yes, progress will be slow, and probably you won't notice how much better things get bit by bit. But they will get better. I've been there, and now, I'm not so much there.
posted by ambrosen at 3:36 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I want a loving relationship. I want to move. I want to go to university so I can get a good job. I want to be able to socialize well and make need new friendships. I want happiness and contentment.

Just the fact that you're saying this is such a big first step. You are awesome and congratulations on your 45 days of sobriety!

I've written a few comments in the past (here, here and here) on my own struggles/experience with feeling overwhelmed by the idea of working on one's self, self-improvement, overcoming anxiety and depression.

Much of what I've said in those comments, however, is based on what I learned by reading (and putting into practice) the wisdom at blogs like Zen Habits and James Clear. I strongly recommend subscribing to both of their respective mailing lists, and reading through their archives. Just reading what they have to say, absorbing it over a period of several months without necessarily pushing yourself to do any of it immediately, can have a major impact on the way you perceive life and your personal ambitions. If it appeals to you, let it become a backbeat, and eventually their ideas start to make real sense in the context of daily life. (On preview, I agree with ClarissaWAM to take it slow - which is why I say to keep it low pressure right now if you do choose to read their blogs.)

The important thing to remember is: you are a work in progress, whether you're 18, 27, 45 or 70. It's never too late to become the person you want to be. And change is hard. You will falter, but the difference between failing and succeeding is the willingness to accept that failure is a part of the process! As well as the willingness to recognize that failures can often lead you to your greatest revelations and accomplishments. And accomplishments can be both small and large.
posted by nightrecordings at 3:37 PM on February 15, 2015 [5 favorites]

Are you going to AA or NA meetings? They are free and may well help you with a lot of this stuff.
posted by something something at 3:44 PM on February 15, 2015 [4 favorites]

Meds are out the question for now.

You knew someone would challenge this. I'll be the turd in the punchbowl.

If this is something your therapists and your doctors are recommending, then fine. But as a sufferer of anxiety attacks and very real generalized anxiety I have to say that nixing a therapy that can help so much seems like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

But we'll take it as read and move on.

Do go to 12-step meetings. Not because you must mindlessly follow their strictures. Often you will hear utter bullshit in an AA/NA meeting, but because over all they are helpful and they provide fellowship with others who are on the same journey as you are, and you can benefit from the experiences of those who may be further along the path than you. Also, you get a sponsor, and that is a person with whom you can form a bond and to whom you can ask for guidance.

As for the rest, you take it one day at a time. You keep trying and you succeed and you fail and you try some more.

Part of social anxiety is a crippling fear of failure. Once you accept that you WILL fail sometimes, and that it's okay and that you will survive it, the world opens up and things become possible.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

I can't speak to the substance part of this, but I've always had a little social anxiety.

What works for me is picking something - a class of some kind, Toastmasters, a volunteer group - and showing up. Sometimes I make it a goal to try to talk to just one new person at every meeting and learn their name - not always, though.

I know my nervousness will come through if I push myself too hard, so most of my focus is just on showing up whether I speak to people or not. Eventually I become a familiar face to the other people there, and they become familiar to me, and I also become familiar with the format of the class or group. At that point it becomes a little easier.

Also - I would think exercise classes would be harder for meeting people, though great for exercise. I like to do volunteer work that has a physical aspect that allows for talking but also allows you to work alongside others in silence. Outdoor park / community gardening work is nice for this.

It's not charm and astounding social skills that win you friends (though they help), it's more often proximity and familiarity. Keep showing up, let people get used to you and let yourself get used to them. When you have opportunity to help someone or be pleasant, take it. And don't beat yourself up over little mistakes - real or perceived. Most people make a lot of social mistakes as they go through life, and as long as you are a decent person they are willing to be friendly.

I've changed location a lot lately and every time it's just as hard to meet new people and I have the whole social anxiety problem all over again. But it always gets better over time.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 4:05 PM on February 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

Many meds for social anxiety are not drugs of abuse. An SSRI is a very different critter than a benzo, and benzos are what you would want to steer clear of.
posted by The Noble Goofy Elk at 5:48 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was in exactly the same spot last year at this time. I remember feeling everything really deeply as I began to work on myself without alcohol in my life. I was depressed, anxious, etc. I chose to pick one area of my life to improve my communication skills and interpersonal interactions.You have done that, you have made a choice, now just keep going back to the place where you are practicing. You being quiet is okay, over time you feel more secure with these other people, as you see them once a week or more. It just takes time. It took me time to talk to other people in my support group for alcohol. I just kept going, and now people call me, text me, and it is a miracle. I never thought that I would go to dinner with them after the meeting. I was scared to go out after meetings. Now I go, if I can and if I feel like it.

I chose to throw my energy into my already existing relationships. This paid off too, it was exhausting, but very worth it.

Look you have been dependent on a substance to get out of yourself, now you have to utilize the other powers that lie within to help keep you calm and not anxious. I really like the distress tolerance section of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Also, if you want to keep doing the CBT, great, but build a hierarchy of tasks that are small steps toward your goal. For instance, if the goal is going to a restaurant with friends, you start by spending a few minutes at a restaurant, then the next time you go for a few more minutes and order a cup of tea, or soda, then you go with someone you can trust and knows how difficulty it is for you, etc. You may have to do some of these exposures over and over before you move up to the next level of the hierarchy.

I also always remind myself, I will never see these people again, or I think people are really only into themselves. 9.9 times out of 10 they are worried about themselves..

Please stay sober. It is totally worth it. It may be a few more months because things get a bit better, but it is so great to put your time in.
posted by Jewel98 at 7:47 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't know if this is helpful, but before I was treated for social anxiety my judgement of people's reaction to me was WAY off. I always assumed any actions that were off from normal were because of me, or because of things I did. When I improved, and could actually talk to people about this, the reaction was usually surprise and confusion. I guess what I'm saying is don't put too much stock in what you think people think. There are undeniably social problems, and some people you will be judging correctly. Just don't be too hard on yourself, especially on this point.
posted by Gneisskate at 8:09 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

Agreeing that you may be stretching yourself too far too fast. I get that now you've kicked the habit (congratulations!) you want to hurry up and get a life, stat! But I think even without the sobriety challenges it takes baby steps and patience to overcome anxiety. You won't reap any social rewards fast.
Can you deepen existing friendships and discover them in a different way now?
posted by Omnomnom at 11:19 PM on February 15, 2015 [1 favorite]

For what it's worth, your question is organized, thoughtful and shows a great deal of insight. I suspect that, lurking behind the anxiety and frustration, is a person who is inherently likeable and good company and, deep down, knows it. This is the person you hoped to be through erasing the barriers with drugs and alcohol. This is the real you.

It may take time - more time than you think you can tolerate - to conquer the demons. But they are afflictions. They are not you. And there are many tools out there to deal with them. You just have to find the ones that work for you. It sounds as if you are on this path already. It can be a frustrating time of trial and error, but the odds are in your favor. More than gaining social skills, it's about gaining belief in yourself in order to use the skills you already possess. It takes time, patience, and a tremendous amount of energy. But it can be done. (Ask me how I know!) Please don't take others' current reactions, imagined or otherwise, as a harbinger of the years to come. Keep an open mind, as much as you can. Give yourself the opportunity to succeed.
posted by Lycaon_pictus at 5:01 PM on February 16, 2015

I'm late to the party....but wanted to drop in my 2 cents on the meds part. I have serious anxiety, and social phobia, and panic attacks, and a psychiatrist, and a therapist. I also have a super duper major streak of addiction running through my DNA. I've beaten addiction to cigarettes and aspartame, myself. Alcohol and drugs run far and wide through my family. Fear of becoming addicted to medication is a very real fear for me.

My psychiatrist put me on Atarax. 10mg as needed to start, and I'm now on 25mg 3x/day to prevent panic attacks and anxiety. The research I did on it before I took a single pill strongly indicated that it's not addictive. In addition to treating anxiety, it's also an antihistamine. Might be worth a question to your doc.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 2:50 PM on February 23, 2015

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