Pushing through social fears
Placing restrictions on what I am willing to do to achieve real sobriety and inner peace has abjectly failed time and time again. There was no growth whatsoever for as long as I refused to venture outside of my sacred comfort zone. It got real one Tuesday in November 2016 when my self-imposed limits were threatened by my sponsor.
Monstrous social fears
My monstrous fear of social activity has twisted me up for as long as I can remember. My fear of doing normal AA things like telling my story and chairing meetings was so strong that I would not even consider doing them, even when asked.
One very recent example that comes to mind: On a recent Thursday night at the Druid Hills sober living residence, I was asked to introduce a speaker in front of a small group of 15 guys. I refused.
I went to great lengths to ensure I would not be asked to speak in front of, or lead, groups of any kind. One of my tactics was to have a relapse every two to three months to keep me from gaining any responsibility within the recovery community.
But it wasn’t just the more vulnerable social activities I feared, such as leading groups or telling my story. I was/am also terrified of basic mingling, that scary thing that other people seem to do with ease before and after meetings, at parties and gatherings, and just about everywhere else – including sober living residences and the workplace. Again, I had my excuses which masqueraded as reasons:
- My ego told me that I shared few interests with my fellows.
- I found it too taxing to think of things to say in the making of general small talk.
- My misanthropic leanings meant that I cared little about what anyone else had to say, apart from the few subjects that really interested me.
- My grandiose feeling of spiritual superiority made any kind of trash talking or gossip unpalatable, certainly far beneath me.
- My low self esteem caused me to believe no one would care about anything I had to say.
These social fears blocked my access to any real fellowship within AA, and since community and fellowshipping represent one of the three pillars of AA, I was to have no real recovery from within the confines of the prison of my mind.
It was a perfect day, not a cloud on the horizon.
Tuesday started out like other recent days in very early recovery, about a month’s worth of sobriety, which is where I’m at after trying to do it my way, the solitary way, yet again. (And lest that sound like grumbling or some variant of lament, let me add that I’m extremely grateful to be where I am!)
“Frasier, I’ve been thinking… I think you are ready to tell your story.”
So it’s 6:30am on Tuesday; my roommate Hank and I had just gotten out of bed. For some reason, the first thing Hank said to me that morning was, “Frasier, I’ve been thinking… I think you are ready to tell your story.” I replied, “I appreciate the compliment, Hank, but that is just not going to happen – not anytime soon, at least.” My excuse-making ego mind wasted no time listing objections:
- I’ve only got about a month clean and sober right now – not nearly enough time to tell my story.
- I am not the speaker type, but I will be happy to write about it.
- I have such an aversion to speaking in front of groups that I am physically and emotionally unable to handle it. I’m serious. Do you want me to have a nervous breakdown? Want to see me run? Another relapse, perhaps?
- My story contains too much of what it was like, and not nearly enough of what it’s like now.
- My story is boring as hell and contains nothing that would entertain these guys for fifteen minutes, much less an hour.
A couple of hours later, we were set to volunteer at Discovery Place. Community was starting. Community at Discovery Place (DP) is the gathering of DP guests, staff, and volunteers every weekday at 9am. It is led by one of the guides, and the emcee du jour is Joe L., who also serves as my sponsor. Community is a genuine pleasure today because on this day I am not seeking to isolate. Community generally consists of 20-25 minutes of:
- Announcing who will be in the small book studies that happen following community
- Hitting up a few random volunteers for comment re: experience, strength, & hope
- Getting a few of the guests to comment on how things are going
On Tuesday, as on many other days, I gave a sigh of relief when I realized I would not be called on to share in community. The relief was very short-lived, however, as Joe walked up to me immediately afterward and said matter-of-factly, “You are telling your story to the guys at 2 o’clock today.” “I don’t think so,” I replied. Joe ignored my response and it looked an awful lot like I was going to be telling my story at 2 o’clock. Oh no.
Joe is blessed with the gift of gab as well as the ability to actually string together thoughts and communicate them verbally while being the center of attention. In stark contrast to Joe, I have always thought of myself as someone who consistently fails to speak confidently in a group, even worse when I am supposed to lead a group, and severely traumatized were I to be the center of attention for an entire hour. My ego mind has thoroughly convinced me that I do not possess such traits, nor would I ever. My ego has expended much time and effort telling me such things. Ego does that.
I was thankful to be spared the icing on that nightmare cake, which would have been speaking from the podium.
Two o’clock came. I sat in front and told my story. I did not refer to any of the notes I scribbled down during the previous hour. I did not display any traits of a talented public speaker; I looked down most of the time. There were awkward pauses. There were half-finished, half-baked thoughts. There were meager attempts at humor that fell flat. But all that is OK, because I actually got through it without dying, or having to get up and walk out of the room.
As big as this deal was in my head, it was ultimately just another guy in recovery telling his story to the guys at Discovery Place, something that happens every Tuesday. My ego, not my innermost self, made it a huge deal.
I had a great feeling of accomplishment that lasted much longer than just the rest of the day.