I picture it: the sting of the liquid, clear as water, as it fills my glass. I top it with something sweet and fizzy, spinning my straw around to stifle its unforgiving burn. The crowd rumbles on, a slurry of mismatched.conversations, gestures, and hot air. My chest feels tight and I lean in closer towards my friends, clutching my drink, fingers icy. Within minutes my glass is empty and I sit back, awaiting the calm that follows the burn. It feels like nothing is happening; then suddenly the words are streaming from my mouth like glitter, and my smile becomes laughter. I shrug my anxiety off and turn my back as it slinks off to a corner.
I have used alcohol to rid myself of a prominent aspect of my identity. Be it one drink or three, I’d usually feel lousy in the morning after having returned to myself. University heightened my social fears, as well as my alleged need to drink during each night out. I’ve had plenty of gorgeous nights – sober and otherwise – which I don’t regret, but this year there has been a shift.
Two weeks ago, at a rock concert, I observed the people around me. I watched them eat, talk, and drink. A group in front of me sang along to the music, arms slung over each other’s shoulders, losing their footing on the grass. I didn’t drink. I didn’t dance like I wanted to, or wave my arms around like my neighbours. But what struck me was that I was okay with this.
I return to the picture: the night is over and I’m walking home with a friend. My anxiety follows behind, leaving a small distance between us. My friend doesn’t know it’s there but I do. The alcohol in my blood prompts me to keep my back turned, to keep my voice loud. Anxiety slips in through the front door before I can shut it. When I awake in the morning, head groggy, anxiety is in the room with me and I don’t have the heart to yell, Get out.
Alcohol prompts me to change myself, to feel good about switching identities for a night. Letting go of your inhibitions is forgivably tempting, but now I’d prefer to be sober when doing so, as daunting as it feels. You can never begin to manage social phobia if you continuously use a short-term solution like booze. Had I drunk alcohol at that concert I would have been lying to myself.
I am not demonising alcohol, nor do I blame it for my own guilt in trying to be someone else. But this is my third year at university and I now know that being socially anxious is a) pretty shitty, and b) not the end of the world. Drinking stands in the way of these facts, and I am overcoming that.
Anxiety hangs around in my room after the night out. It stays with me all day and the days that follow, through campus, around town, at home. Sometimes, our relationship is too close for comfort; other times there is a small distance between us. If staying sober means that my social anxiety will stick around, then so be it. I’m done with short-term solutions.
Header photo: Guinevere Shapiro