Social Anxiety Disorder or Social Phobia is diagnosed by the DSM V according to the following criteria:
A. Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.
B. The individual fears they will act in a way or show anxiety symptoms that will be negatively evaluated.
C. The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.
D. The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.
E. The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and the sociocultural context.
Ugh. I’ve come to realize after being almost 4 years sober, that I cannot contribute my social anxiety to alcohol use. Somewhere in the process of recovery we all experience social anxiety as we are adapting to a new identity and to new social circles. I’ve discussed many topics on my blog, but I have only begun to scrape the surface of social anxiety. I’ve only gotten surface level with the subject, perhaps because I’ve been in denial about my own struggle with social anxiety.
I wanted to be popular when I was in middle school, but soon realized I would never be “enough” so I gave up on the idea. I was afraid of people finding out about the dysfunction I experienced at home. I was afraid people would realize I didn’t have nice things. I was afraid people would find out that at the holidays we received charity and that my own hard-working mother didn’t even have a bed to call her own. I felt I had nothing to offer the “cool” crowd. My social anxiety as a teen had me using and abusing drugs and partying to fit in. I ended up making a couple good friends, but I considered myself a loner for the most part.
Flash forward 20+ years, and I am the same person. It’s hard to explain, but there’s so many places in my life I am lacking a social system, and it’s anxiety that keeps me stuck. I don’t want to join the PTA because I feel “less than” as a school parent (no offense to the PTA mom’s, you rock, I just can’t do it). I’ve struggled to find my way into women’s studies at church because my anxiety has me convinced I won’t fit in any way. I’m sure there are plenty of bible studies that would welcome me with open arms, but I avoid them due to fear of being “found out.” When I see people I know in the grocery store or while I’m out and about, I dart to the next aisle and generally avoid conversation. I feel like a complete weirdo on the inside, while maintaining this polished, ambitious mom appearance on the outside.
I think part of my problem has to do with small talk. I’m terrible at small talk. My gifting is discernment and I always seem to pick up on something someone is feeling. Often, I just don’t know what to say. What if we were totally honest in our thinking when we ran into each other. What if instead of “yeah I’m good, family’s good, work is good,” we actually said what we were experiencing. I’m often deep in empathy from my discernment, so when someone is BS-ing me about their life, I just want to turn and run. It’s ridiculous.
Somehow I manage to do ok at work though. Perhaps it’s because I’m a mental health provider and emotions are always intense when I’m dealing with clients and co workers. It’s the strangest thing, how thinking about talking about the weather with a stranger gives me anxiety, but if they mention being suicidal, I’ll talk them down off the ledge in a heartbeat. Better yet, if they are an addict seeking help I feel as if I have a new friend already.
I’m married to the most social guy I have ever known. He literally probably knows thousands of people in this town. Everywhere we go he is recognizing someone and greeting them, and doing that small talk thing (he makes it look so easy). Even my kids recognize that he is Mr. Popular and knows someone everywhere we go. He doesn’t get my social anxiety, but he’s ok with me being me. I do feel though, if I were a little more social he might be happier. I might go weeks, maybe even months without reaching out to phone a friend just to chat. I’ve gone up to a year not speaking to people who matter to me, not because they did anything wrong, but because I’m avoiding. If I knew exactly what I was avoiding it would make the journey so much easier.
Social media seems to be an alternative for those who struggle with social anxiety. However, I have decided it’s not for me. With the infiltration of politics, negative news, and general unpleasantness of the world these days, I have given up Facebook. I still have Instagram, I find it much less distracting, and much more marketing friendly.
I do love my recovery peeps though. I have made some really satisfying relationships in recovery. I have found many people who will be with me for life, but I must learn to function on “the outside” as well. I have to learn to function socially in all areas in my life. Being in recovery for many years now I have discovered that goal setting is vital to recovery and sobriety. I’m going to set some goals for my social anxiety.
I believe in the next 6 months, I can:
1) Join a women’s group at church
2) Phone a friend/family member or meet face to face once a week for conversation
3) Say Hi to people I recognize in stores – Stop being a damn ostrich!
Will you join me on this journey? Will you help keep me accountable?
Looking forward to growing together!