My true underlying problems with anxiety and alcohol began from a very early age. I was a shy child. In new places I’d hide behind my mothers legs, trying to curtain myself off from the world in her long flowing skirts. In class I’d try to blend in, sitting crossed legged on the mat. When the teacher asked a question I was too scared to put up my hand – even if I knew the answer. Speaking to adults damn near gave me hives, so if I didn’t understand something I wouldn’t ask the teacher for help.
Anxiety Stole my Tongue
As I got older my shyness got worse. So bad that it was eventually classed as anxiety. I was too scared to catch a bus or train because I might get lost and have to ask for help. The thought of that gave me heart palpitations. What if people saw me getting confused and muddled? What if they laughed at me? I would melt into a muddle of shame!
My early teens were a total nightmare. I was fine in my tight group of friends but I could hardly speak to anyone else. If I had a crush on anyone my throat would fill with concrete and I couldn’t utter a single word. Sometimes I made weird inhuman noises.
Anxiety and Music Class
One low point came when a cute guy in my music class struck up a conversation with me. He told me he was going to the Big Day Out. I was in awe. I desperately wanted to go to the Big Day Out and oh imagine if I was brave enough to ask if he wanted to go together! I wanted to say “awesome!” or “cool!” but instead I smiled widely and said, ‘AWWK!’ Which I assume was some odd hybrid of the two. He looked at me sideways. I was mortified. Instead of explaining myself I decided it was best if I just ran away. So I did. I ran out of class and hid in the toilets until the bell rang.
My shyness also sabotaged my school work and changed the course of my life. In my first year of high school I studied music. I enjoyed it but I was intimated by the other students and was terrified of live performance. Despite this I still scored an A grade and 85% on my final exam. But the anxiety and shyness forced me to give it up and so the following year I did not do music. I often wonder what would have happened if I had continued with music at school. I’ve never gotten 85% for any test since.
What is this Crazy Town?
I was 14 when my father got a job in a new city. If there’s one thing that’s worse than being a shy anxious teenager, it’s moving to a completely new city as a shy anxious teenager!
Off we went from Hamilton to Wellington. This new world sent me into a tail spin. On my first trip into the city I witnessed a group of girls dancing around a strange fountain made of buckets as if it were some kind of shrine. They were dressed oddly. One wore what appeared to be a dress made from an old bedspread and another, a statin nightgown my granny would wear, cinched at the waist with a studded belt. There were girls with shaved heads and boys with long hair in pigtail braids. What was this crazy town!
It was so foreign to me and oh so alluring! I could do anything here! The rules could be broken. I could wear whatever I wanted. I could be my true self! But who on Earth was that?
Anxiety: The Identity Crisis
My 14 year old identity crisis sent my anxiety into full force. I wanted to have the balls to dress like Gwen Stefani-cum-Courtney Love but I also didn’t want to attract attention. Big Problem. So what did I do? I embraced my new fashion choices but I built a wall around me. Resting Bitch Face became my norm and instead of smiling I scowled. I was a super hip mute.
It wasn’t long until I attracted some like-clothinged friends. But I would never know if we were like minded because I was too scared to talk to them. They invited me to a party and that’s where I met my new best friend – Loretta.
Anxiety and Alcohol
After making my way to a house in Art Valley I was promptly offered a beer. Then a cask of wine and another few beers. Pretty soon I was drunk off my tits. And I wasn’t Lisette anymore! Oh no. I was different. I was The Best Version of Me! I could finally drop the stern facade. I could talk! Oh how I could talk.
The words followed off my lips like honey. All those words I’d been holding in were so happy to finally be free! People laughed at my jokes and I felt like I could be my true self.
My drunken Alter Ego
The next morning when I woke up I was me again. The Best Version of Me had slipped out the door like a lover after a shameful one night stand. As the night’s revellers all awoke they grinned at me, expecting me to snap to it and carry on with last night’s banter. But the magic was was gone.
After the first appearance (and then disappearance) of the Best Version of Me I learned how to mimic her after she had gone. Just enough to keep me talking.
Everybody Loves Me
As the years went on I relied on alcohol for every social engagement. It was how I made friends. People who were on the fence about me quickly became chums after they had a night out with The Best Version of Me. She was fun. She was wild. She would dance in the street and go skinny dipping in the sea. She would waltz up to a handsome young man and demand he buy her a drink!
Alcohol helped me lose my virginity. If it were not for a bottle of Vodka and the subsequent lustful confidence it may have stayed intact until my 20s. I mean how could anyone be sexy without being drunk? How could anyone flirt or make a move when they were sober?
Good Things Go Bad
I loved Alcohol. It had helped me to do so much. But somewhere along the way things started to get out of hand. Instead of helping to do things I couldn’t do whilst sober, it started to make me do things I would never do whilst sober. The Best Version of Me was turning bad.
What’s more, once I started drinking I could not stop. This meant that the line between The Best Version of Me and The Worst Version of Me was becoming very, very blurred.
Drunk Me Becomes a Jackass
While some people still thought I was a hoot when I was drunk, others were tiring of her antics. Sober people in particular thought I was a jackass.
“You called the bouncer a cunt,” my sober-driver friend told me the night after a bender.
“No, what? Are you sure?”
“I was right there. He said you were too drunk to come in so you called him a cunt and you jumped over some little bonsai trees to get in. Your stiletto got stuck and you fell over.”
“That must be how I got the bruise.”
“I can’t believe you did that. It was so embarrassing.”
I felt terrible but at the same time I felt like sober people should never be allowed to hang out with drunk people. They were like spies; collecting information to hold against you later.
The truth was I regularly couldn’t remember the things they claimed I’d done. All I knew was that when I drank my anxiety went away.
Alcohol Becomes my Saboteur
There is a big difference between being a drunken oversharer amongst your BFFs in a nightclub bathroom and doing the same in conversation with your boss and other influential people in your industry. That’s when I knew it was time for alcohol and I to go our separate ways.
The wake up call came on a Sunday when I was enduring yet another hangover and my parents had dragged me along to a friend’s 50th.
A Shameful Drunken Oversharer
There was a woman there who we did not know but after a few drinks we could have been her besties. She stumbled up to our table and started telling us all about her life. By the end of her 20 minute tirade I knew the names of all her siblings, where they all lived and all the mean things they had ever done to her.
As she waddled away (to refill her glass) a hot hard feeling was brooding in my throat and tingling my cheeks. It was shame. I felt ashamed for her. It was so painfully obvious that now, after far too many drinks, she felt confident enough to spill her guts to three complete strangers. And the worst thing was I felt sorry for her, because I was her in 30 more years.
Friend or Foe?
It was at that moment I realised that alcohol hadn’t been a friend to me at all. And The Best Version of Me had been the complete opposite. She had a manifestation of my anxiety disorder. I had come to rely on her to get me through social situations. But all it had really done was mask the anxiety and shyness that I still possessed.
It was time I started learning how to be myself without dutch courage.
Learning to be My True Self, Sober.
Now days I never drink to calm my nerves, feel relaxed in social situations or to feel more confident. I drink occasionally to celebrate a special occasion and I don’t often have more than once drink in a sitting. To be honest, I rarely drink these days at all. I find even a small amount of alcohol kills my vibe the next day. And if I want to live a High Vibe Unicorn Life then I need all the energy I can get!
Alcohol – A False Sense of Confidence
When we rely on alcohol and other drugs to give us confidence or calm us down we are giving away our power. We are not solving the problem. We are not coming to terms with what the issue really is, we are simply masking the symptoms.
Next time you reach for a drink, stop and ask yourself why you are having it. Is it because you’re tired, stressed, angry, overwhelmed? Or is it because there’s someone inside you, itching to get out? The answer may surprise you.