I have always considered myself an extrovert. Meeting people, finding new friends and socializing gave me life. But I wasn't always that way. In middle school I had a hard time finding a good group of friends. The guidance counselor offered a workshop on how to make new friends and my mother encouraged me to attend. I did, but I'm not sure it helped. By high school I was set with an awesome group of girlfriends with whom I'm still close today, but I also frequently hopped around between groups of friends. The changing of friend groups started when I began drinking and smoking pot. In college I had countless groups of friends -- soccer friends, dorm friends, and others who I met out and about, because I was always out and about.
All my life I had been searching for a way to fit in, to be popular, to matter to my peers. I found by drinking with them, throwing parties and being the center of attention at social gatherings, people grew to like me. College gave me so many friends I could barely remember all of their names. It wasn't unusual for me to walk around campus and be approached by someone who told me they partied with me the night before and I had no clue who they were. I had more friends than I knew what to do with. How? Alcohol.
The same thing happened all throughout my heavy drinking years. Every geographical change I made, I found new besties at the drop of a hat, or should I say at the drop of tequila. In fact, drinking was the only way I was able to make friends. Alcohol was my liquid courage. I could walk up to anyone at any bar, club, party, or any other setting and say anything I wanted because I didn't give a f*ck what anyone thought. It felt incredibly easy to connect to people. If I liked a girl's outfit, I'd say "I want to be that girl's friend," and I would make it happen. Same thing with men. Spotting a sexy man across the club, picking him out, making him my goal of the evening was fun, exciting and satisfying. I actually attribute a lot of my Spanish-speaking skills to nights out drinking. Living in Cancun, I had to be able to listen carefully with loud music playing in the nightclubs in order to understand what my new friends were saying and how to respond, order a drink, or communicate with someone who might not speak any English. None of this would have been possible without the power of alcohol. I didn't realize what a big a role booze and drugs played in my ability to socialize until I stopped using them.
Now, with almost three years of sobriety, making connections with people are harder for me. Alcohol and drugs became a protective shell that allowed me to not care, to go beyond my comfort zone and to make friends with anyone and everyone in whatever insane setting life found me. I developed false ideas about what connection really was. You mean that girl I did coke with in the bathroom at Mandala isn't my real friend? Nope. You mean telling an embarrassing blackout story to a random stranger at an outdoor concert while intoxicated won't lead to finding one of my future bridesmaids? No, sorry. Not only that, I am annoyed at how easy alcohol made it seem to find good friends. When you're in a perpetual cloud of drugs and alcohol, you don't really think about mutual life goals or if your new friend is actually a nice person who cares about your life.
And the kicker of it all? I don't even think I'm a real extrovert. Alcohol made me more outgoing. It made me want to talk to new people and it made me believe I thrived in the center of countless groups of friends. But in sobriety I've come to realize trying to keep up with a million different friends is exhausting and superficial. Socializing is sometimes a chore for me. I prefer to be alone a lot and when I am in a social setting, the last thing I want to do is make awkward small talk with a stranger.
So yes, connections are harder to make sober. That's because they're real and take dedication and work. Being out there in the raw without my protective bubble of drugs and alcohol was scary at first. But learning about who I really am and how I operate in this crazy world is mind blowing. And you know what? I don't need liquid courage to find real connections. I need to be present, loving, open-minded and able to put the time and effort into for my relationships. I'm much more comfortable today knowing that my tribe is a bit smaller because it's full of people who love and respect me, and I feel the same way about them. I've lost the false sense of ease and naivety that led me to believe that every person I met should be my friend and would have my best interest at heart, because that's just not true. Relearning how to communicate, how to engage in supportive relationships and be there for my friends and loved ones hasn't been easy, but it sure beats believing I'm besties with my drug dealer.
This article was originally published on AfterParty Magazine.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.