Sometimes I can’t help but smile when I read the words of my 22-year-old self. Fresh out of college, brand new in New York, she was totally overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by what to do with life. Overwhelmed with a mounting list of personal flaws. And lonely. Really, truly lonely.
But damn if she wasn’t determined to figure herself out.
Here’s a quick refresher of my situation back then: A week after my 22nd birthday, I stopped drinking. Alcohol and fun were synonymous throughout college. At my very first college party, I learned that a buzz almost immediately erased feeling awkward or self-conscious. Armed with this secret of how to feel confident almost instantly, I was off to the races. No party in college was complete without alcohol.
So why stop? Yeah, there were downsides, but they were still mostly funny. I stopped drinking because I felt like I didn’t know who I was without it. Alcohol was a crutch at parties, at bars, and with guys—a crutch I didn’t know how not to need. I felt as if the real me was hidden, and I decided I wanted to meet that girl.
A couple weeks into trying to figure out how not to use alcohol as a crutch, I wrote these lines in my journal:
“I think it’s key that I put myself in more socially-awkward situations and keep not using alcohol as the remedy for making myself feel comfortable. If I can start to feel more relaxed and confident in those settings, then maybe I will stop looking to alcohol as my way out.”
Oh, 22-year-old me. She was really trying so hard. This is pretty good advice.
So I did exactly that. I went to parties. I went to bars. I joined co-workers for happy hour. I went dancing. I went to gallery openings. And I did it all without a drink in my hand.
You know what, I still hated it.
Every single time I waited for the magical moment when my awkwardness would disappear, but every single time it stayed by my side. I still felt intensely uncomfortable.
I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I was trying something new. Hell, I was willing to be the 22-year-old girl in NYC that didn’t drink. I didn’t encounter a single other person like me that whole year.
I was so frustrated my plan wasn’t working. What was I doing wrong? I was trying so hard.
You know what the problem was. I wasn’t willing to embrace feeling uncomfortable or awkward or self-conscious. I just wanted all those feelings to completely disappear. To go away and never come back. Totally unrealistic.
It took me so long to figure this out. I was chasing something that was impossible to catch.
Does that mean that I am still plagued with the insecurity of my twenty-two-year old self? Hell no.
But a funny thing happened once I opened myself up to experience the emotions that I so hated. They weren’t really that bad. I mean, what was I running from? What was it about the physical sensations that accompanied an emotion that were so unbearable that I’d do anything not to feel them?
The whole time, that’s what I was running from—the physical manifestations of a feeling in my body. That’s what I was using alcohol to cover up. The sensations that accompany being uncomfortable, self-conscious, or awkward.
When I let myself go ahead and truly sit with these feelings and ask myself, what was so intolerable about them, it turned out I didn’t have a good answer. They were more than bearable. And after a while of truly feeling them, they subsided.
The less I resisted, the less I needed alcohol to cover up what I was feeling.