Drug Addicts and Social Anxiety

I am not a drug addict; this is one of those big areas of life where I have been very fortunate in the things which have happened to me. I can’t handle being arrogant enough to claim that I have made good choices, which have led to this position. That would be too great a dose of pride for my liking.

I do suffer from social anxiety; I have always feared social situations, and I have always taken any action I could to avoid new situations. Even situations where there are no other people in the vicinity bring about paroxysms of anguish. I feel like I am being watched everywhere I go, and I feel like I am being negatively judged, even when I am alone. It has led to a lot of staying indoors over the years.

That is not to say that I have never taken drugs: I have consumed enough alcohol and caffeine to kill a grown rhino stone dead. I have smoked gargantuan quantities of cannabis, in many and varied forms over the years. I have then gone out and about in the world of the real people when under the influence of these mind alterers. For the record, too much caffeine is always the one where I felt so much worse for being outside, whether alone or accompanied. And that’s the easiest one to get.

If I know I am going to meet someone new, or be put in to a social situation I’ve never encountered before, I will more than likely be preoccupied about it for many days – even weeks or months – prior to the event itself. My entire summer holidays before I started high school was spent feeling as if I were about to vomit. A few weeks ago, the day before an important meeting with a group of senior colleagues, I vomited spectacularly over our newly decorated dining room. Anxiety is everything.

However, when I am in a situation where I am feeling particularly out of my depth or particularly judged by the people there, and I am handed a drink – be it beer or coffee – I suddenly relax. It’s the effect of social lubrication on my shoulders which does the work. The problem is that I will never allow myself to go in to these situations caffeinated or drunk. And being stoned would be right out.

I don’t know where this distinction has come from: if I turn up to a party or a work meeting under the influence of legal drugs I feel I would be judged, and rightly so; if I turn up with a perfectly clear head I feel that I am being judged. I can see why people become addicted to these things now.

I read about people with drug addictions – particularly successful rock and metal musicians – and I do not think of the effects on their health, their sanity or their relationships with the people who love them. That would be too human of me. My mind instantly turns to the logistical questions of how they score drugs on the road. It seems so fraught with opportunities for social anxieties.

Are drug addicted rock stars more socially adept, so that they can walk in to a town, strike up a chat with a random inebriate and score some blow or some rock? That would take far more social skill than I have ever had in my life. I have turned away from events to which I have been invited because the door in wasn’t marked: how could I ask a stranger where I could buy some ketamine nearby?

If I were a drug addict, I would find myself doing horrifically stupid things just to avoid the minimal human contact it would take to get high, and all this because of the gut-wrenching fear of making a fool of myself. I could imagine couriering myself eight-balls of meth, just to avoid having to ask around for a local dealer. Moronic. Drugs cover up social anxieties when you’re high; what about when you’re straight?

Is the push that is needed to cross this Rubicon coming from the come down and the need for a fix? Thankfully I don’t know; hopefully I will never know. I can only imagine the physical and emotional pain required to push me from the warmth of my anonymity in to the cold harshness of talking to a stranger; of making that initial contact, that connection, with a person. Something I utterly dread.

It strikes me as a rather odd vicious circle, whereby I would need to be very drunk, or high on drugs, in order to find someone from whom I could purchase a greater quantity of drugs. This doesn’t seem like a logical order of events. My lack of understanding on this topic shines through once more.

I am perturbed by my strange pull towards the logistics of drug abuse, rather than the destructive effects of such behaviours. But that is how I manage my social anxiety: I do as much research as it is possible to do, I run over scenario after scenario, in order to prepare myself as much as possible for every possible permutation of the forthcoming encounter. In so doing I scratch the itch which being alive sets in my mind. I may be making things worse, but I need to dwell in order to be prepared.

I used to be a proud exponent of marijuana, but I haven’t touched the stuff in nearly a decade now. I remember going about my daily business in a haze of dope smoke: it was almost a game I would play with / against myself whereby I would see if I could make it through a shopping trip or a visit to the cinema without freaking out completely. I suppose it gave me something to concentrate on rather than fixating on the social anxiety of the whole situation. I held on pretty well, all things considered.

Booze is a far harder drug to navigate. Yes, I can hide pretty well how drunk I’m feeling if and when I fancy doing so – not from my nearest and dearest; that’s always a mistake: although I am always surprised by how little my mother notices that I’m drunk. It’s the fact that the initial buzz of alcohol makes one thirsty, and there are always opportunities about to quench a thirst. That can lead directly either to public inebriation or to public hangover, dependent on your choices. Neither is pretty or fun.

Given that I find social interactions and the navigation of public situations so difficult while straight and sober, perhaps I should just stick to that. But I do still wonder how everyone else copes.