Hi. So I’m Louisa.
This is my blog. Yeah. It’s about alcoholism and spirituality.
I write it – the blog, I mean.
This one’s about…. AWKWARDNESSSSSSS
What the hell is it? Why the hell does it happen? What’s the feeeeling it causes, and why does alcohol take it away? Is it really so torturous that some of us, cornered at a dumb-ass party that in truth means nothing to us, are tempted to throw away our life-saving sobriety just to fit in?
Of course, awkwardness doesn’t strike just at parties and weddings and barbecues. It’s everywhere. It can plague us as we try to mingle after an AA meeting: I remember storming away from a smokers’ crowd in 1998 cursing them all – “Fuck ‘em! Fuck ‘em! Fuck ‘em!” – with every step. Friends today Facebook about ducking down grocery aisles or waiting to leave their house until they can avoid an acquaintance or neighbor.
The dreaded nightmare? It’s that bumbling, uncertain, inadequate feeling – awkwardness.
What’s the experience?
Awkwardness, I would say, is an involuntary onset of stiffness, verbal paralysis, and general lack of spontaneity that comes over us in conversation in such a way that we can’t think of good stuff to say, and stuff we do say sounds incredibly stupid. We feel encased in something, as if our mind were struggling to sprint in a five-inch-thick wet suit.
What I still count as my all-time most awkward moment happened for no reason whatsoever. I was 17 and reading a textbook in the sun on the front steps of our house when our neighbor came through the gate calling hello – a young, cheery woman I idolized as cool. What we talked about, I have no idea. But for some reason, the intensity of awkwardness I underwent in those minutes is branded forever on my memory – I’d have gladly sawed off my left leg for a supply of witty rejoinders, and by the time she left, I longed to commit hari-kiri.
But then something rare followed: a passing moment of self-compassion. I reflected that I was like a student driver new to adult roads, still unskilled and unsure of the rules. I thought, “Maybe some day I’ll get good at social driving. Maybe someday, I’ll always know what to say.”
As it turned out, I was on the brink of discovering a drastic shortcut to an Indy 500 social experience: booze. That’s right! Alcohol is not only liquid courage, but liquid ANTI-AWKWARD. A few drinks and we “loosen up” so we can converse smoothly and easily. We’re suddenly cool cats. A few more and we just don’t give a fuck. What a simple switch to flip: wracked with self-consciousness ⇒ charming, maybe even scintillating ⇒ “I fuckin’ love you guys!”
But what really happened? What does the drug change in us?
Self-judgment. Self-monitoring. As noted in my previous blog, alcohol compromises the prefrontal cortex, responsible for monitoring impulsive behavior. The trouble for many of us alcoholics (and codependents) is that for a variety of reasons, we tend to over-monitor. In fact, we censor ourselves right out of perfectly valid expressions and sharings right and left. But the good news is, if we do this to ourselves, then with god’s help we can learn to un-do it – sans alcohol.
Over the course of my sobriety, I’ve found it possible to make peace with awkwardness by drawing back the curtain on that little wizard generating all the noise and smoke. Another approach is to go ahead and embrace awkwardness as a precious part of being human and flawed. And the third is to simply remind myself that all moments pass, so even if I were to find myself living out a “forgot to wear pants” dream, ultimately I’d be okay.
What’s really going on?
Okay, you’re not gonna like this. I know for me, any time I’m feeling awkward, I’m also feeling selfish and self-centered. Selfishness for the alcoholic is such a deeply ingrained defect, one “driven by a thousand forms of fear,” that we may not realize we’re in its grip.
I’m afraid you won’t like me.
I’m afraid I’m boring.
I’m afraid I’ll reveal ignorance.
I’m afraid – let’s just sum it up – that you’ll figure out I’m not good enough.
So since I secretly believe I’m not good enough, I have to falsely impress you. While my conversation may seem motiveless on the surface, it’s actually an attempt to manipulate you into a favorable view of me that, deep down, I believe I don’t deserve. I’m busy crafting an image, doing PR work with every nod, every chuckle, every response.
And it’s a fuck of a lot of work!
In fact, it’s so much work that my poor brain doesn’t have enough bandwidth left to actually be interested in you, in what you’re saying or feeling or whatever the hell we’re purportedly talking about.
I want something from you. Approval. Increased trust. Intimacy. I probably don’t even know what it is, but at some level I fear my ship will sink without it. YOU are a means to an end… and our conversation, interesting or needed as it may be, is really all about ME and my needs.
What’s the alternative?
Sorry, guys, but here we go again! The way out is Step 3. It’s trusting god. It’s having made a decision to live from a place of knowing that my worth derives from god’s love – and that god is not wrong to love me. I have inherent worth. I am trying. I have love and kindness to offer. Further, regardless of whether our conversation turns to a big fat stinky turd on fire, I will still be worthy and lovable. I don’t need you to like me. What will be, will be. I trust god that, just by being loving and useful, I can play the role I’m meant to.
What happens when we adopt this attitude? Amazing things! I can pay attention. I can wonder about you. I can think clearly about what I really mean, what would be helpful, what I have to offer you. And I’m free! God has sliced through the five-inch-thick wet suit to let me out so I can dance! I laugh, say what I think, am playful – and it’s fun! I’m able to love you for just being you. All this I can do stone. cold. sober.
Let’s face it, there are times when I do want something from someone, because I’m human. Recently, for instance, I was on a group hike with a guy I found attractive – the first spark I’d felt since the demise of my relationship. So guess what? Whenever we two were alone, I felt awkward. I couldn’t think of shit to say, or I said “stupid” shit, and three-second silences loomed like eternities. But I forgave myself for it. “How cute we are,” I thought, “all awkward and goofy like this! How predictable I am, like a high schooler!” Even awkwardness, reminding us we’re alive, can be a gift.
And Besides, No One Cares!
Eleanor Roosevelt, that great vanquisher of personal awkwardness, left us with this gem on the topic:
“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”
We’re all self-centered by nature, each of us the central protagonist of our world’s story. Everyone’s too busy thinking about themselves to dwell on anything we say or do.
Lastly, there’s that bit of AA wisdom: “What you think of me is none of my business.” We’re here to be kind, loving, and useful. Let others make of it what they will.