If you get 2000 sales people in a single room and mix in cocktails, football, and music, then the noise level in the room is bound to become significant. To be fair, this is supposed to be fun. This is supposed to be a social event. But to a person like me it quickly becomes unbearable. In the past, these events were the perfect excuse to get good and numb.
Cocktail parties are a professional hazard in my line of work. They are somewhat unavoidable. As a sober person who is also an introvert, they are incredibly draining. Not only are there too many people, not only are most of them drinking to excess, but the noise level is just plain overwhelming. I am someone who quickly goes into sensory overload in situations like these.
In addition to being surrounded by drinks, bored with idle chit-chat, and generally overwhelmed, I have difficulty hearing individual conversations in a crowded noisy room. I can be standing right next to someone and not hear a word of what they are saying over the din of the room. I’ve been told that it is a specific kind of hearing impairment that cannot be corrected — I just have to live with it. As you might imagine, this is incredibly frustrating.
I’m in Orlando, FL for my company’s sales kick off and the next 72 hours will be filled with many events like the one I just described. Even when there is no booze involved, meals are crowded, filled with chit-chat, and noise. I don’t have a car here, so escaping to meetings is more challenging that normal. We’re at a resort, so everything is self contained. Everything is planned for us, including our meals. It’s not comfortable, but it’s bearable.
These events drove me insane before. Even last year, when I was newly sober, they were incredibly challenging. At the time, I was still not comfortable with who I was becoming. I was afraid that people would notice that I wasn’t drinking — and some did. I didn’t know how to cope with these events and so I spent as little time at the social events as I could and hid in my room. It was not fun.
Don’t get me wrong, I still find the events challenging, but over the past year, I’ve learned how to deal with things differently. I’ve learned that it’s okay to order a coke rather than a beer. I’ve learned that the only people who care that I am not drinking are the people who might benefit from investigating their own relationship with alcohol. I’ve also noticed that many, many others either aren’t drinking at these events, or are drinking in a way that I never could — having one and then switching to non-alcoholic drinks for example.
I’ve also learned, that when I’ve had enough, I can simply say good night to a few of the people to whom I’m close, slip out, and retreat to the comfort of my room. No one cares, and I’m better for it.
Last Friday night, the topic at a meeting was “what are you going to do this weekend to stay sober?” There were many people who publicly said that they’d do what they always do — pray, go to meetings, read literature, call their sponsor. All of these are great ideas and I practice all of them with regularity. But as I sat there, I was thinking about the fact that I had this trip ahead of me and that there would be a lot that was out of my control.
As I sat there and listened, I was thinking to myself that I wouldn’t be making many meetings in the next week and so I needed strategies to stay connected to my recovery. Connection with people, in and out of the rooms, is so important for me in my recovery. My disease wants me to isolate. It wants me to feel lonely. I’m really good at isolation. Really good at lonely.
Saturday morning, I met two friends from my Twitter #RecoveryPosse for breakfast. We had a great time catching up and talking about our lives as well as sharing stories about how things had changed for us in the last year, in particular as a result of our activities online in the sober community. One of us shared how he’d been sober for 7 years before starting to tweet and to blog and that he’d been much more alone than he is now.
We are blessed to be living in a time when we can carry a meeting in our pockets. I’ve got a phone with me 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and it can keep me connected to my recovery in many ways. Sometimes a simple tweet is all it takes. Sometimes it’s a text or a phone call.
Meetings are incredibly important, but they are not the be-all and end-all of connection in my recovery. I’m thankful that I’ve learned to reach out when I need help, and to be there to help others when they need my help. Still, I’m looking forward to getting home later this week, and going to a familiar meeting.
With all that said, I’m also much more comfortable in my own skin these days, and I don’t feel the least bit awkward without a drink in my hand at these company events, nor do I feel guilty about excusing myself at a reasonable hour and snuggling up in my hotel bed with my Kindle or my Intapaper app.