I used to think "who knows?"
I'd walk through the university campus, withdrawing from my last blackout even if it was two days prior. I drank so hard that my hangovers would last for days on end sometimes.
You can tell I wasn't exactly enjoying my life then.
Other students would pass by me. Most wouldn't react to me. Some would glance at me, maybe because they thought I was good-looking or I looked like someone they knew.
When someone would pass by me, I'd think "What if they know something about me I don't?"
What if they knew about me? What if gossip got around about my drunk behavior, even behavior I didn't remember?
What if that random person I'd never met before saw me and thought "that's Ben Foth. (x person) told me that he (did y thing)"?
If you can't already tell, I used to care immensely about my image and about what other people thought of me, to the point where I'd skip out on social gatherings to watch TV and Youtube while binge drinking by myself. I couldn't handle being in a social situation where I wasn't the center of attention.
And when I'd drink with people, I'd lie or stretch truths about myself. My repressed emotions would surface in half-angry, half-depressed outbursts.
To my emotionally wounded, purposeless past self, getting attention through dishonesty or emotional vomit was better than being unnoticed.
I only started NOT losing my shit at social gatherings when I'd stay sober the whole time. I was still insecure and needy, but I'd keep a tight grip on my emotional wounds when I didn't have alcohol in me.
My identity was the sum of what I thought other people thought of me.
If I thought they looked up to me or found me interesting, I'd be proud of myself but still insecure because without that validation, I felt worthless.
If I thought they looked down on me or found me boring, I'd hate myself. I lived for ANYONE's approval, not by self-imposed standards like I do today.
Hello, social anxiety.
Who knows about me and my behavior? Who thinks I'm cool? Who thinks I'm pathetic? Who the hell is Ben Foth? Am I cool? Am I pathetic or mediocre? Who do my peers want me to be? Who do I have to be to get some attention around here?
As much as alcohol fucked with my sense of reality when I'd get drunk, it'd also fuck with it between my drinking sessions.
The "who knows?" anxiety was part of it. I'd also be more neurotic in general because of my heavy drinking. (After all, the body compensates for alcohol's depressant effect after it wears off)
It's pretty ironic that at the time, I'd regularly binge on an anxiety-inducing, personality-killing substance TO COPE WITH MY SOCIAL ANXIETY AND WEAK SENSE OF SELF.
Then my drinking would have its consequences. I'd wake up to drunk texts and poems I'd written that looked like a crackhead's blog posts. My stuff would be arranged as if a tornado had passed through my room.
And don't get me started on hangovers.
Sometimes, my dumbass drunk behavior would end up as a funny story. Other times, it'd be purely cringy and/or regrettable.
In the end, the "who knows?" anxiety was usually an overreaction. My behavior would be wild but benign. I was a party animal, but all my needy, action-seeking behavior came from insecurity, not out of any desire to hurt myself or anyone.
Overreaction or not, its existence was a problem. It was a symptom of something bigger and deeper: Me lacking a sense of purpose.
The value of purpose
I drank because I lacked purpose. That's that. I didn't have anything better to do than lift weights, write, study, or get wasted.
In university, I only studied what I did because I wanted to fit in and end up getting a normal white-collar job. I chose my friends because they tolerated my neediness and narcissism (not forever, thankfully). I dated, slept with, and chased the girls I did because I had something to prove, not out of genuine chemistry.
I was living my life for a selfish reason: other people's approval. I didn't have a sense of purpose outside of getting all the social experiences I'd missed out on in high school, and proving myself as a socially competent, desirable guy.
These days, I live for the following things above social approval:
Developing myself professionally
Meeting the occasional person I vibe with
I was doing all those during my degenerate uni student days, but the major difference between then and now is WHY I'm doing them.
I do what I do because it makes me feel purposeful. My identity comes from WHAT I DO above other people's impressions of me. My behavior is in my control, while other people's perceptions absolutely aren't.
To become happy and secure being myself (and consequently, quit compulsively binge drinking), I didn't lift x amount of weight in the gym, get x job or make x amount of money, sleep with x amount of girls or get a girlfriend. I simply rearranged my hierarchy of values (which happened over a couple years, not all at once).
Truth, integrity, love, and personal growth went to the very top. Image and social approval went lower.
My life wouldn't be my own if other people had more power over my happiness and sense of purpose than I do.
Whereas before, I put waaaay too much investment in other people's perceptions of me, and my anxiety-heavy hangovers wouldn't exactly be a fun time.
Some people did know things about my behavior that I didn't. And these days, I don't care. Those people are out of my life and I'm moving on to better things. I don't miss them.
I used to care though. I was stuck in a vicious cycle of social anxiety > compulsively binge drinking > more anxiety from alcohol withdrawal and regrettable behavior > less confident socializing while sober. I don't miss that.
And I don't miss having to patiently wait for a friend to tell me what I'd done the previous night because I didn't remember anything about it.
These days, my idea of fun is things I remember, not drinking to impress people who aren't good for me.
Overall, alcohol doesn't alleviate your anxieties. It makes them worse.
And if your drinking is problematic, remember that you don't drink because some outside force made you.
When you drink, it's YOU who makes the choice to consume the alcohol. It's YOU who marches down to the bar or to the liquor store. It's YOU who puts the glass or the bottle to your lips. Alcohol is a substance, not a living entity.
If you deal with "who knows?" anxiety, as justified as it is or isn't, the only way to avoid it is to refrain from drinking to blackout.
Some people can moderate with <5 drinks in a session.
Other people are better off quitting alcohol completely.
In any case, simply choosing not to drink (or to drink only a bit) is only one step. You must take the energy you'd channel into alcohol, and channel it into something that'll make your life more worth living.
What makes your life worth living more than alcohol does?
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