When I was drinking, my husband used to say my mouth got bigger as the night wore on. He meant that literally and figuratively. When I was in my cups, I would make my way to the powder room frequently; it was a respite for me during a congested party or any event involving large numbers of human beings. While I was in there, I would reapply my lipstick and lip liner. By the end of the night, as I got drunker, I looked like a lesser Picasso: my enlarged mouth stark red, smeared and canted to one side of my face.
With six or seven Chardonnays under my belt, I’d also start to lose my reticence about speaking up in a crowd. Because it was unnatural to me, I’d tell overly explicit vignettes, argue loudly with my spouse or fall down prettily, dragging a tablecloth and food onto the floor like a second-rate magician.
My husband is my ex-husband now, and although my drinking and ghastly behavior at parties was not the reason for my divorce, it was certainly a factor. I have learned, during the two years I have been sober, that I used to self-medicate to deaden my extreme reticence to being in a room full of strangers. This is not an excuse — I will admit my alcoholism had a slew of causes — but trepidation toward my fellow man was one of the reasons I drank as much as I did.
I am an introvert: card-carrying and unapologetic. Being an introvert presents some serious challenges to my sobriety. I can’t win. As a drunk I was a forced, ungainly party girl and sober I am ill-suited to any 12-step program that encourages group dynamics and the dreaded “sharing” of feelings among strangers. Let’s face it, introverts are the lefties of the recovery community and we need individualized treatment programs to deal with our special needs.
According to the article, “Nine Signs You’re an Introvert,” written by Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, for Psychology Today, introverts have the following characteristics (I am paraphrasing):
- They enjoy time by themselves;
- Their best thinking occurs alone;
- They lead best when those who follow are self-starters;
- They are the last to raise a hand when someone asks for something in a group setting;
- They tend to keep their opinions to themselves;
- They do not seek contact with others;
- They prefer not to engage with people who seem angry or upset;
- They do not reach out voluntarily to their social circles and if contact is required, they are more likely to use email than phone;
- They do not initiate small talk with casual contacts.
AA Meetings Weren’t Made for Introverts
Think about this. The worst thing an alcoholic can do (other than drink) is to isolate: the very environment introverts need to think clearly and recharge. What is encouraged in every AA meeting the world around? The raising of hands; the garrulous recounting of past transgressions and current successes among casual contacts who are oftentimes angry or upset. This is the very setting introverts avoid like church on Thursday.
The other day a friend of mine said, “I have come to the realization that [your] not speaking in an AA meeting is a form of isolation.”
I was incredulous to the point of indignation. “Are you kidding me? I can’t just sit there? Why can’t I just sit there?”
“You should try to speak up. It will enhance your experience,” he said.
“No, it won’t.” I was beginning to rethink our friendship. It felt like he was telling me to, “Shut up and use the right-handed scissors.”
Because this is what I think every time I pull my car into the parking lot of a 12-step meeting: I have gone to hell and climbed back out. I have beaten a three-bottle- of-wine-a-day habit. Isn’t that enough? I do not want to go in there — not because I am defiant or resistant or uninterested in staying sober, but because I am AFRAID and because this is as unnatural to me as telling drunken stories at a party used to be. I HATE sharing. I am uncomfortable among strangers. I am worried that if I capitulate and try to talk I will sound foolish, or boring (like that guy who slouches in the corner and always monopolizes the meeting).
And then I think, Maybe I’m being prideful and I should do what my friend suggested to enhance my experience by plugging my nose, holding my breath and trying to speak up. But my guts are in my throat and I think there has to be another way for me to be part of the recovery community without this added stress.
And then I do what the Grinch did when he prepared for the Who-beration with nothing appropriate to wear. I look in the mirror at my hairy profile, run a hand over my belly and say, “OOOOH, AHHHH… That’s it. I’m not going.”
And more often than not, I drive away.