When I finally decided I need to cut down on my painful drinking habits at university, my social circle was slightly less than helpful. Whilst others could pull off a healthy dose of boozing in their lifestyle, it was increasingly apparent that I couldn’t. The hostility I experienced from them was about equivalent to if I told them I was robbing the homeless or shooting heroine or banging their girlfriends or something. It was a pretty shitty experience, but a pretty insightful one too.
Because I was so fucking socially retarded, getting drunk was an incredibly handy tool… That I had steadily begun to utterly depend upon. It was a massive crutch for me. And when I stopped using this crutch… It was hard to walk without it. I basically had no social life… And very, very few friends. I had gotten so dependent that at parties I had to relearn how to actually socialise, as I couldn’t just immediately start a drinking game. I found myself at parties feeling like I was looking at people through a window… Not a clue how to engage with them sober and feeling like everyone else knew it too… And was judging me.
It took me a long time to figure out why my “friends” were being such dicks to me about this, even going so far as trying to force me to drink and pouring beer over me when I refused. My final conclusion was that my value to the group was in the energy and entertainment I brought whilst drunk. I was so non-judgemental and so open to doing anything that it made them feel at ease too… And I was funny as fuck whilst drunk too. But if I took away the alcohol, their concern was that I’d take away the fun… And that they’d feel judged for not cutting down on their own destructive relationship with alcohol. The whole point of them getting drunk was to forget about how fucked up their lives were… And if I’m not drunk with them… I become a reminder. Very regularly one of us would come back from an exam that they had very thoroughly failed to forget about it… It was a time where they didn’t want to have to think about reality. So I at least understood where they were coming from.
Our drinking group would occasionally actually broach the topic of how we weren’t really friends with each other, but just “drinking buddies” and laugh about it. This made me uneasy. Because without them, who the fuck are my friends? I had made little to no attempts to meet anyone in my course and I just didn’t care enough to build friendships with the housemates. So of course I just clung to the shitty relationships I had, because they were the only relationships I had. Drinking buddies are fantastic for the purpose they serve, but not so great at facilitating the purpose they didn’t serve… So I decided I’d need some new friends.
I regularly heard it mentioned that you are the average of your five closest friends, because you naturally influence each other a lot and you naturally spend time with them doing what they do. If your friends are business people, you can expect to spend more time talking about business and attending networking events. If your friends are gym-rats, you can expect to spend more time working out and eating egg-whites. I always just shrugged off this idea because it was an uncomfortable reality to confront… If your friends are extremely heavy drinkers, you can expect to spend more time funnelling cheap cask wine and throwing up in the swan river on a Friday afternoon.
Eventually though, I would confront this uncomfortable reality and ask myself those critical questions. Who did I want to be friends with? Who didn’t I want to be friends with? Who was unencouraging to be around? Who was I still friends with… Just because I had known them a long time? What sort of people would I be proud to call my friends and not have to apologise for at a social event? What sort of people would be supportive of my goals in life? What do I really want in a friend?
I mean, I didn’t really have much choice, I had graduated whilst most of my friends were still at university, and even without the alcohol discrepancy, our lives were decreasingly relatable to each other. Too old for uni but feeling too young for the business world, it was uncomfortable. Another problem was that I loved getting drunk, it was the most fun I ever had, and I missed benefits of it, but not the costs… And also that I didn’t have a suitable replacement for it, so my life was way more boring.
I felt like I was going to be back to first grade and walking up to people in class and asking if they wanted to be my friend. It just felt so lame thinking about this so much. Business people have the right idea, they don’t talk about making “friends”, they talk about mentors and contacts and their network… Although it’s really the same thing… Just doesn’t sound quite so pitiful and prompt quite so much insecurity.
Take away the alcohol… What value can I deliver to people I want to build relationships with? Was I good listener? Could I tell good stories? Could I be insightful? Yes, no, sort of. I had some personal development to do.
When I finally pulled the trigger and left Australia to travel the world and potentially live overseas, i found it was very easy to cut ties. Keeping in touch with people really requires effort to do… So the question became “who do I want to make that effort for?” and that was a very useful question indeed. The people I do bother to keep talking toI really value my relationship with. And the additional time I have that isn’t spent with people on divergent paths in life, has been spent with some fucking amazingly inspirational people I’ve met travelling. Highly intelligent, very creative, motivatingly brave… And really fun, they’re what’s propelled me to stay on this journey by making me believe that I could.