When you hear the word introvert, you might think of a person who is shy, isolated, quiet, and awkward. And sometimes this may be true. But the real definition of an introvert is someone who derives their energy from being by themselves to recharge. By contrast, an extrovert gets their energy from their interactions with other people.
Introverts look forward to our time alone. This is how we prepare for activities that require a lot of social interaction. It’s a rubber band-like process of extending ourselves out into a noisy social world, then contracting back into our safe and peaceful spaces to restore our reserves. For example, I may go to a party, seek out small groups of familiar faces to interact with, and then quietly ghost out after an hour or two. That experience will exhaust me for several days. One night out a week is about all I can comfortably handle.
Being extroverted in our always-on world is a much easier way to survive. And being outgoing and energetic are often seen as positive attributes, while being quiet is sometimes mistaken for apathy or aloofness. In reality, introverts are very active on the inside. We are thinkers. Our heads are roiling with ideas while our faces and bodies are calm.
For us, alcohol can reduce our sensitivity to stimuli and allow us to be more social and talkative. Friends report that we’re more fun, that we really come out of our shells. And this can be addictive, no pun intended. Alcohol allows us to be someone other than ourselves, and that can feel really good. It’s often a welcome change from the constraints of our own mind. But over time, we begin to lose who we truly are. We wonder, is the alcohol bringing out our true selves? Or are we only this way under the influence?
Because I started drinking at a pretty young age, I didn’t have time to develop my sense of self before it was swept under by alcohol. If you’d asked, I would have described myself as an extrovert; the life of the party even. And I had plenty of evidence to support this to an embarrassing degree. That’s all I ever knew myself to be; the sometimes wild and fun friend who couldn’t hold her alcohol but boy did I have a great story to tell the next day, if I could remember it. This became my persona. This was me.
When I stopped drinking, I felt a huge void. I wondered, as many people in early recovery do, what I’d do with my time if I couldn’t go to happy hour or take a trip to a winery or have a boozy brunch with the girls. Alcohol was such a part of me that without it, I felt I’d lost a limb.
My first year of sobriety was all about filling that void. I spent a lot of time thinking (not surprising for an introvert) about what really makes me happy. I asked myself, what do I want to do with my time? Who do I want to spend it with? And now that I have the opportunity to really create the life I want, what does that actually look like?
These are big, chunky life questions and the process was overwhelming at first. I liken it to winning the lottery – what will I buy first? I started by reading lots of sobriety blogs. I wanted to learn from other people in recovery so reading became a big part of my life and still is. In reading and consuming words like they were candy, I found a calling to write. And writing is now one of my greatest sources of joy and fulfillment. And then there was that time I decided to learn an instrument; a ukulele specifically. And that was a bomb. An absolute disaster. My 48 year old fingers just don’t have the ability to crimp and twist that way so I sold the darn thing. But for about ten minutes, I was excited to be a famous musician.
A lesson I learned during this time of exploration is best summed up by this quote – “The love of another will not be able to fill the void left by not loving yourself.” – Anonymous. Learning to accept who I am, and who I am not, was the most powerful thing I’ve done in recovery.
So yeah, year 1 of sobriety was pretty great. I embraced myself as an introvert and even started a fun little Facebook page called Ingenious Introverts. It’s nice to see that there are more of us out there. By some estimates, about 40-50% of the population falls in the introvert category. You can read more about the rise of introverts in Susan Cain’s recent book – Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.
I just celebrated 2 years of sobriety and this second year has been more challenging as I found out that the seeds I’d sown in my drinking days still had some pretty stubborn roots. But that’s a blog post for another day. For now, I’ve got a book to finish.