No FOMO: Fear of Missing Out

February 7, 2018

It took me an episode of Broad City and frequent proximity to 21-year-old comedians to learn what "FOMO" stands for: Fear of Missing Out. I am a staunch opponent of acronyms but this one is golden. Hasn't everyone had a sinking moment after they got home from a party, wondering "Should I have stayed?" Surely you've experienced a pang of regret when you've heard stories or seen photos from an event you missed, whether it was a deliberate absence or not.


I'd go out on a limb to say that addicts, of all kinds, feel this feeling harder than other people. As an alcoholic, I drank to fill a void. I stayed until the lights came on at the bar. I hosted parties and was almost always the last person to go to bed - or pass out on top of something or someone. Like some kind of cliched character in a movie, I didn't want the party to stop because first, I enjoyed drinking and second, I didn't want to deal with anything - feelings, people, real life.


When you quit drinking or doing drugs, you will no longer enjoy the substance-facilitated mechanism that either shut your brain off or lit it up in a way that made social situations tolerable. Not everyone who has substance problems has social anxiety, but I'd wager that most of us have some kind of disinclination to go mingle in a group. Is it because we have low self-esteem?


Speaking of self-image, do we have a fear of being mistaken (or accurately pegged) as someone or something we don't find flattering? Why did I, as a sloppy drunk person, think that being sloshed made me more charming? I was surprised at how reluctant I - someone trying to be a professional talker - was to speak at the first few meetings I attended. I can seem pleasant while mingling but joke that - even now - my limit is 90 minutes.


When I have to be social at work events, I find myself hiding in a corner, gingerly sipping something non-alcoholic and trying not to be seen. While lots of field work has made me able to pass off being a confident person on stage, I am a wallflower in social situations. Even a year and a half after quitting, I still have to pep myself up when I know that I'm going to have to talk to people in a networking kind of way, even if it's at an event that I'm looking forward to.


So why, with all the anxiety that I have, do I still feel like I'm missing out on something by being sober? Basic as it sounds, quitting something that you did daily means that you now have some free space on your calendar. It also means that you've changed a fundamental thing that held friendships together. Drinking buddies wished me well and then disappeared. Bar flies I used to see became strangers. Even people I looked forward to as potential close friends kind of left the picture when I stopped being a bar-goer.


Feeling alone and as if I had made a major mistake, I talked to sober people about this feeling, asking these kind, patient people the questions I dreaded most, "Do you really lose ALL of your friends? Do they just move on? Am I only going to have to get along with sober people now?" Across the board, they basically said, "you aren't going to lose your best friends, but you will lose a lot of people who you thought were your friends."



Being out and drunk all the time means that superficially, you felt you had a network of people from that world. In reality, though, are your drinking buddies the ones that would help you jump a car battery? Would they come see you if your relative was in the hospital? Some of them would, but overall - nah. That said, it was a bummer to realize that in addition to the people I'd driven away by being a drunk, I'd lose people after I got my shit together.


Even though positive things were happening in my life, - getting a good job, having a more open relationship with my family, strengthening my relationship with my partner - I did sit at home and wonder what my friends were doing. I wondered what people at open mics were joking about. Were they hearing about opportunities for shows that I wanted to be on? Was stand-up comedy, stylistically, going in new directions? Did people who used to see me all the time think I was a square? I wondered what people in bars were doing, generally. I stared at people in social scenarios and wondered how they just walked up and talked to people.


Talking to people at meetings, I was relieved to learn about commonalities among addicts - often, mental illness, social anxiety, low self-esteem, a battered self-image, a history of abuse and all kinds of trauma. As addicts, we had unknowingly banded together with other afflicted, damaged people to try and fill whatever hole had been made.


The people at meetings understood why I drank to attempt to fit in and the more we talked it over, the more I realized that a lot of The Old Fun Times ended pretty terribly. Fun had been had, but the damage was there, too. The longer I stayed sober, the more the desire to drink diminished. Even though my life was improving, I had to really fight the FOMO towards fun, sexy, drinking opportunities purely because drinking, toxic as it had been, was the safe and familiar thing that I could turn to during conflict.


After about six months of sobriety, I realized that I looked forward to going to meetings and having coffee dates with friends. I liked seeing familiar faces at the meetings, just like I'd enjoyed my bar fly friends at the bars. My sober friends have gone completely crazy and then come back from it, so they're the least judgmental group of people on the planet and a lot of fun to talk to.


After several months of friendship, a squad of sober people attended the comedy show I produced (in a bar!) and we went to dinner after. That night was such a lovely blend of the thing I love (comedy) meshing well with the thing I'm learning to love (recovery.) And speaking of comedy, things improved markedly for me. As a newly reliable person, I could be called upon to fill in as an alternate at comedy shows. Even if I didn't go to mics as much as I used to, I'd perform at them from time to time and get booked as a result.


What a no-brainer that being a composed, punctual person gets you more work and makes for better friendships. I can now call any one of my sober friends, shout "I'm freaking out! I want to drown in a vat of barrel-aged bourbon! What do I do?" and they would roll their eyes but then begin to help me with a plan of attack. I trust my sober friends with my life because they helped save it.


Along those lines, any time someone jokingly talks about alcoholics or says "you must be on crack!" or implies that addicts are untrustworthy, lawless, garbage people, I want to strangle them. What a privileged position it is to make fun of people who have gotten kicked while they're down and then gotten back up. Whenever anyone is flippant about addiction, I want to introduce them to my group of hilarious friends in recovery, who have lived the most colorful, wonderful, upsetting, imperfect lives and emerged better as a result. 

Back to FOMO, though. Do I still miss late night, beer-fueled, existential chats with friends? Of course. Would it be great to pop into my favorite dive bars for an afternoon beer? Yes, I'd do that today if I could. Do I still want to drink red wine at the Music Box while I'm watching a sultry French film? OUI, OUI! Do I feel like, as a person in recovery, I am missing out when drinking-and-drug-centric events (baseball games, music festivals, bar crawls, comedy festivals) are taking place? Yeah, I do.

Honestly, when I really take stock, I realize that I like my life now. I'd much rather be sober and genuinely enjoy and remember the things that I'm doing, than wake up in a daze from the day before, with huge chunks of memory (and dignity) lost to the void. Why lament those boozy years that ultimately were more bad than good?


If you're a sober person and you didn't used to be, your life is changing in ways that are scary and uncomfortable. It is appealing to go back to the old, familiar ways of doing things, where you relied on booze or drugs to feel better, but how'd that work out for you in the end?


Sobriety isn't the cure to fixing your shitty life, but it can be a big motivator in making things better. You'll wake up feeling better. You'll build a new network of friends and be a better friend to people you've known for a long time. You'll have a set schedule, you'll have money to do the things that you want and overall, you'll feel happier and healthier.


It is TOUGH to get sober and recovery isn't always a cake walk, but a famous book about alcoholism says, "If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through." Hang in there, friends!

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