Note: I’ve revised this post after rethinking the message sent by the original draft.
“You’re so antisocial!”
You get that a lot, right? Except you’re not really “anti-” people. You just like them better in smaller doses — not because you like them less but because socializing in itself is challenging enough.
Welcome to the asocial world, where we generally prefer to spend less time socializing than the average sociable person, even if we genuinely like the people we know and work with.
Whereas antisocial behavior is openly hostile or antagonistic toward others, asocial behavior typically isn’t.
That said, sometimes, those of us who are asocial by nature can act in ways others perceive as antisocial. Sometimes, we simply shut people out — not as an expression of antipathy but because we don’t see a benefit to maintaining whatever conversation we’re shutting down.
At its simplest, it’s a cost-benefit analysis. If no one benefits, and we see no point in keeping ourselves open to one angry salvo after another, we shut it down.
I’d like to think it were that simple. Truth be told, there’s a lot more emotion involved.
That emotion is often behind my own tendency to block people to shut down a painful conversation that is making it impossible for me to focus on the things I need to do.
For the moment, I’m essentially hitting the mute button — not to shut them out forever but to create a safe space for me to process the conversation and recover from the overwhelm.
It sounds simple and reasonable. More than that, though, it’s often the only way I know how to deal with a conversation that seems unlikely to benefit either one of us.
So, why do so many people think it’s “antisocial”?
After all, the aim of the asocial person isn’t to hurt anyone. But when someone is angry with us and seems intent on making us feel small, we put up walls to protect ourselves from what feels like an attack. It’s what we’ve learned to do. And it’s a hard habit to break.
It doesn’t mean we don’t still hope we can find a way to make things better.
“Why are you like this?”
Speaking for myself, I’m honestly not sure. It could be the autism.
Some asocial people (including me) are on the autism spectrum. And autistic brains work differently from neurotypical ones. Social situations present more challenges to us, because we have a harder time picking up on other people’s nonverbal cues.
Last December, near the end of 2020, my therapist, whom I’d been talking to for a few months, told me in her own words, based on her assessment and her experience with other autistic clients, “I would say you’re definitely autistic.”
She made it clear her words didn’t amount to an official diagnosis. But I needed to hear that.
While every authoritative online test I’d found (thanks to sites by other adults with autism) had said as much, I wanted to hear it from someone who’d assessed others on the spectrum.
Since insurance doesn’t typically cover autism screening for adults, there’s widespread acceptance of self-diagnosis — based on results from authoritative online tests and/or informal assessments from counselors/therapists — in the adult autism community.
So, how is that relevant to this post?
While I’d love to think my asocial tendencies are rooted in a calm, dispassionate approach to life and to other people — as if I’m “above it all” (Ha!) — it’s more likely tied to the way my autistic brain has learned to cope with the world and other people.
Much as I love texting and email as alternatives to talking on the phone, there are a lot of nonverbal cues that go with them. There are unspoken rules about social interaction that folks with autism aren’t as likely to pick up on just by being around people.
This explains so much. I won’t go into all that in this post.
Turns out, texting and email don’t protect us from those unspoken social rules. They might make it a tad easier (which I’ll take), but I still make mistakes in the way I communicate with people via text messages.
And when things go south, I’ve been too quick to shut things down and block people. Again, it’s not because I don’t want to have anything to do with them ever again. I just need time.
So, why don’t I just say that? “Hey, I need time to think about this before I give you an answer. Please know I’ll give it serious thought. You deserve that much,” etc.
At some point, in past conversations (some of them recent), I’ve convinced myself I was being unfairly picked apart or demonized by someone who had already decided to see the worst in me. And the only way I could put an end to that was to block them.
Even then, I hoped someday I would find a way to make things better, so we could get along well again (if we had before). And even then, I suspected the conflict was at least partly my fault, and that there was something I couldn’t see yet that I needed time to process.
I wish I didn’t need so much time to get there. You’d think after years of frustrating people (as my dad would say, “You just don’t think!”) I’d have learned how to do better by now.
But I am learning.
Popular Myths about What it Means to Be Asocial
It doesn’t take much internet research to find some popular myths about what it means to be an asocial person. Some myths are more insulting than others.
Here are five worth addressing in this post:
- Myth: Asocial people lack confidence.
- Truth: Asocial behavior doesn’t need to have anything to do with confidence; in many cases, it’s about social habits that stem from differences in brain function. That said, in my case, confidence is definitely an issue.
- Myth: Asocial people lack social skills.
- Truth: While social skills can be a challenge for some who exhibit asocial behavior, plenty of asocial people are as good at socializing as anyone else. They just choose to do less of it (often because it depletes their energy). Again, in my case…. well, you get it.
- Myth: Asocial people don’t care about anyone but themselves.
- Truth: Asocial people tend to be jealous of their headspace and energy. They don’t like to waste it on things that aren’t their business or that benefit no one. That doesn’t mean they don’t care about other people. Speaking for myself, the more I’ve learned to be grateful for other people and what they’ve brought to my life, the more it hurts when I alienate them.
- Myth: Asocial people care more about ideas or tasks than about people.
- Truth: Again, asocial people are as likely to genuinely care about people as more sociable people. Their concern may just be less obvious. It’s true many asocial people are task-oriented and idea-loving creatives. Often, they’ll work behind the scenes, putting those leanings to work, to better serve the people they care about. For me, it’s been a slow learning curve, because I do spend too much time in my own head.
- Myth: Asocial people don’t have friends (or don’t want any).
- Truth: This is more likely to be true of someone whose behavior is antisocial (thought they don’t always intend to keep people away; antisocial behavior is more complex than that). Asocial people often have real friends. Most of those who don’t still have a genuine desire for a real and lasting friendship. In my case, my only close friends are people in my family, though I’ve made friends outside of it. I’ll readily admit I’m not easy to be friends with.
While asocial people, in general, don’t have to change who they are to fit society’s expectations, they do have to be watchful to avoid the extremes of asocial behavior, which can isolate them even from their friends and family.
What Makes Some People More Likely to be Asocial?
Often enough, asocial behavior is related to an underlying difference in the way your brain works, whether it’s something you were born with, something you developed along the way, or something that happened to you. Any of the following factors can contribute to asocial behavior:
- Autism / ASD / Asperger’s
- Mood Disorders — like depression or social anxiety
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Schizoid Personality Disorder (SPD) or Schizotypal Personality Disorder
- Agoraphobia (or other social phobias)
- Grief / Mourning
Can asocial behavior be harmful?
It bears repeating: Asocial behavior isn’t anti-people. It’s just less sociable than what most people (with better social skills) expect.
Chances are, you’re not doing anything objectively harmful to someone else. But if your asocial behavior is consistently pushing people away or keeping them at arm’s length, you owe it to yourself to take a closer look at the reasons behind it.
Whether or not your being asocial is truly maladaptive depends on whether it holds you back from accomplishing your goals. Some of those goals will have to do with relationships. Because asocial people still have (and value) those.
People still matter to us, even when our behavior seems to say otherwise.
If your asocial tendencies are holding you back, then yes, they can be harmful — to you and to your relationships with others.
So, what can you do?
You can’t please everyone. And not everyone you manage to alienate will want to reconcile with you. But the following tips can make your social life a little easier:
- Schedule necessary alone time every day. Everyone needs that (some more than others).
- Prioritize social time with the people closest to you. Maybe schedule a weekly game night or at least one sit-down, sociable meal every week.
- Make time for meaningful conversations with friends and family members.
- Find happiness and success in pursuits that are meaningful to you, even if they mean little or nothing to others.
- Learn social skills (online classes may be of great help with this).
- Find a good therapist (honestly, everyone needs this, and insurance should cover weekly appointments).
- Learn effective coping strategies and make them part of your day (meditation, yoga, daily walks, etc.)
- Forgive your harshest critics (including yourself), and…
- Remember that everyone (not just you) is struggling with something.
- Build a new habit of making a list of at least ten things you’re grateful for about a person with whom you’re currently at odds (Doing this is what prompted me to revise this post.)
- Find a friend who accepts and loves you just as you are.
It’s understandable if you think friends like that are impossible to find, especially when you’re not actively searching for one. It seems like wasted effort. It’s not.
You need someone in your life, outside your immediate family, who…
- sees you and accepts you just as you are now,
- doesn’t expect you to meet “normal” sociability standards, and
- doesn’t let you get away with cloistering yourself 24/7/365.
Someone out there is looking for a friend like you. Even folks on the autism spectrum can get lonely and benefit from a real friend who appreciates your atypical brain — and not because they “have to learn to accept it.”
Keep looking. Keep risking criticism by discovering and being your authentic self. And keep stretching yourself to make the most of your gifts.
Everyone needs to step outside their comfort zone to live the life they want. And if life can be beautiful for everyone (and it can), why settle for less?
I made it past the 17 month mark*, and I thought I’d share some of the things that have been helping, so far. I know I’m still pretty new at this and others out there have more to say, but keeping track this way helps me celebrate the wins and keep going.
(*Note: I keep updating this as I reach new milestones.)
What Has Helped (So Far)
I’m well aware I’m still a newbie at this. I’m also aware there are other new recovering alcoholics out there. If anything that’s helped me (so far) can help someone else, I’ll consider this post well worth the time spent writing it.
The following list has links to make it easier to check them out. None of these are affiliate links, but I’m not ruling out using them in the future if I find out they have them.
- The I Am Sober app, which keeps track of my days without alcohol (with its Daily Pledge feature) and lets me add notes to every end-of-the-day review (UPDATE: Haven’t used this in a while. It helps that my 1st day sober coincides with a family birthday).
- Meditation apps — I’ve been meditating every morning for months, now, and honestly… I don’t know that I’ve gotten better at it. But it does give my day a better start. Sometimes, all I do is just spend a few minutes breathing (after brushing my teeth, downing a class of water with my thyroid meds, and getting my first cup of coffee).
- Tea — mostly either Twinings (mainly Lemon Ginger, Peppermint, and Earl Gray) and Yogi Teas (Sweet Tangerine Positive Energy is my favorite morning tea). Also, my sister sent me a gift card to Jasmine Pearl Tea Company (Oregon-based), and I’ve been enjoying the teas I ordered.
- The DuoLingo app (keeping my Spanish strong and now learning German)
- Game apps — mostly Sudoku.
- Switching to a (mostly) plant-based diet. I have more than one reason for this. One is PKD; I’m hoping this will help me maintain healthy kidney function for years to come. Fingers crossed. I don’t mind if people around me eat meat; I’m just choosing not to for my own health reasons.
- Fresh flowers — I buy small bouquets at the local Aldi and keep a vase on my desk with fresh blooms. They brighten up the room, and I can’t help smiling when I look at them.
- Music (Usually with the YouTube app on my desktop while I’m writing)
- Taking walks (Not often — since the area I currently live in is not pedestrian-friendly).
- Working on a book (I have a few I’m working on right now — one on marriage prep and how the traditional approach to it is failing millions of couples)
It helps, too, that no one else in this house drinks alcohol. My husband has never really been a fan of alcohol and the rest of our family is too young to drink, anyway.
I’ll update this as I go along. Some items may disappear as others join the list.
And if I find books, documentaries, etc. that help me put things in perspective (often because someone I trust recommended them), I’ll add those to my Recommended page.
Welcome to my online hub. Questions are always welcome here. The comment field should be open, but if it’s not and you have questions or comments to share, feel free to email me at email@example.com.
I won’t pretend I don’t sometimes miss having a drink. But I don’t miss the way my life was when I was overdoing it. And I don’t ever want to go back to that. Life is better now — without alcohol.
Just don’t ask me to give up coffee.
I haven’t wanted to call myself an alcoholic. For just a second, the word “functional” makes it easier to accept the word that comes after it.
Then the reality hits: I’m not as functional as I’d like to think. And being an alcoholic means having to give up alcohol.
How is this functional?
We met our deductible this year, so, at least until January, I have a therapist. It’s been nice. During a recent session, she asked me some questions about my alcohol use.
Based on my answers, she told me she would recommend a 30 day inpatient treatment program. That was the first day I heard the words “functional alcoholic” come out of her mouth. I had mixed feelings.
Since inpatient therapy is not an option (I need to be here for my kids, and my income helps keep our heads above water), I’ve had to find a way to deal with it here at home.
I started by agreeing to limit myself to 6 oz. a night.
That was a drop from my accustomed 8+ oz per night. According to WebMD, 7.5 oz is equivalent to five standard drinks. I usually had more.
And apparently, for women, four drinks a night is considered “heavy drinking.” But I’d gotten used to whiskey and vodka, and I craved the way it felt when I drank it. I didn’t want to stop.
But since I usually had to function the next day, I did. I didn’t admit to myself (let alone anyone else) that I was steadily increasing my tolerance.
Because here’s the thing that goes to the heart of “functional” alcoholism:
The word “functional” is in there not because those who have it are more functional than those who get drunk every night (or frequently). It’s not that we necessarily have more self-control, though we might have a more compelling reason to keep up the appearance of it.
It’s just that we manage to still cross things off a list every day:
- Wake up.
- Go to work (or work from home).
- Help kids with school work.
- Get kids to work/errands/etc. and back home again.
- Spend time with family.
Something I didn’t want to think about: Today’s “functional” was yesterday’s red flag.
Functioning is another word for surviving.
And it’s not enough. But if we don’t think we can do more than that, we tell ourselves it’s enough for now.
We tell ourselves we’re still functioning, so we must not have a real problem. But our ability to still get things done doesn’t cancel the damage alcohol is doing to our brains and to the rest of our bodies. And it doesn’t begin to make up for what our families go through while we lie to ourselves.
It’s not enough just to keep the gears moving. And focusing on those gears makes us take longer to face the truth.
I was going through a liter of whiskey about every three days. I always waited until evening — when I knew I wouldn’t have to drive anymore. If I thought my oldest might need a drive back to his place (during bad weather, since he walks), I’d hold off until I knew he was safely back.
And I told myself that was proof enough I didn’t have a real problem with alcohol. I needed to believe I was still the one in control.
- I could still be there for my kids and get them where they needed to go.
- I could still work and bring in money.
- I limited myself (most of the time) to what I knew I could tolerate.
Spoiler Alert #1: My Tolerance Grew
As my tolerance grew, so did my daily consumption. Over the past couple years, I moved from strong beer and red wine to whiskey and vodka.
And it wasn’t just that I was drinking them.
- I was drinking them every day (8 oz or more).
- I was sneaking another ounce or two into my glass when my girls were brushing their teeth.
- I’d set a limit to put others (and myself) at ease, but it wouldn’t be long before I went over that. Usually, it was on a Friday or Saturday night.
That’s not to say I never gave it up. One day I poured the remainder of my bottle of Black Velvet down the kitchen sink drain, with my kids watching, and gave up alcohol for about 60 days straight to see what difference it would make.
I’d read a book by someone who experienced noticeable changes in his appearance and well-being after giving up alcohol for 30 days. I did not.
So, when I had a reason — something to celebrate, maybe — I bought another bottle. And then another….
Cheating on 6 oz
After I agreed to limit myself to 6 oz, I was faithful to that amount… for a few days. Then I started sneaking another ounce or two when I could.
I probably added another two ounces before I stopped. Maybe more. Clearly, policing myself wasn’t working.
Still, whenever I considered the possibility that I might be what my therapist called a “functional alcoholic,” I had excuses at the ready:
- It’s not like I can’t stop drinking — at least for a while. I’ve done it!
- I don’t drink when I might have to drive.
- I’m a grown-ass woman who happens to enjoy a little whiskey or vodka to help her relax after a long day of work, errands, and helping my youngest with his schoolwork.
- My liver labs are still good.
- I don’t feel drunk after I’ve had my drink/s at night. I just feel relaxed, with a nice buzz.
- I have to be so careful during the day. Just let me have this!
I didn’t want to admit to being any kind of alcoholic, because then I’d have to give up alcohol.
And I really, really don’t want to do that.
Notice the “don’t” is present tense. This is not a past thing. Not wanting to give up alcohol for the rest of my life is very much a now thing.
And it really does not help when people talk about how much better I’ll feel once I’m “no longer a slave to it.”
First of all, slaves don’t have the option of giving up their slavery for 30 days to see what a difference it might make. They don’t get to say, “I’m gonna take a break from being a slave — at least for today.”
Let’s please stop equating substance abuse with slavery.
Also, I don’t stop being an alcoholic once I get rid of the alcohol in my house and decide — for today — not to stop at a liquor store and buy another bottle.
I just add the word “recovering.” And it’s not a one-and-done thing. It’s one fucking day after another of deciding to say “No” to alcohol and “Yes” to something else.
I’ll add, too, that the “my body is a temple” stuff is a non-starter for me. I doubt I’m alone in that.
So, what have I done so far?
Aside from asking my husband to hold onto the bottle and put it where I can’t get to it at night (after pouring my daily allotment), the following things have helped me do what I have to do:
- I signed up for Noom (the app) (* Update: Not using it so much anymore.)
- I bought a skein of yarn because crocheting helps me destress. (* Update: I donated that.)
- I keep a daily journal, gratitude list, and planning page(s).
- I downloaded the I Am Sober app (hoping it will help). (* Still using that.)
- I keep my therapist posted on my progress (w/ alcohol withdrawal).
- I’ve found a motivating, alcohol-incompatible goal — at least for now.
With Noom, I started out just logging my meals and keeping my daily portion of alcohol secret (no need to log that, right? It’s not food). I wanted to see if I could lose some weight without giving up my nightly drink.
Spoiler alert #2: I couldn’t. My therapist laughed at me (in a good way).
She also nodded her head and told me what I’d done (along with most of what I was saying) was very much what an addict would do.
Addicts will use any loophole they can find.
So, then, I made a plan to reduce my daily allotment by 0.5 ounces per night, until I reached 1.5 or 2 ounces. The rest would go down the drain.
Day 1 of no alcohol was October 20th — an important date in our family. The night before that, I had my last allotment (2.0 oz) and poured the rest of the bottle down the kitchen sink. It was still about half full. It hurt.
I haven’t joined any alcohol recovery support groups, though my therapist encouraged me to look at some of the options, including AA.
As for the “functional” in functional alcoholic, I still feel some resistance to letting go of it. But when my therapist told me about the 12 Steps and asked if I could repeat the words, “I am powerless over alcohol” (Step One), I could say the words and mean them.
So, even if part of me still wants to believe I could one day enjoy a drink with family or friends without one drink turning into three or without stopping at the liquor store on the way home…
I don’t think that’s an option for me, anymore. And I hate that.
For now, I’ve switched to chilled sparkling water with a splash of lemon juice or a wedge of lime.
As it gets colder, I’ll probably switch to something warmer. Maybe I’ll finally learn how to make a great cup of tea for my evening drink. Maybe.
(* Update: I’m drinking tea all day, now, starting around 8 am. I’ve found some favorites.)
Aside from beverages, what I’m focusing on now is identifying and working toward goals that are incompatible with drinking — goals alcohol would interfere with.
It’s not enough (as I’ve learned) to replace alcohol with writing-related goals. I’ve already proven to myself I can be a prolific writer and a “functioning” alcoholic.
But I do look forward to having a clearer mind for my daily writing.
If I can slip this far…
We “functional” alcoholics are great at convincing ourselves that — as long as we don’t drink when we might have to operate machinery or walk on a tightrope over small children — that we must be in full control of our liquor habit.
Part of recovering means ditching the word “functional” and facing up to the way alcohol has been affecting every area of our lives — and holding us back.
I didn’t start out drinking 8 oz. (or more) of whiskey or vodka every night. My kids weren’t always deathly silent and downcast when I’d return to the car with another bottle.
So, I’ve stopped trying to do this without any help. But I’m still in the process of finding my own larger support system (beyond my immediate family). I’ve kept a lot of people at arm’s length over the years.
Often enough, support comes with strings attached: other people’s rules and expectations, not all of which are helpful. Accountability, though, is something I can work with.
As for recovery, it’ll have to be one day at a time. I can’t commit to more than that right now. I don’t know if I ever will.
I’m okay with that.