Many people face the complexities of recovery from addiction every day, but this issue becomes compounded by the autistic neurology and other neurodivergence.
Being autistic can present a unique challenge when in social situations. Trying to work out what is expected of us in these situations can seem like an impossible task at times. Trying to read social and emotional cues can feel like trying to communicate with another species for some of us, however if you are a recovering addict (like myself) and have chosen total abstinence from drugs and alcohol, the issue can feel even more complicated.
Alcohol and drugs are a staple of western society. Alcohol especially is used as a sort of social lubricant that allows for a more free-flowing conversation and relaxes our social anxieties. For myself, and others like me, alcohol is not an option.
Let me be clear, I would love to have a beer with my friends and relax, but I am painfully aware that once I start, I cannot stop. Drinking, for me, always continues until I black out, rapidly followed by shame and guilt over the behaviours that will have inevitably reared their head.
I find socialising difficult. I always have. This, perhaps, is part of the reason why drink and drugs appealed to me so much. A few pills or pints, and suddenly I was the life and soul of the party. No more worrying about my autistic behaviours or sensory overload.
Now I find myself in a difficult position. Socialising was draining enough when I had a chemical crutch, but now I must face the complexities of social interaction with nothing to “take the edge off.”
These days it is twice as awkward going out. Not only am I trying to avoid extensive social interaction and find a place that won’t be playing really loud music (many of us hate bars with really loud music, but for autistic people, the noise can be physically painful as well as emotionally-draining), but I am also trying to find places with decent non-alcoholic options to drink.
This issue is further compounded when I look around at my friends drinking and laughing, becoming consistently more intoxicated, and realise this is something I will never be able to enjoy. I could drink if I wanted to, but it wouldn’t be enjoyable. It would also put me at risk of starting back down a path towards oblivion.
Since being in recovery, I have had to learn to deal with the complexities of socialising without using alcohol or drugs.
I don’t want people to think I am complaining. I still very much enjoy going out with my friends (provided I have the energy to do so), and do in fact prefer my sober life. I am lucky that I have a very supportive group of friends who never push me to join in with things that make me uncomfortable. They understand my boundaries and respect them.
This is the key point really. You have to have boundaries to help keep everyone safe.
It can feel difficult to fit in as either an addict or an autistic person, but the two together present a unique challenge. It’s a challenge worth taking on, though.
I have learnt a lot about my own strength through quitting drink and drugs. It’s true that I often feel as though I don’t fit in; but at the same time, I am proud of myself for learning to deal with my social and communication difficulties without substances.
Sometimes I feel like a bit of an alien in social situations because of my circumstances, but if I’m honest, I’d rather feel like an alien than die from alcoholism or substance misuse.
Staying sober as an autistic adult has it’s difficulties. My aversion to change and love of ‘sameness’ made the transition from active addiction to sobriety particularly difficult, but it was the right move to make for my life. That same rigid approach to life also gave me a significant boost in finding sobriety and choosing abstinence, remaining sober is now as natural to me as stimming or breathing. I always remember that I am an addict, but I am confident in my recovery.
I am slowly relearning what it means to be autistic now that I do not have the veil of drink and drugs over my head.
Finally, to any of you who may be struggling with drink and drugs; you are not alone. Many of us have shared your experience. I promise you that life can get better, and you can find your way back to sobriety. You just need to reach out.