How to Beat Your Fear of People and Win a Sparkling Clear Mind

Darn it! I humiliated myself in public.

And blew it.

…Again.

I was standing literally right under the basketball hoop, completely wide open. And rather than shoot the ball, I turned around, dribbled out, and passed to a teammate.

My team exploded with frustration on the sidelines.

One of the most crushing moments of my life. I felt embarrassed beyond all belief. And I wanted nothing more than to escape from the gym, crawl in a hole, and die.

I shudder and still feel anxious and embarrassed when I think about that moment. Definitely a low point.

Why would I make such a decision? Why would I turn down a shot with a 95% chance of success?

And this, even though I had done quite well in basketball in the past. It was a routine play – even for me.

That happened 7 years ago. I was around 27 then. And I’m 34 today. But now, I’m happily married for 7 years (Bekah would tell you), own a house, love my work, and wake up excited to start the new day.

Nothing Destroys Your Ability To Think Clearly More Than Addiction

Absolutely nothing.

I can tell you from firsthand experience.

Compound this with social anxiety disorder (social phobia), an extreme fear of people and “failing” in public, and my mind was a muddled mess.

My addiction intensified my social anxiety disorder by 100 times. And my social anxiety made it overwhelmingly difficult to open up to others and share what’s really going on with me.

Both fed off each other, creating a vicious downward cycle that only got worse.

Simple tasks, like calling customer service, telling my wife why I was angry or afraid, or even driving, looked nearly impossible.

How’d I Become a Social Phobic and Addict?

Keeping it short, I was always intensely anxious around people. I distinctly remember clinging to my father’s leg in fear, my face red with embarrassment, when some adults suggested I join some kids I didn’t know in a different room at a friend’s birthday party.

Scary stuff for me at that age (4 or so).

I also grew up in a home with emotionally unavailable parents. My father was an alcoholic. Mom was raging with anger because she was so depressed about it (although she’s never realized it).

So, my dad was physically present. But, that’s it. His mind was elsewhere, unable to pay attention to my needs. Perpetually angry about something, my mom was mentally lost also.

And me? Well, I was forgotten. So, I grew up with intense feelings of shame about myself. I felt guilty because mostly negative emotions like anger and criticism came at me. And I felt lonely and afraid because I never really told anyone how I felt about, well, anything.

So, I lived my young life entirely inside my own mind. Occasionally, I tried to reach out and break the isolation. But, I couldn’t consistently do so in a meaningful way that allowed me to connect with anyone else (parents, friends, teachers, or other authority figures).

I’d told a few friends about these issues. They’re response: ”Well, crap.”

They didn’t know what to do. They wanted to help. But, they had no idea how.

I don’t hold any animosity toward them. It just speaks to the powerfully confounding nature of social anxiety and addiction.

My Mind Overflowed with Self-Destructive Noise

The social anxiety was present. The fear built from ages 4-10. My first check-out from reality was actually in video games. I’d play those alone for hours. And it was hard to pull myself away.

That, of course, intensified the fear of people. I wasn’t learning to have healthy relationships with others. I learned to keep everything inside.

Around 12-14, my addiction took off. I discovered it through my friends. And then I turned to my addiction more and more on my own when I learned how to access it myself.

If you’re not an addict, addictions only destroy. I gradually became increasingly obsessed with finding more ways to spend additional time on my addiction. I fantasized about it most of the day. And since I was so consumed with it, I never once thought of how I could connect with and help others.

The addiction shot my self-esteem through the floor and my social anxiety through the roof. Working together, video games, the addiction, and social anxiety ran my mind 24/7.

Real life, like paying attention at school, doing my best in sports, was an interruption to my private fantasy world.

When I wasn’t consumed with one of those, I was caught up in some extremely unrealistic emotion. I believed anyone who merely looked at me in a way I didn’t like had a passionate hatred of me.

Or, I focused on how much I hated myself. And in other cases, I figured people would simply disapprove, so I was afraid.

Talk about a noisy mess!

I still managed to pull good grades through all this. So, intellectually I somehow did fine.

But I likely never came close to my full potential.

My mind was neither here nor there. It was everywhere but in the present.

In high school, I earned a reputation for being crazy. I was out-of-control with alcohol, a totally different person than the shy, anxious individual people saw during the day.

Shocking. But also entertaining. I may have been the most popular person in high school.

But I hated myself. I couldn’t stand me. Ick!

This Horrific Pattern Continued for Decades…What Changed?

As far as most people go, I became aware of my issues early. At 19, I had self-diagnosed as an addict and a social phobic.

So, I went to recovery meetings at that age.

But, it wasn’t happily ever after. It took me about a decade before I managed two years of sobriety.

And then I lost it again.

Today, I have nearly 3 years of sobriety and am going strong.

What changed?

I finally learned to prioritize self-growth over all else. For me, I’d battle with workaholism and material success in favor of personal growth.

You can get away with that. But only for a while. If you don’t put your recovery first after some point in time, your addiction takes over and forces you to relapse and act on it.

That’s what it means to be an addict.

Some people can simply stop certain behaviors. But addicts eventually lose all power and control to stop themselves from acting on their addictive behaviors if they don’t work a thorough recovery program ahead of all else.

I couldn’t get that perspective at the time, though. Relapsing was still my responsibility. But, I chose a bad thing and acted on my addiction.

Fortunately, it didn’t cost me my house, job, or marriage. But it was emotionally devastating.

Remember all those feelings of shame, guilt, and fear of people I grew up with?

They came back with 100 times more intensity…with just a single decision. Yeah. Again.

Think social anxiety’s painfully awful? Addiction makes it a nightmare you can’t wake up from. And no one else can get you out.

Life was so awful I slowly decided it was time to grow up. But only one day at a time.

I had rolled around in my addiction for nearly two decades. So, despite the fact it was dreadfully painful, it was familiar. Acting on it didn’t seem so bad.

However, with a clearer mind today, it certainly looks like a foolish decision.

What Changed Everything

This time around, I decided to prioritize growth at all costs. Even ahead of work and my wife.

That included overcoming both the social anxiety and addiction.

You can’t do just one or the other and expect to stay sober. Intense anxiety triggers your addiction. That doesn’t guarantee a relapse. But it does make one more likely.

So, inch-by-inch, I decided to take new actions that would change my thinking.

Something’s painful to talk about? Too bad. I did it anyway. Otherwise, I’d feel my addiction prepping to take control again.

The person on the other end of the phone was giving me crap? I had to stand up for myself – even though I didn’t feel worth it.

My mind would still feel anxious about other people or future events. Instead of letting it swirl in my head and gain power, I had to talk about it with my wife or someone in the program.

Someone disagrees? Again, I stated my side of the issue, but without being angry.

A person at work wasn’t following through on their side of the relationship? I had to approach them and clarify the issue.

Did I say something rude or nasty? I had to walk up to that person and say I was sorry and where I was wrong.

Was I getting amped up and ready to work a long day? I had to cut myself off and just sit down and relax (super difficult for me).

Was I afraid to take the shot? This time I had to do it, and live with the outcome, good or bad.

In addition, I also had to:

• Prioritize serving others ahead of doing anything for myself
• Constantly look at my role in interpersonal conflict and see what I could do differently to make that relationship as healthy as possible
• Quickly forgive others for the wrongs they caused me
• Make amends for harms done years ago during my active addiction
• Learn to “let go” in life instead of taking control, which I often try to do through workaholism
• Cease all other unhealthy behaviors, like working too long and playing video games

Painful? Shocking?

You bet.

This stuff was completely new to me. I had to repeat it daily for a couple years.

But it worked.

My Mind Today Is a Peaceful Haven I Love To Go To

Today, my mind is an awesome place to be. However, I still have to be careful because sometimes my addiction and social anxiety flare up. Sometimes, it’s not clear why. If I’m not sure about a particular thought or action, I simply run it by my wife and some people in the recovery program I trust to give a realistic perspective.

I like being in my mind in a healthy way. It no longer tells me how worthless I am. Instead, it focuses on what’s good about life, even though I have difficult financial circumstances.

I generally think positively about others. I can’t wait to talk to most people. My sense of humor has returned. And I intuitively know how to handle situations that used to absolutely confound me.

My wife regularly says, in a positive way,”Who are you and what have you done with my husband?”

I love running my web-based business. It’s fun and challenging. And I make better decisions than ever.

I’m highly involved in the community. People respect me. Others value my advice.

I still have social anxiety and fear of people. And the addiction pokes and prods too.

But neither master my life. Both used to create overwhelming feelings so intense they made Mt. Everest look small and unintimidating.

Now, they cause unpleasant feelings from time-to-time. But I just look at those and let them pass by.

No big deal, really.

I’m not a perfect person or stoic sage.

But clear-headed?

You bet.

Love this? You’ll also enjoy this free, 11-part email series that boosts your confidence, happiness, serenity, connection, and clarity: 11 Breakthrough (And Proven) Strategies to Keep You Forever Free from Social Anxiety