Let me recount my first work Christmas party experience:
I was eighteen and had been with the company for only a few weeks. Still, at this point, I’d not yet had my first drink (that would come two months later). The year’s preceding had been a largely ‘solo’ affair and my social anxiety was still near its peak.
Parties scared me.
I hadn’t been to many ‘adult’ parties; never any at which alcohol was the prominent feature of the night’s activities. This scared me too. Up until now I’d vowed not to drink. I thought it could be my thing. ‘Paul is the guy who doesn’t drink’. And though I didn’t drink on this particular night, the many thousands of dollars that have since vanished from my bank account after 10pm would attest to this no longer being the case… Oops.
The party was 1920s gangster themed; my costume was prepared with Mum’s help and consultation. Then, at 5:30pm that Friday afternoon, my manager came and picked me up. Together, we drove the 90 minutes to the evening’s venue to begin what was, and perhaps still is, the most uncomfortable night of my life.
I didn’t know anyone and those I did know were already hammered. This side of them I definitely didn’t know. I stood around awkwardly at the back of the room, sipping my lemonade and dissecting my canape, waiting for the moment my lift home was also ready to leave. This could not come quickly enough.
I remember, at one point, talking to a girl. Though she was probably drunk. And my conversation skills left a lot to be desired. Within seconds I was left to wander the room alone again as I searched for something that made me look occupied. But there was little for me to do aside from approach the bar and ask for that first drink; what would likely become the first of many.
I debated the situation at length… Then, sixteen seconds later, I approached the bar. Buuuuut was ten minutes too late. It had closed. Fuck! It was my only escape…
Seven hours later (not really, it was probably only twenty minutes) my lift came and tapped me on the shoulder and asked if I was ready to leave. I paused, pretending as if I wanted to stay and enjoy the party some more, before hurriedly following him out.
I cannot describe to you my sense of relief.
– – –
I’ve been to many more work Christmas parties since that first awkward night. And as I have evolved from the socially anxious teenager into the confident young man that I’d like to see myself as today, I have come to enjoy them to a certain degree; though of course not without a bit of help from the ‘Captain’ to loosen the joints…
Tonight, I attend another. My first with this company. Part of me still feels anxious to meet so many new people at once. And yet, when I compare the feelings now to those seven years ago, I realise how much progress has been made.
Anxiety still plays an enormous role in my life; it is something I contend with every day. Sometimes it feels as if it is only getting worse; its daily influence blinds me from seeing the progress I have been steadily making over the past decade. And whilst there are those who encourage the mantra ‘don’t look back’, I find it helpful; helpful to peer back in time to observe the evolution in self; to notice how far I come even if it feels like I still have so far to go.