What to Do About SPPIS
The symptoms of SPPIS (Sober Pool Party Inadequacy Syndrome) are easily visible. Someone sits apart from the crowd, often with his shirt on in the hot sun, with an anxious look on his face. He is busy listening to an endless negative loop in his head. His perception is that “all these gorgeous men” are having a wonderful time, and secretly sneering at his extra (or missing) 5 or 10 or more pounds. Even though it’s a benefit, he imagines they’re wondering what he’s doing at their party. He thinks he’s the only one going through this, the only one who feels lonely and miserable. He selectively remembers those times, probably early in his using days, when he would have a “good time” at parties. He wonders if he’ll ever have “good time” again.
If this describes your experience, I’m here to tell you are perfectly normal. In fact, I’ve never known someone in early sobriety for whom this is not the experience at most sober gatherings, much less those that advertise your gym attendance or lack thereof. These are exactly the kinds of uncomfortable feelings we ALL medicated over when in our addiction. Notice how 95% of the attendees at a circuit party are on something? Even the beauty-blessed musclegods are battling an inner monologue of self-doubt and insecurity. That’s why they usually end up getting so high that all they can do most of the night is huddle on the dance floor with the friends they came with.
Men are eroticized by visual stimuli. Gay men, straight men, all men. It’s why you’ll see the Bob Newharts with the Suzanne Pleshettes of the world, but never the reverse. It’s why men watch porn but women rarely do. As gay men, these male tendencies are squared. The result is that we tend to confuse desirability with happiness. We imagine if we “looked like that” we would be in a state of constant bliss. And yet some of the most insecure men I’ve ever met are considered some of the hottest porn stars. Some of them were even at the very pool party you were so unhappy at, and I guarantee you they were intimately familiar with exactly the same feelings you were battling.
So you have a few choices: 1) you can use again, feel very temporary relief, and then go right back to that despairing place you were before you got sober in the first place; 2) stay sober and avoid all social events in which you might feel intimidated; or 3) keep showing up, and be willing to do things differently.
But how? Try this. Before you get out of the car, ask yourself some questions. What if I set aside my fear? What if I decided my low-self esteem was a character defect, and something I could let go of? What if I replaced obsessing about my misery with a decision to talk to someone who was sitting alone, someone who might be even more scared, lonely or self-conscious than I am? What if I imitated the other guys who are taking pictures, serving burgers, or squirting water? What if I decided to pretend to have a good time, just to see if I actually did?
I promise you, if you do all of these things, you will NOT be magically free of your insecurities. You will still probably unfavorably compare yourself to the men you find terribly attractive. But the volume WILL go down enough on that negative self-chatter that you might actually enjoy yourself. This may mean defining that experience differently than how you imagine it now. Dancing, flirting, or getting validation may be small part of it, or no part of it at all. “A good time” may be just about giggling with a friend, cleaning off the picnic table or just talking to someone who needs to talk. (I have rarely introduced myself to anyone at one of these pool parties and gotten anything but a big smile, usually accompanied by an expression of tremendous relief that someone is talking to him.)
It’s absolutely amazing what happens when you are willing to entertain the notion that your feelings may not be the most important thing in the world. In fact, when you put love and service first, you will find that your feelings have the magical way of taking care of themselves.