Are You the Christmas Party Performing Chimp?

10/12/2014 18:41 GMT | Updated 09/02/2015 10:59 GMT

It's the most wonderful time of the year. Days upon days off work. People to see. Presents to wrap.

Bars to drink dry.

And that's okay. Nothing wrong spending your free time any way you see fit. Spending those hours you aren't working - or on the long commute - doing exactly as you please.

Is it pleasing you though? Who are you actually doing it for?

One of the biggest surprises about sobriety to me, was the realisation that the story I'd been telling myself about how important alcohol was to my job was a total lie. People don't care if you drink or not. Socially or professionally it makes no difference. They care whether you have a personality of not. And if you aren't going to drink? That you are interesting and interested in them. You have both of those things? People will leave your drinking choices alone.

If people genuinely want to let loose? That's okay. Everyone is their own grown up and they are allowed to get on with it. The accountant dancing round with his tie on his head having a laugh in the early hours, still able to control himself isn't the problem. He genuinely wants to be there.

The sad thing to me is those who don't want to, but feel they have to. That they are there to perform for other people. Be the life and soul of the party. Make a fool of themselves purely for the entertainment of others.

Those who can't say no. Who truly would like to leave the party before it all goes pear-shaped. But end up staying til 3am, black-out drunk and unable to recall the previous five hours. What they said or did. How they got home.

If you are going to black-out at 10pm, why not just go home? What's the difference between leaving a party early, and drinking to oblivion early? Either way you are intentionally checking out and not being there anymore. The only difference really is feeling the pressure of expectation. Of being other people's chimp. Performing for drinks and approval.

And conversely? That's not going to impress anyone. Because not knowing who we really are, or having the self-esteem to choose actions that make ourselves genuinely happy, will never garner respect from anyone. Boss or colleague. People may vaguely like or enjoy watching the Performing Chimp in action. But they don't respect them. And without their respect you are meaningless to them professionally.

It took me years to do things like spend real money on nice outfits for parties. Get my hair done. Buy new shoes. Because I'd spent years buying and wearing outfits I automatically assumed would get torn, or covered in blood from unidentified drinking injuries. It took me years to work out that it wasn't just because the clothes got ruined that I didn't invest in them. I didn't invest in looking nice because I didn't believe it was possible. I thought I was hideously unattractive all the time, and only slightly interesting or acceptable when I was in Performing Chimp mode. That I wasn't worth looking at unless it was as entertainment fodder for others. So best to stay as invisible as possible, until it was time to get into Performing Chimp mode.

It took me years of sobriety to realise that people genuinely respected me now that I left a venue early and went and did something that interested me more instead. That wasn't why I did it. I didn't care what they thought of me anymore. I was doing it because making myself happy was a bigger priority.

It took me years to not go for the cheapest drink in the bar, yes, even sober. Because I'd spent my entire drinking life automatically reaching for the cheapest drink that would get me the most drunk in the fastest time. To feel like I truly deserved to look nice. Enjoy myself. Choose something lovely and non-alcoholic to drink. Because it turned out I deserved nice things after all.

I was a drunk Performing Chimp for years. And it never did me any good. No one ever respected me for it. I wasn't held in high esteem by anyone. I was just a drunk, insecure mess. As unhappy on the inside as I looked on the outside. Lonely. Desperate for the elusive feelings of love and approval that I couldn't feel even when they were directed at me.

I'm not saying you shouldn't go out and enjoy yourself this Christmas party season. Just make sure that you are genuinely enjoying yourself. That every action you take is because you want to. That every drink is had because it's something that makes you happy and comfortable.

People-pleasing is unattractive. Almost as unattractive as being sick on the party clothes you probably don't like and didn't spend that much money on. Because you feel like your only useful personality traits to colleagues socially are either as wallflower or Performing Chimp.

And if being the Performing Chimp isn't something you feel you can break free from this party season? Might be worth sticking it on the New Years Resolution List. Because you can do better than merely being a jester for other people's entertainment.

And you deserve so much more than that.