When I first started crawling out the families basement window I drank to fit it with my new found friends and definately don't recommend using alcohol to self-medicate, it bit me in the butt and I ended up with a nasty addiction which ended up surpassing my SA. After I started my 12 step program I was stripped of my crutch and had to start dealing being with large groups of people if I was to survive so here are the techniques I developed over the years to make that easier.
1) Don't force myself to do what the others are doing. If I must listen from the back of the room, kitchen, or just outside the doors, by a window, close to the bathroom, that's perfectly acceptable.
2) Tell people. I've been telling everyone for the last five years that I am 'claustophobic'. Everyone has been very understanding and accepting. Our meeting have grown to 130ppl or more which is way to large so I started a new group at a time when I knew many people could not make it. Friday at 10:30am. It draws about 11 people each week and that is plenty for me. Everyone comments that they like the small meeting each week so I was finally able to tell one of the old timers the truth - I have social phobia, not claustophobia.
Man it was wonderful, she said she was not surprised and thanked me for clarifying. The following week I saw her at a meeting that was large/wigged out over the size and was able to turn to her and say 'I have to go this room has too many people for me.' She told me she had been wondering if I would be ok, and told me it was ok if I leave, she understood.
So I went ...with no guilt. That night was a milestone because I felt genuine acceptance and understanding from someone other then my husband. For me it was a glimmer of hope that having SA does not mean I have an unacceptable problem that should be hidden in the closet.
3) Wear light cloth that breath for the sweating.
4) Eat first so I'm not distracted by hunger. Eat BEFORE going to BBQ's and diner parties so I don't eat alcoholic-ly out of fear and hunger then make fool of myself.
5) ALWAYS take my own car so I have a means of escape - no matter where I am. Sometimes hubby and I take separate cars to functions for that very reason. At first people thought it was strange but we would tell them 'We took separate cars because she had to go somewhere first'.
6) Accept that there are some crowds I will never belong to because they are to competative.
7) Have a regular schedule which gets me out of the house if only for a short period of time.
8) Choose to be around people who are not as threatening as everyone else. Husband says I choose all the nutbars to talk to - he's right - I find them less frightening and it's good practice for when I am with regular people.
9) Hobby - got one. Last year I purchased an embroidery machine on a whim. I don't sew much but desparately needed to create. Wow, that little baby has opened up my world. I was hired to work once a week from the place I bought it (very small hole-in-the-wal grungy store behind the back of a plaza near the dumpsters - not threatening at all). Everything has blossomed since then. First I've found that the type of person who like our store/staff are nutbars so I'm really comfortable with them and they accept me. Oh and.... Obsessive Compulsive Behavior is considered a virtue.
Now for the best part of all, I'm going to be a way for a couple of days because myself and one of the other staff are going away for an educational seminar on the machines by one of the large companies. I've told the other staff member I have SA which can act up in large crowds and not to feal offended if I don't hang with her all the time - I'm probably outside smoking and airing my brain. She had no problem with that at all, but did ask me if it would bother me I she had a drink, NOPE not at all. So here I am with all my neurosis coming into broad daylight for all to see and it's ok - Woo Hoo! Now, I won't kid you....I'm a little nervous....but.....hey...I'm getting out.
10) Willingness to sep up do things which help lessen the SA on a daily or moment to moment basis has really helped - no matter how social unacceptable those actions are.
Take care and God Bless