How To be Sober In a World Hooked On Alcohol
When I wrote my article Breaking Up With Booze, I was absolutely blown away by the huge response I received. So many of you reached out to me with such support and positivity, as well as letting me know that you’ve been considering saying no to alcohol. This tells me many of you out there are at least sober-curious. And to that, I say:
Wicked. Let the revolution begin!
If you have made the decision to stop drinking, whether it’s for a month, a year or a lifetime, you should be given all the support you deserve in this life-affirming choice. I am here to cheer you on.
However, you may find that not everyone is as supportive as you might hope. I’ve dived into some of the challenges you might come up against while going sober, and how to deal with them. Many of these challenges I’ve personally experienced, and some are easier than others. Remember this is a journey, and everyone’s journey is different.
Take Care of Your Beautiful Body
For the most part, I’m going to address social challenges that arise when you quit drinking, which can be very typical since much of our social events revolve around alcohol. But I have to stress that quitting alcohol is more difficult for some than others. Our reasons for drinking are complicated and vast. For some, it is a social and psychological addiction to alcohol, but for others, there is an added component of physical dependency.
If you believe that quitting alcohol is going to be physically hard on your body, you should speak with a health care professional about your goal of cutting back or stopping drinking entirely. I am not a health care professional, so while I believe that ending alcohol is good for absolutely everyone, for some it can have health consequences and you need to make sure you have all the support you deserve.
If you feel you need help quitting, here are some resources you can look into, or speak to your family physician.
Challenge 1: The Person Who Gets in Your Face About It
So, you’ve decided to quit drinking. As long as you don’t think you’ll be tempted to drink, then I’m all about surrounding yourself with your usual people in your usual places. Meaning, if everyone’s getting together at the bar, by all means, go! You’re doing something awesome for yourself – that doesn’t mean you have to cut yourself off from all the fun things. Announce to your friends you’re not drinking, order a mocktail or sparkling water, and enjoy yourself.
But while there, there just might be someone who takes offence that you aren’t drinking. Crazy but true. They might get argumentative, constantly questioning why you’re doing it. They might spout off facts about how alcohol is good for you, or make you want to list out exactly how much you drank before so they can smugly tell you they drink less than you did.
This is super important: Do not engage with this person. The argument they are having is with themselves. They might already, maybe subconsciously, be questioning whether they have a problem with drinking, and your decision is raising red alerts. Your positive choice is highlighting their negative ones. But if they are not ready to take a step towards sobriety, their brain will go haywire trying to defend their addiction.
That sucks for them, but it’s not your problem. I found a simple vague statement works well here, like: I’ve decided to do this for my health.
It’s really hard to argue with that. You do not owe anybody an explanation for why you’ve decided to stop drinking. You do not need to convince anyone. You certainly do not ever have to provide an account of your own behaviour to this person. If they can’t drop it, just get away from them.
Challenge 2: The Person Who Tries to Convince You To Drink
When someone makes a choice to improve their health, only a shitty person would try to sabotage it. But you’ll meet them. They’ll plead: Just one! It won’t hurt! Have a shot with me! They’ll insult: You’re boring. You’re old. You’re no fun anymore. They might try to force a drink into your hand, or sneak liquor into your drink. Yes, people like this exist.
This person is suffering from the same mental gymnastics to protect their addiction as Person #1 above, only they are shittier. This person is toxic. This person does not have your best interests in their heart, and you should reconsider whether there is a place for them in your life. The same goes for anyone who derides your choices.
As a side note, it is normal to be tempted to drink when you’re on a break from alcohol. In fact, your brain is pleading with you to give it that rush of endorphins – especially in the beginning when the addiction is still strong. It’s also normal to give in. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP. This is a journey, and there will be twists and traps along the way. Dust yourself off and get back at it. One slip-up doesn’t throw off all the awesome work you’ve been doing. You’ve got this.
Challenge 3: That Time At A Party When the Mood Shifts
Sober people know what I’m talking about. You’re out somewhere, and everyone is chatting and having a good time. And then … it happens. Eyelids start to droop, people are laughing weird and getting too into your face, and that guy just repeated the exact same story three times. And you’re thinking: This is no fun.
Don’t worry, it’s not you. It’s always been like this, you just might not have noticed before. We’ve been sold the lie forever that alcohol makes events fun, that it makes people outgoing and funny. I swallowed this lie for a long time, but it isn’t true!
Drunk people are boring. Ethanol is a sedative that dampens brain function. Once under the effects of alcohol, people are slow, dull, repetitive and sometimes hostile. Ugh.
If you want, you could stick around for this show just once, as a reminder of what you never have to be again. But typically, this is your cue to leave. Literally nothing fun is going to happen at this point, and this is also when bad things start to happen. You took the best of the evening and you don’t have to deal with any of the drama. You get to go home, get a good night’s sleep and wake up feeling awesome!
Challenge 4: Sober Events = Awkward Silences?
A dry wedding? A location that doesn’t allow drinking? No thank you! I used to avoid events like this like the plague. They have a reputation of being boring, but that simply isn’t true.
What is true is that a crowd of humans together takes a little bit of time to warm up. There might even be some awkward silences. As a person with social anxiety, I used to dread this moment, like panic sweating that I might not have anything to say. It’s a real thing. Alcohol, knowns as “social lubricant,” means we can avoid these moments, as we just barge in saying anything at all.
But. Awkward moments are normal, and if you accept them without judgement and allow them to breathe, you’ll see that people start to settle into each other. And it is so worth it. People who have all their mental facilities are so awesome. These gatherings end up being lively, engaging and full of laughter. Most importantly, you actually connect with the other people around you, and it’s a connection that can last long after the evening is done.
Accept any awkwardness that comes at dry events without judgment, and just give it a bit of time. I’ve realized throughout my life that I’ve gained my best friends through moments of awkward silences. They precede the good stuff.
Challenge 5: Events That Suck Without Alcohol
An event that isn’t fun without alcohol is actually not fun at all. Period. If there is an event that you know will be terrible and full of booze that you do not have to attend, skip it. But we all have obligations that we must show up for, whether it’s a work event or a family affair you’re dreading.
If you can’t avoid a boozy event, it’s best to start out with a goal in mind. It might be to make contact with a work colleague or just to ensure that you’re seen. Make an appearance, be charming as you sip St. Croix (or your delicious non-poison of choice) and then bow out at an appropriate time, after you’ve made the mark you intended.
I would suggest having a list of people you can contact if you’re getting frustrated, irritated, harassed or feeling down about the choice you’ve made. Make sure these people are lovely, supportive and have your best interests at heart. Text or call them when you need support, or a way to get out of a bad situation.
Then follow my advice: Go home, get comfy, sleep well and feel amazing.
Quit Like a Woman: The Radical Choice to Not Drink in a Culture Obsessed with Alcohol, by Holly Whitaker
I’ve received a lot of interest in the books that I suggested if you’re thinking about sobriety. The one read that blew my mind, and basically changed everything about how I perceived alcohol, is Holly Whitaker’s Quit Like a Woman.
Holly Whitaker is a recovering alcoholic who has founded a support organization for those who would like to curb or quit their drinking, Tempest. For the record I’ve not used Tempest, so I cannot speak to the organization, but her book is truly excellent.
Warning: It will make you mad. Like, furious at the gross stuff the alcohol industry does. I would recommend reading this if you’re already pretty committed to the idea of curbing your alcohol use, because once you know this stuff, it’s hard to unknow. But, it’s a fantastic read and will open your mind to how abusive our relationship with this substance really is.
Remember that you are awesome and every step you take in your life to treat your body, mind, and spirit with all the love you deserve is a step in the right direction!