The other day I had the chance to talk to a friend who was trying on sobriety for 30 days. She was on day 16, loving it (truth, because it's FABULOUS!), and we were going over the challenges that she was facing. Not surprisingly - as I have heard it time and time again - one of the biggest friction points in her experiment was the range of receptivity she was getting from her friends and social circle. Just as I had in those early days, she too was discovering that telling your friends that you don't drink is sometimes harder than not drinking in the first place.
When I stopped drinking the first time in October 2012 for just a few months, I was excited about it. It was like the day I read Skinny Bitch and announced to everyone that I had become a vegan. One day I showed up at a bar, ordered a diet coke, and told my friends I was a non-drinker. It didn't go over as well as I had dreamed. Because I naively thought that me not drinking, at least in societal norms, wouldn't be that big of a deal. Turns out, it was.
The second time I stopped, I was a little more strategic. I began to speak out about how I COULDN'T drink because it was affecting my life, because I had a problem. In my mind, this would make things a lot easier on the people around me, but what I naively thought this time was it was more important to keep other people feeling comfortable rather than make sure that I was comfortable.
Here is the deal. You not drinking is not just a physiological or spiritual decision. It's a social decision. A powerful, badass social decision. And to go into thinking that everything will remain the same is going into it with unrealistic expectations. Things will undoubtedly be different, and a whole host of emotions and awkwardness can arise.
If you are new to sobriety, thinking of trying it out for a stint or for life, or have been sober for a while and still underground with your choice (COMMON), and are anxious about what's in store and how to handle the shifting dynamics your choice will inevitably bring to your social landscape, here are some tips, tricks, learned mistakes, and sage advice from someone who has done it. Twice.
1. Own it. Understand this. Everyone - and I mean EVERYONE - is scared shitless of being themselves to a certain degree. Giving up alcohol means first and foremost, you are not doing something that most all of your friends and social circle does - you are making a subversive, unconventional choice. So OWN IT. Be true to your decision…and I promise you that while there will be encounters that may feel uncomfortable, the truth of the matter is that it's the other people's discomfort, not yours. You are actually setting the trend and raising the bar. #rolemodel.
2. Fake being comfortable until you are. Chances are you've used alcohol to socially lubricate for a long time. And now there you are, the one who doesn't drink, without the grease. The truth is that over time (and quickly) you'll get used to it, and the confidence you gain from NOT drinking will make all situations not only bearable, but empowering. I used to drink before most things that made me uncomfortable - interviews, meeting new people, social mixers, holiday parties, dates, etc. - and at one point the thought of doing these things without a little liquid courage seemed almost unbearable. So I started out faking complete and total comfort and power, and before I knew it, it just took. There's not a situation I go into now where I am concerned about levels of comfort…it's pretty incredible.
3. Other peoples reactions are not about you. This is SO important to understand, and something I plan to write a bit more about. Whatever someone's reaction is to your not drinking - be it the totally heartwarming, totally shitty, or the totally inappropriate - it has NOTHING to do with you. At all. It has to do with them, how they see the world, and what they are projecting on you. Your reaction to them, however, is entirely about you and entirely under your control. Try your best to not take any of it personally and focus on what is true to you.
4. People will say stupid things. This is a cross between the first three. People will for sure say incredibly stupid things about addiction, alcohol, their drinking, your drinking, and take liberties and make assumptions about you. It doesn't happen frequently, but it does. I've heard everything, and most likely, you will too. Over time I've become much more adept at letting these things come through me and having compassion for the other individual, but that wasn't always the case and sometimes still isn't. I found myself many times over engaging with those stupid comments, either to defend myself or totally destroy the other person for being, well, stupid. As both my meditation practice and my security in self has deepened, so too has my ability to let these things wash through me without them affecting me. I use these moments as a training ground now for deepening my equanimity, rather than creating a battle ground.
5. You will not lose your real friends. You will never lose your real friends, and this change if anything is sure to make clear who has staying power. However, it's important you understand that your change means you are essentially acting as a flashlight, shining a light on what might be some of your closest friends dark places - especially if you matched drinks. While some will be able to embrace you and your new choice immediately and support you, it's entirely possible that some of your closest and dearest will need their own adjustment time. Again, remember this is not about you…trust in the process and that no matter what, you are going to be okay, you are loved, you are supported, rejection is universal protection, all that crap. Friendships reincarnate in the same lifetime, while some naturally come to an end, having served their purpose.
6. You will lose people that were in your life because of alcohol. This is certain. There were a few incredibly close relationships that I had with some people - especially towards the end - that were completely based upon our mutual love of alcohol. They fell out of my life almost effortlessly, and painlessly so. Not by choice or on purpose, but just by a matter of not having much in common.
7. You will make new friends. And they will be AWESOME. My circle of friends in the last 19ish months - 24 total since I stopped drinking the first time - has almost entirely reformulated, and the group of close friends I have today includes an entire spectrum of folks, each of which I am eternally grateful for. Some older friendships that had come apart and fallen away came back online, some friendships that were fringe prior to me stopping became much deeper, and the new experiences I went after in my life like yoga training, traveling, writing, social media, and starting Sobriety Club for Girls have ushered in some of the deepest, most authentic relationships of my life. I'm absolutely blessed in this regard today.
8. The things you are afraid of - especially when it comes to the social component of it - may seem big now, but will in retrospect be some of the least significant parts of your path. This sounds almost trite, but it's true. The shift in social dynamics, the stupid comments, the reconfiguration of friendships…all of it is just a side effect of something much more grand: you becoming your most authentic, powerful self. I'm not going to lie and say it's super easy and everything is as good as red lipstick. Because it's not. There were many tears, insecurities, breaks, crushes, burns, tantrums, blow-ups, let-downs, and other tumultuous happenings along the way. For me, it was like the shedding of skin. Things were raw. Things were loud, in color, distinct, and painfully, gorgeously unfiltered. The good, the bad, the blessed and the ugly...it was all worth it and I would do it all again. Because the greatest thing I have ever done came not merely from sobriety…it came form the thousand leaps I made as I chose to live for myself, as myself, and NOT just fit into the tribe.
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