There was this amazing little martini bar my friends and I used to frequent, back when I spent my evenings half-cut and my mornings nursing an unfairly energetic hangover.
When I say it was a “little martini bar,” I mean it was little. It was a tiny place in all conceivable ways — except for the menu. This place had over a hundred martini flavours to serve the masses of eager, spendthrifty college girls (like me) who frequented the place. They were cleverly named — there was the “fancy boy” and “Niagra falls” from what I can recall — and they were beautifully crafted.
At $15 a drink, they ought to have been.
In my more “mature” years, I switched to the more classic and generally respected glass of red wine as my drink of choice. I stopped drinking out as much, too, which should have saved me some money but, when you have a drinking problem, there’s no cheap way to avoid drinking away your funds.
Now that I don’t drink, my evenings out are not only rare, but they’re also considerably less expensive — yay — but one does get awfully bored of sparkling water and ginger ales and diet sodas. What’s worse than the monotony of those ho-hum drinks, though, is the bizarre attention they call to the unfortunate souls drinking them, since those drinks are very obviously not beer or wine or cocktails.
I’ve been asked if I’m pregnant. I’ve been asked if I’m the designated driver — which sometimes I am by default, but that’s an article for another day. Worse than those, though — I’ve been asked, point-blank if I have a drinking problem.
And that’s awkward. Because yeah; I surely do have a drinking problem.
While I am proud of my sobriety and achieving something that so many struggle with, there’s one glaring issue with these probing questions: I don’t always want to discuss the darkest and most humiliating moments of my life with pseudo-strangers.
I know. Weird.
Thankfully I’ve developed a few strategies to avoid the busybodies, and if you’re trying to ditch the habit and the questioning looks from habit hangers-on, I can help you. And I promise: you won’t have to drink boring old sparkling water ever again (unless, for some reason, you enjoy it.)
Before I get into that, though, let’s look at why people are weird about your new lifestyle — I’ve had three years to figure this out and I think I have it cracked.
About those judgey judgers
I can tell you right now that when you quit drinking, people will equate you with some kind of squeaky-clean, nun-like saint who never curses and is silently judging everyone in the vicinity who is not as perfect and controlled as she is. It’s wrong, of course, and entirely unfair, but it’s true.
And one thing’s certain — no one likes partying when there’s a nun sitting right there, sipping judgementally from her San Pellegrino (gross.) It’s kind of like drinking with your Grandma, and that is so not sexy.
According to Google, there are over 81 million results in relation to losing friends when you choose sobriety over booze. It’s an unfortunate side effect of sobriety that most of us don’t anticipate. I know that personally, I didn’t expect it — I’m a very accepting and nonjudgmental person and I felt pretty certain that my sobriety didn’t affect anyone else’s enjoyment in my presence.
I was wrong.
I did lose friends, and that made me sad for a bit. It’s that perceived judgment I mentioned — it gets to people. That’s why in early sobriety, it’s nice to be able to conceal your sobriety just a bit; for your friends’ sake as much as it is for yours. I wish that I had learned this lesson early on.
I could have saved myself a lot of heartache and anxiety.
It’s okay to be discreet
Most of us value our social lives to some degree; it makes sense to attempt to preserve that lifestyle if you can. Sometimes that means putting on a brave face — at least, temporarily.
Wanting to keep your new teetotal lifestyle private is perfectly fine, and doesn’t mean that you feel shame or embarrassment for your new squeaky clean lifestyle. In fact, I sincerely hope it’s the opposite because dude! Look at you go! You’re doing awesome!
When I first quit, I recall a stretch of time in which I was in the euphoria stage of my sobriety; I was happy to tell anyone and everyone all about how wonderful my life had become post-booze. It wasn’t a lie — I felt high on life, lighter than a cloud.
I felt like I’d won.
As time went on, though, things got, for lack of a better description, harder. It was harder to list the pros of my sobriety while I was struggling with it. It was harder to pretend that being around alcohol — especially around the holidays — was easy for me.
It was harder to remember why I got sober in the first place.
In those harder moments, I really didn’t want to discuss it. I wanted to avoid it, to pretend like I was just like everyone else. The trouble was, I wasn’t “everyone else” anymore. “Everyone else” wasn’t affected by alcohol the way I was and it wasn’t fair.
Notice a theme, here? Just because something is unfair doesn’t make it any less true. Addiction is unfair; that’s just the way it is.
I just wanted to blend in and forget. I wanted to get on with the evening and try to enjoy my sobriety as I was surrounded by my polar opposites. As time went on, I lost many of those friends and acquaintances — as one often does when choosing a sober life. I’ve long since come to terms with those losses, but I still find it distracting when I meet up with a group of friends and they’re all drinking alcohol.
They side-eye my drink like it’s on fire. It’s okay though — there are drinks you can order that are both tasty and non-alcoholic, and the best part is that you can blend in with them fairly easily.
Order drinks that don’t invite unwanted questions (mostly)
Having to repeatedly explain your sobriety makes staying on the wagon that much harder — it can feel like you’ve got something to prove.
You don’t. But it’s a tricky topic and it’s almost always awkward.
I still say that above all, you should take great pride in your sobriety and put it right out there, but telling your fellow bar-hoppers is not always a great party starter and I can tell you from experience, sharing the same sad story again and again can be draining — for everyone.
In general, people who are drinking will be more comfortable drinking around you if they don’t have to think about sobriety. Beyond that, it’s better for everyone (at least, in those early days) if your drinks aren’t obviously not alcoholic, like the go-to for any recovered alcoholic, sparkling water.
If you are drinking sparkling water all night, you might as well be wearing a big neon “hi there, I’m sober” sign. Left to their own devices, people will either think that you are pregnant, or, more likely, an alcoholic. There are those who might think you’re some kind of crunchy health nut who views the body as a temple or something, but mostly, folks will suspect that you have issues.
There are some drinks that can fool the masses, and if you’re really sneaky, you can order your drinks at the bar to help your stealthiness. Drinks like a virgin bloody mary or caesar, sprite and cranberry syrup, and a plethora of specialty mocktails — like a Roy Rogers or Shirley Temple — that all look pretty legit and usually prevent too many questioning gazes.
They’re also quite tasty. And less expensive and hey! No hangover! What’s not to love?
Lots of bars have a decent non-alcoholic section on their menu and if they don’t, they’ll usually be able to make any cocktail virgin when requested. Again, if you’re feeling uncomfortable about uttering the words “non-alcoholic” at first, it’s almost always possible to order more discreetly at the bar.
Personally, I have found great success simply ordering a ginger beer on ice. It’s classic, it usually looks a bit “fancier” than soda or sparkling water, and it tastes pretty refreshing. I find that I can sip on that most of the evening, too, and that makes for a fairly inconspicuous drink.
If you’re not a fan, though, shop around. Find a drink that suits your palette and stick with it for as long as you like. Experiment — have fun!
Avoid bars if you’re tempted
Another tip to discreetly ditch the drink is to avoid places where people drink if you don’t trust your willpower.
Don’t feel bad about this. Newly sober people tend to fall off the wagon more often if they spend a lot of time around drinkers or people drinking. I tend to not be swayed too much by people drinking around me — especially when they get drunk. I remember all too well the fun of hangovers and reflecting on embarrassing late-night text exchanges post-drunkenness, and it’s not at all appealing these days. Drunk people are also not as hot as they think.
I still avoided people at all costs in those early days, however. I simply didn’t trust myself at the time. I’d been drinking steadily for nearly two decades and had become a professional when it came to convincing myself that I didn’t really have a problem; that I could quit at any time.
That I wouldn’t become addicted if I had just one drink.
I am pretty sure I’d be fine, but I’m also pretty sure that if I could talk myself into having “just one drink” I could talk myself right back into my addiction.
Most friends were accepting of this antisocial phase in my life and in my sobriety. I soon learned, however, that not everyone would stick around.
Accept your losses — you will have them
I used to think, in my early sober days, that I would never be that sober person who loses friends over her sobriety. I don’t have many friends who drink in excess, for one, and I also was blessed with an iron will, unlikely to bend in the presence of other drinkers.
That didn’t always end up being true, however, and while I never leapt from the wagon, I was certainly tempted. Because my vow was to quit drinking forever. Do you know how long forever is? It’s a long freaking time. That’s an awfully dreary thought, sometimes — briefly, anyway. Then I remember everything I’ve gained by not drinking anymore, including my kids, and I get over it.
It might be in your best interest to surround yourself with people who genuinely support your sobriety, and that might mean losing a few problematic phone numbers. There are people who will claim to support your sobriety while drinking like a fish themselves and boasting about how wonderful alcohol is — or boasting that they don’t have a problem when in reality, they just might.
Side note: these are the “friends” who will probably disappear from your life, and honestly, that’s cool. You’re not missing out. I promise. You can hold the door open for those folks; bolt it behind them if you can.
They’ll only bring about bad juju and you have enough to deal with as it is.
I learned roughly two years into my sobriety that my choice meant something different to some people than what it meant to me. My decision to quit drinking became more about them than it did about me; it became a judgement. It changed me — in their eyes — into someone they couldn’t be comfortable with anymore.
There will still be friends who are comfortable drinking around you, and you know what? You might find yourself being a good influence on others. I’ve been out with friends who knew I was sober, and for some reason, they tended to drink less. Maybe it’s age, maybe they wanted to cut back anyway — I don’t know. But I suspect that a part of it is that they feel just a little weird drinking around a sober friend, kind of like eating a cookie in front of someone who’s trying to cut out sugar.
It’s an innocent and unintended kind of guilt trip that might help them make healthier decisions anyway, so I don’t mind if they don’t want to eat their proverbial cookie in front of me. I won’t ask them to be sober, but I appreciate the gesture.
Sobriety isn’t for everyone
Remember that this is a huge, amazing, incredible choice you’ve made for yourself. It’s the right choice for you — it’s the smart choice for most people, come to think of it.
But very few will make the same choice.
There’s a reason there are so many AA chapters in the world, and with over 2 million members, it’s a good thing there are so many safe havens for them to escape to. But it’s also a clear indication that alcohol has a seriously addictive power over those who suffer from alcohol abuse disorder; we need all the help we can get.
Sobriety is hard. For some, it’s impossible. For others, it’s a lifelong struggle; a battle of wills. There are a ton of people who flat-out aren’t ready to take on that fight.
There are even more who aren’t even close to willing.
With that in mind, your best bet when out with drinkers is to avoid preaching sobriety. It’s just not the right time — it’s definitely not the right place. Think back to your drinking days: would some stuck-up, know-it-all sober person explaining all the benefits of sobriety to you have convinced you that you should and would quit?
We all know the answer to that question.
So just stick to your guns and sip your ginger beer (or mocktail, whatever) like the good little sober warrior you are, and feel secure in your excellent decision-making skills. One thing’s for certain: if anyone’s going to wake up with a hangover tomorrow, you can rest easy knowing that it won’t be you.
And remember — you don’t have to explain your sobriety to anyone if you don’t want to. Discreetly ditching your drinking habit might help you head down the same lifelong journey of millions of sober people before you, so try it. Early sobriety is a delicate period — do what you need to do to get through it one day at a time.
That is the company motto, after all.
This post was previously published on Better Humans.
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