When I started this blog, I never thought I’d write a post like this. I keep writing my thoughts out, then deleting it all. I don’t really know where to begin, especially on a post titled staying sober. For some reason I find myself compelled to write about this topic though. And so here we are.
I started this blog about 4 years ago. In the beginning it was more of a personal diary for myself, rather than a public platform to share with others. I wanted to get serious about healthy living, eating right, and exercising. And this blog became my private space to keep track of that journey. My life has evolved a lot over the last 4 years. I adopted a vegan lifestyle. I traveled all over the world. I got really into minimalism, and the philosophies behind simple living. I also became passionate about the zero waste movement, and sustainability.
And as we enter 2020, a new year, a new decade, I find myself reflecting on other lifestyle habits I’d like to adopt or let go of. Which brings us to sobriety.
But let’s be honest. This is a post about alcohol.
The Challenges of Staying Sober
Truth be told, I’ve secretly wanted to say good-bye to drinking for a long time now. Sober life, for some reason, has appealed to me for awhile. But peer pressure is a force and I always found myself getting sucked back in. Whether a group of friends wanted to meet for drinks at a bar, or have a more intimate night-in with a movie and drinks on the couch at home– I’ve always had a hard time saying no when pressured to drink.
Alcohol: The Good Parts
What’s worse though, is that I like to drink. I’ve always liked how alcohol allowed me to loosen up in social situations. I like how it allows me to transform my naturally introverted self into one of those charismatic life-of-the-party extroverts I always admired. I like how alcohol allows me to be less socially awkward, and have effortless conversations with others. In short, I like how it makes me feel like I can more easily connect with people.
Alcohol: The Bad Parts
Over the years I learned to hate and dread a lot about drinking too though, like the morning hangovers. In my early 20’s hangovers were nothing; a walk in the park. Now in my late 20’s they’re earth shattering– like someone is trying to scoop out my frontal lobe with a melon baller. And every ounce of hydration from my body has been sucked dry. It doesn’t matter these days if I have 1 drink or 1 sip. Headaches from drinking are completely unavoidable now.
The thing is though, I’ve never had a rock bottom moment from drinking. You know, the classic “sign from the Universe” that something’s not right. I’ve never gotten a DUI before, or gotten in trouble with the law because of drinking. I’ve never been fired from a job because of drinking, or lost relationships because of it. I don’t hide alcohol around the house and sneak sips when people aren’t looking. I’ve never had to go to the hospital to get my stomach pumped, and I’m not dependent on it.
In fact, I usually go months between one drinking moment and the next. I’m not the kind of person to have a drink with dinner, or come home from work every day and feel the need to crack one open. But whenever those classic “party events” happened in a given year– like 4th of July weekend, new years eve, a friend’s birthday night– I almost always drank more than I intended to.
And even though I realize I’m capable of having just a single drink or two in more chill settings, like if I’m at a friend’s house playing video games, the fear of the next “party moment” in recent years began to give me a huge sense of unease.
Trying Out Sobriety Once Again
I’ve been mulling over these confusing feelings for a few weeks now, trying to reconcile that I was once again at this point that I’ve been at before, but couldn’t succeed at. I want to stop drinking, at least for awhile, maybe forever? I don’t really know, and I’m not putting labels on it either. I’m just taking things one day at a time. But I’m also afraid of failing again. I’m afraid of the peer pressure that I know is imminent at the next social gathering I attend. I’m afraid of the awkward conversations my choice not to drink may spark.
And by the way, how weird is that last fear? I find it fascinating that alcohol is the only drug where if you choose not to partake in it, you will be relentlessly asked why.
The Relentless “Whys”
- “Why? Are you pregnant?”
- “Why? Is it for religious reasons?”
- “Oh come on, just one drink!”
- “Why? Oh, you don’t want a beer? How about a mixed drink then. No? I have wine too, or cider. I’ll make you a mixed drink, you’ll love it!”
- “Why? Are you on some medication or something?”
- “Fine, how about a shot then…”
- “Why? Are you the DD tonight? Just Uber.”
- “I’ll feel weird if I’m drinking and you aren’t. Come on, just one!”
- “Why? Is this some new health thing you’re doing?”
- “Why? Liquor is vegan you know, it’s fine.”
- “What do you mean you’re staying sober tonight? Do you have a problem? Are you an Alcoholic?”
I’ve been asked variations of all these questions before, rapid-fire-style. It can be exhausting to navigate. Having to say no, no, no over and over again.
That last question really grates on me too. Because I feel like society has done a great job at warping our perception of alcohol. Either there are “normal drinkers” who can drink any amount of alcohol, any time, with zero consequences. Or there are “raging alcoholics” that get the shakes when they go too long without a fix, day-drink out of brown paper bags and sleep under overpasses. And as long as you’re not in the second category, then you’re fine… right? This is totally wrong and unhelpful.
There’s a whole spectrum of middle-area that’s missing from that picture. Countless groups of people that don’t feel like they fit in society’s black and white boxes of “teetotaler” or “alcoholic” –and so they don’t know where they belong in the discussion on being alcohol free. You don’t need to wait until things get “bad enough” for you to quit though. And you certainly don’t need to assign any labels to yourself, simply to quit a habit you’ve decided no longer has a place in your life.
And to me, it really doesn’t matter what I call it. The real question is, would my life be better without alcohol in it? For me that answer is yes. So I decided to try sobriety out, and simply not drink for awhile. I don’t know how long that “awhile” will be, but the answer to that question isn’t important to me right now.
And so, a few days before a new decade began, I decided to simply stop drinking for a time.
December 31, 2019 I went to a new year’s eve party, and it was my first sober new years eve in over a decade. I also lied about it.
My Sober New Years Eve Experiment
Remember that tricksy little devil on my shoulder I mentioned? Named Peer Pressure? Well I straight-up just didn’t want to deal with it that night. I didn’t want to get hounded with the “Why” questions either, and have to tell a bunch of people over and over no I’m not pregnant, no I’m not this, or that, or whatever. And so I came up with a great idea. My husband and I went to a liquor store before arriving. I bought club soda and cranberry juice, and the entire night I made myself mocktails that looked pretty convincing on the outside, but were sans-liquor on the inside. And do you want to know what happened?
I HAD A GREAT TIME. I had no problem flowing from one conversation to the next. I didn’t worry about “not coming out of my shell” enough, or being the quiet weirdo in the corner. We played a hilarious board game at one point called Telestrations (after dark edition), which is like a cross between Pictionary, Cards Against Humanity and Telephone. I laughed so hard I cried during certain rounds. My husband and I shared a new years eve countdown kiss. I had a genuinely amazing night with friends I hadn’t seen in awhile. And at no point was my “fun” reliant on alcohol. It was an incredible feeling. And let’s not forget how INCREDIBLE I felt waking up on January 1st, fresh-eyed, no hangover, ready to start the new year off with healthy food, a yoga session, and other good-for-me habits.
I have another secret little trick I used recently over the holidays. After my husband and I arrived at a party, I’d wait to “get a drink” until my husband finished his first beer. After he had one he would take the bottle to the kitchen sink (sneakily), rinse it out, fill it up with water, and hand it to me. Boom. I had a drink in-hand all night!
Only he and I knew that it was a beer bottle filled with water though.
Lessons Learned From A Sober New Years Eve
What I learned about staying sober on new years eve, was that all the nervousness I built up in my head ended up being for nothing. I was peer pressured a little bit that night (when I didn’t have one of my mocktails in-hand) but I didn’t give in. I was worried about needing alcohol to “loosen up” and be social, but that didn’t end up being true either. I was worried about being bombarded with the “Whys” that I’m not ready to answer yet, but my mocktail deception came in for the win. I was worried about the night not being as “memorable” or “fun” without some kind of alcohol-fueled spontaneity, but that also ended up being untrue.
My biggest takeaway though, was the overwhelming feeling of how PROUD I was. I navigated one of the heaviest drinking nights of the entire year without breaking a promise I had made to myself. And that will always feel better than any hard cider or vodka-cran’s effect on me.
The Future Of My Sobriety Experiment
Moving forward, I don’t want to have to rely on my deception trick forever. I don’t even know if the “I don’t want to drink right now” phase I’m in is for forever. The questions that revolve around someone who chooses not to drink can be uncomfortable, but I want to be able to start handling them better. So where does that leave my rambling thoughts on this topic? Well, I have 2 things I’d like to touch on before I call this post a wrap.
Tips For Those Curious About Staying Sober
First, I’d like to leave you with some thoughts if you’re someone like me. Someone who thinks that maybe they’d like to try sobriety out for awhile too. Live alcohol free for a time. Let me say this as simply as I can:
You’re not alone.
You’re not alone in thinking that your life could be better off without alcohol. You don’t have to label yourself as an alcoholic to decide to stop drinking either. Remember that it doesn’t matter matter what you call it, it matters what you do about it. So what do you want for yourself?
Also remember that quitting something you love (or love/hate) — be it a doomed relationship, or martinis — rarely happens in one moment. It is an accumulation of failed attempts. Don’t beat yourself up too badly if you vow to stop drinking for awhile, then find yourself back in old habits shortly after. Quitting habits is hard work. Just keep trying.
Finally, don’t be afraid to explore why you want to quit drinking (or some other bad habit). And I mean, really explore those reasons.
I used alcohol to mask my insecurities in social situations so people would think I was cool and clever and more fun than I believed myself to be. But alcohol isn’t the reason I am (or am not) those things. I realize that now– in my late 20s. I wish my young 20s self could have realized it sooner.
At the same time, you also don’t need an epiphany moment to decide to quit a bad habit. Wanting to quit the bad habit is reason enough, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation. Reflection is for the person doing the reflecting.
Tips For Those With A Sober Curious Friend
Next, I have a few closing thoughts I’d like to leave for people who may know someone that is trying out sobriety.
Be supportive, and leave judgement at the door.
Maybe reading a story like mine will make you cringe, and regretfully realize that you were on the “pressuring” side of peer pressure before. I know for a fact that I’ve been a “pressure-er” before. And to those who I’ve pressured to drink in the past– I’m sorry. My intentions were good, but I never considered until recently how my insistence might have made you feel uncomfortable.
You can support your sober curious family member or friend in a variety of ways. You can not drink when you’re around them in solidarity, or try to find activities together that don’t involve drinking. Maybe one of your go-to activities you like to do with your sober curious friend is wine & movie nights at home. You can still watch movies together at home, but having mocktail options, along with cocktail options, would be a really thoughtful gesture. You could also make it a cookies and hot cocoa kind of night instead!
The Biggest Challenge With Staying Sober: Feeling Normal
You can also support your sober curious friend by helping to normalize the choice not to drink. Drinking is so ingrained in our culture. It’s pretty much assumed and expected that everyone partakes in it. When you’re at a social event and you say you’re not drinking you can be met with funny looks, or worse, the bombardment of the “Whys.” Or even worse, the peer pressure can start.
“Come on, one drink won’t hurt…”
You can choose a different path though. Here’s how that conversation could go:
Person A: “Hey, want a drink? We have beer, vodka and mixers on the counter over there.”
Person B: “No thanks, I’m good for now.”
Person A: “Ok. So, what have you been up to lately?”
And… scene! Person A nods in simple acceptance and then moves on to other topics of conversation. By not dwelling on the fact someone’s denying a drink, and treating it like a normal choice, it can go a long way to making person B feel like less of an outsider about it.
Because that’s what staying sober by choice can feel like sometimes. It can make you feel like an outsider at social events. It’s uncomfortable, and it can make others uncomfortable to be around you. As if your choice not to drink somehow shines a light on their drinking, and they have this subconscious nagging in the back of their mind of feeling judged by you. Which of course, isn’t true.
But it’s one of the reasons why every time I tried to cut back on drinking in the past, or quit for a few months at a time, I relied on my “sneaky acts of deceit” to get by at social gatherings. Water in a rinsed out beer bottle.
Sober Life May Be The New Me, Or It May Not
If I learned anything from my sober new years eve experience though, it’s that you can 100% have a great time at a party without drinking. So I definitely believe that choosing sobriety should become a more socially accepted preference. All it will take to make that a reality is a little bit of perseverance from those like myself that are staying sober by choice. And a little bit of support and non-judgement from those that have sober curious people in their lives.
If you choose not to drink anymore, that’s ok. If you decide you just want to be more mindful about drinking, that’s ok. If you decide you simply want to cut back on it a bit, that’s ok. And if you want to continue drinking like you normally do, that’s OK too.
I don’t look down on those that choose to drink at all. In fact I feel completely indifferent about it. Drink around me, or don’t drink around me– you do you. My choice to stop drinking for awhile is entirely personal, and has nothing to do with anyone else. So remember that too, when you interact with people who are curious about experimenting with sobriety.
Closing Thoughts On Staying Sober
I think that about wraps up my thoughts on this for now. I never thought I’d write a post on Spartan Life about sobriety. To be honest, I’m a bit nervous about it because it’s a topic I’ve never discussed on here before.
But if the words in this post comfort or resonate with even one other person out there, then I’ll be happy I wrote it. If any part of this post speaks to you, know that you’re not alone. In fact, there’s a growing movement behind you of people that are starting to discuss living alcohol-free more openly. Know that you can make any change in your life that you want to. It just takes a bit of courage to start.
To me, Spartan Life is all about healthy and happy living. Some posts may be a discussion on diet, while others are about consumption and how our lifestyle choices effect the planet. I think sobriety is a health choice that fits with the theme of my writing, so it may be something I write about more in the future.
If you enjoyed this post, or have any thoughts of your own about the topic of staying sober by choice, I’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think!
And as always, thanks for reading.