Last Saturday at a party I saw many people I hadn’t seen since I stopped my daily wine habit earlier this year. Some people said straight out: “Man, you’ve lost weight!” or “Isn’t your husband feeding you anymore?” or “Wow, you look great!” (my personal fave, cutting to the chase). Others just kind of looked me up and down, clearly noticing the change. I was never really that overweight, but for sure I was borderline; what they saw then but is gone now is mostly the bloated, puffed-out face and figure of a highly-functioning alcoholic which I dragged around for years.
When I drank I was in denial about many things, but one that continues to surprise me is how I could block out just how many calories and sugar are in an average bottle of wine. Add savory, salty, cheesy snacks ON TOP OF DINNER AND ALL THAT WINE on any given night, so yes of course it’s no wonder I looked like the Michelin Man.
While I am more than happy to be rid of the accompanying physical bloat of alcohol addiction, the release of the weight of anxiety means more to me than any compliment I may receive on my appearance. Because I have quit drinking I am better able to handle conflict, awkward situations, and challenges. The daily intake of alcohol made my situation much worse – not better.
The beautiful summer weather is here, along with cracking thunderstorms, bugs, and way, way too many opportunities to find some event outside where drink is involved. In the upper Midwest when it finally gets warm people tend to go a little nuts as we learn that the sun still exists and it has not forsaken us. Between street festivals, outdoor concerts, craft markets, sports events, food trucks, restaurant patios, open brewery halls and ubiquitous home barbecues, the presence of alcohol IS EVERYWHERE.
Nearly four months sober I tread lightly in this world of warm weather celebration, where it’s assumed that everyone wants a drink to accompany whatever cool thing they are doing. Why yes, I would like a nice frosty IPA while I move from venue to venue at the art fair. A cool, crisp glass of white wine is the perfect thing to sip on the Italian restaurant patio (while waiting for the 1300 calorie pasta dish). And let’s face it, what good is a lazy swing on backyard hammock without a gin and tonic in hand?
Unless I want to white-knuckle through while everyone else drinks, where does this leave me? Sitting at home watching Netflix, or, at last I can dive into that collection of Chekhov stories, while the warm sunlight dances over the boozy crowds?
To walk among the drinkers and not drink is one of the hardest things about sobriety.
I did it. I lasted the long weekend without letting drink interfere with my sobriety goals. And, I socialized. I went to a baseball game and a barbecue. I walked through the neighborhood filled with the sounds of little kids playing, adults laughing (and drinking), and teenagers driving fast with music blaring from their car windows (don’t tell me they were sober).
Was it hard to not drink my usual glass of crisp white wine so I could feel a part of all the other people celebrating the start of summer? Did I find myself looking longingly at my friend’s glass as she took sip after sip of her drink? Did the smell of the spilled beer on the patio make me think of days past when my summers were spent at kegs and outdoor festivals? Yes, yes, and yes. Did I miss being hungover and unproductive this morning as I watched the neighborhood slowly come to life, sat and wrote, sketched out a story idea, and threw in a load of laundry? No, no, and no.
The discomfort of being sober while everyone around me is drinking cannot be ignored. I walked through it by accepting the feeling. Yes, it was hard. I wanted to drink along with everyone else. What guided me through the cravings were these incentives:
Sleeping continuously through the night, waking refreshed
Getting up and feeling ready for the day, which now seems filled with possibility…there are not enough hours to do what I want to accomplish!
Having more honest conversations with people – at home, at work, socially
Anxiety, restlessness, and depression are not gone entirely, but they are mere shadows compared to when I drank every day
Slimmer figure, better skin, clearer eyes, more energy!
Improved endurance, whether mentally (writing, painting) or physically (at the gym, house chores)
Keeping these incentives top of mind is one critical component of my sobriety toolkit. What are your incentives to stay away from drink when the discomfort and cravings kick in?
Tonight I am meeting up with my usual group of friends for a backyard barbeque. The host has a cooler the size of a bathtub in which he fills to the brim a variety of beers and wine. Everyone who goes to these gatherings drinks, a lot. I used to be one of them.
Now I have to figure out how to get through the night without drinking. I will drink spring water and try my best to talk along with the rest of them, hearing the same old stories, jokes, and laughter about things that are only mildly funny. Since I decided to stop drinking, this is my first time “out” with everyone. To be able to get through the night without anyone pointing out the fact that I am not drinking is impossible. I want to have my mind made up as to how I will answer, but I really don’t know what to say. The stigma of sobriety still hangs heavy over me. Unlike some bloggers who wear it loud and proud, I am still dipping my toe in regarding how to deal with being sober in these drink-laden social events.
I realize that I can’t control how other people think or feel and I need to be true to myself and my sobriety goals. Most of all, I realize too that what other people think about usually rarely has anything to do with me. I will get there, and I am trying. It would be more self-defeating of me to simply avoid the situation altogether, which would be easy to do. But they are my friends, and I can’t simply cut them out of my life because they drink and I do not. I can control how often I see them, maybe, and try to build new relationships with other people who are sober. It’s a long road, and I’m only on the first stretch.
How do you manage your social life now that you are sober?
Yesterday I listened to the Soberful podcast for the first time. In one of the episodes the hosts discussed how when you become sober, the world opens up. You start to see and feel things you couldn’t while drinking. In the process of drinking not only do the negative emotions and feelings you can’t face get pushed back, but the blinders and fog of alcohol also shield you from the good things: the beauty of the sky, the trees, a thoughtful conversation.
Now that I’ve quit drinking, my senses are opening up and I am taking the time to fully absorb what is around me. I am less anxious to move on and more patient in the moment. The exception is at gatherings where other people are drinking. When sober I find myself knowing the difference between an actual witty, thought-provoking conversation and a stale, bullshit rant, the flavor of which I’ve heard dozens of times before.
Now that the promise of warmer weather feels real after a horrible winter, I know there will be plenty of barbeques and microbrew patio opportunities, and my husband will want to go to every one. If I am being true to myself and honoring my wish to be sober I would rather do something else than sit around with people who are drinking, laughing at the same anecdotes, complaining about the same things, and quite often just staring into their phones anyway, not really engaging with one another at all.
Saying no gives the impression that I am anti-social or a snob, so I lean towards going along with the flow and putting myself in that awkward, stressful situation. I don’t really care if people notice that I’m not drinking. Most people just care about themselves and won’t really notice or care what I am doing, whether it’s drinking or playing Scrabble on my phone. When drinking, people lose their sense of awareness anyway. By the time they’re three or four drinks in they will have forgotten what you just said, let alone what type of drink may be in your glass. What stresses me out is that I will be bored. That I am wasting my time. I would rather be hiking, reading, painting, cooking, or writing. So, where does that leave me socially?
It’s time to find new friends and expand my network. When drinking I was good at keeping to myself, and I still am, but I was also partially afraid to step out and take chances. Not confident enough to seek out like-minded people who also write and paint, who read books and talk about ideas, who understand what it means to live a sober, or moderate-drinking life.