I’m going to a holiday party with my people tomorrow night, and you’re invited to join us! There will be appetizers and festive non-alcoholic beverages, and lots of people to talk to who are also on a sober journey. I am on a panel at this event to lead a discussion geared toward people on all parts of the spectrum of alcohol use and abuse. If you are sober, this party is for you. If you are considering sobriety, we want you to be there. If you know something is not quite right, but you’re not sure what to do about it, you’ll be in good company at a party like this.
If you’re in the Denver metro, I so very much hope you’ll come to the party so I can meet you in person. If you live somewhere else, I hope you’ll look for an event to attend in your area. That’s really the point here. It has less to do with this specific party on this exact night in this particular town, and everything to do with engaging in your sobriety. If you don’t, you’ll drink. It’s as simple as that.
After six months of running the SHOUT Sobriety program for people in early recovery from alcoholism, and years of studying Alcoholics Anonymous and other modes of recovery, one thing is indisputably clear: The only way to find permanent sobriety is to be engaged in the fight to end the stigma and do the work. Some work. Maybe any work. But if you start to feel comfortable – start to feel like you’ve made it over the hump – and you re-engage with a society that worships alcohol for celebration, mourning, stress relief and entertainment, you’ll drink. That’s just how it works.
Humans are naturally tribal beings. We glom onto people who share our beliefs and passions, and feed off each other. Tribalism isn’t really a bad thing. That connection makes us confident in ourselves and gives us sounding boards as we explore the world around us. When I was drinking, I was working hard to promote the virtues of team alcohol. I drank IPAs long before they were trendy, and was proud of my love of whiskey on the rocks without any mixer to dilute the burn. Alcohol was part of my persona. I arrived early and stayed late at any event that featured booze, and I wanted everyone to know it. I drank in public. I drank in private. I could hold my booze, and I scoffed at those who couldn’t. I developed relationships with fellow drinkers who were loyal and committed to staying until the cooler was empty. Nothing brought me more pride than when a fellow serious drinker would light-up when I walked through the door of the party.
It makes perfect sense that I relapsed so many times (at least a half a dozen) when I tried to quit but stayed in the same tribe. Drinkers value the art of drinking. If you hang around them enough, their thinking will rub off. It’s natural. It doesn’t make you weak minded or easily swayed. Think about it for a minute. If your memories of the good times when you were on team alcohol mix with a room full of people you respect and love who are all hoisting adult beverages, it is human nature to join the imbibing.
That’s why recovery is about so much more than stopping a bad habit. You have to surround yourself with your new teammates on team sobriety. Not all the time. I’m not telling you to ditch your family or your good friends. But you have to develop a new tribe, too. One that gets the new you. One that supports your decision to leave the poison behind and become the best you that you can be. One that doesn’t want to waste chunks of life distorting your brain function and fighting back from dehydration. One that finds pleasure in deep connection and full human function.
You can still party. You just can’t be slobbery, obnoxious and pukey about it anymore. Party sober!
I write about connection a lot. That’s because it is becoming increasingly clear that it is required for a happy, healthy, sober life. If AA is not your jam, no problem. Don’t go to those meetings. But isolation is not an option. You’ve got to get involved. Find connection to people who don’t center all festivities around booze. It’s not an accent to your sobriety like a scarf or a new pair of gloves. Connection is as essential as a winter coat in the arctic. Venturing out without it can be deadly. Sorry for the stark drama, but this stuff is as life and death as jumping from a plane without a chute.
It is the holiday season. For most of us, it is a festive, stressful, joyous, terrifying, loving and expensive month of parties and presents. If you are doing it sober like I am, there is no better time of the year to find that sober connection to help you through. What are some things that make sober drinkers drink? Let’s see – stress, being surrounded by drinkers and financial worries? Yes, yes and yes. You’ve got to counter the natural holiday effects by finding your new tribe and getting involved. Don’t tell me you are too busy right now. If you are in early sobriety, what you are is too vulnerable not to do it now. You’ll drink if you don’t. Maybe you can white-knuckle it through December. But guess what’s next: Cold, dark, lonely January. Find your tribe! They’ll keep you warm.
So, where are they? Where can you find them? What can you do? If you live in or around Denver, come to the Sober Curious mixer tomorrow night, Thursday, December 5th from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at 3899 Jackson Street, Building 2, Denver, Colorado 80205. The event is $25, and you can purchase tickets here. I know what you’re thinking – I used booze to help me relax in social settings. Sober, I’ll be nervous and won’t be comfortable talking to people. Come find me as soon as you get there. I’ll hang with you for sure. I’ll be there alone and looking for people with whom to converse. We practically know each other, what with all this writing and reading we do together. I know socializing sober sounds terrifying. We can both tremble together!
And for the vast majority of you who don’t live in Denver, sober options are out there for you, too. You just have to find them. Start with a Google search for sober events in your area. Our tribe – the sober warriors – we are making substantial progress. You might just find we have stuff going on in your town. And if you don’t find something that’s obviously sober-centric, consider something that just might not feature booze. My wife and I started taking swing dancing lessons on Sunday nights. The lessons are in a bar/restaurant downtown, so we expected a lot of drinking among the other dancers. We were pleasantly surprised to find almost no one drinking despite access to a full bar. The dancers are trying to learn a fun hobby and get to know people. What a refreshing discovery. We go every week we can.
We are out there – the sober tribe. You just have to look a little harder for us because Anheuser-Busch doesn’t spend billions on our marketing. We are dancing and bowling and dog walking and knitting and cooking and rock climbing and discussing books we’ve read (be careful with that last one – it seems a majority of Americans use the phrase “book club” to mean pathetic wine fest).
Here’s an idea that carries with it the added bonus of helping your neighbors in need. Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, coat drive or food pantry. Do you not think the other volunteers are there because they’ve been through some shit that will probably resonate with you? That’s your tribe – sober people help other people at an astronomically high rate (that’s their secret to staying sober). Are you feeling small and unimportant now that your tee-totaling has ripped away your identity as a whiskey drinker? Become that guy who is always helping others. That identity fits awfully well, and doesn’t make your breath stink and your stories repetitive and slurry.
If you want to find your tribe, but you’re having trouble getting started, put some skin in the game. Donate some of your newly-available drinking money to a cause that fights the stigma of addiction, poverty or homelessness (it turns out, they’re all related). Don’t tell me how broke you are. You just finished spending hundreds of dollars a month on booze. You can scrounge up $25 a month for people battling addiction. We’d happily take that $25 off your hands at SHOUT Sobriety to keep our mission going. If you’re struggling to get this accountability ball rolling, take the money you save the next time you go to the grocery store and don’t buy that bottle of wine, and drop it in the Salvation Army bucket on the way to the parking lot. It will feel good to you, and there is a pretty good chance the bell-ringing Santa is in recovery, too (see, you’re new tribe is everywhere).
Connect or die. There I go with the drama again, but I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned, and writing about it is kind of my thing. Donate money, volunteer your time, find sober people having fun without booze or come to our party tomorrow night in Denver. Don’t tell me how busy or broke you are. We’re all busy and most of us will never have enough money. But sustained joy in sobriety is available if we crack our wallet and make time for our recovery.
Like every major change in life, finding a new tribe takes effort and patience. We are out there. Come join us! We are growing in number, and if I have anything to say about it, we’ll keep increasing our volume. Sobriety isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be torture, either. I’m having far more fun in sobriety than I ever had as a drinker. It is amazing how much better life is without the shame and pain of drinking.
If you are looking for a tribe to help you through early recovery from alcoholism, have I got a wonderful group for you. Join the gang at SHOUT Sobriety – our online program helping people around the world to navigate early sobriety. We have a detailed curriculum of recovery work, and a growing population of connected recovery warriors. While we don’t charge an $800 or $1,000 fee for SHOUT Sobriety like similar programs do, we ask for a $25 per month recurring donation to keep the program alive for the next person who needs us. For more information, to make a donation or to enroll, please click the button below.