It took me ten years to quit drinking. Ten! Almost no matter how long this little earthly jaunt lasts for me, that’s a double-digit percentage of my life spent trying to quit drinking. I know I make abstinence look effortless and marvelous now in my fourth year of permanent sobriety, but I know how gruelling it is early on (and by early sobriety, I mean that whole first year – don’t get cocky early on me now, unless you want it to take you a decade to get over that hump).
I wanted sobriety to change nothing for me. I wanted to go through my normal life, just without a beer in my hand. It doesn’t work that way – not for me, nor for any of the thousands of sober badasses with whom I’m familiar. Sobriety changes everything, but in a good way (which I never believed possible until a couple of years ago).
I made all the mistakes in the book of failed recovery efforts. I kept my busy social schedule in early sobriety. I stared temptation in the eye and dared it to be in total control of my neurotransmitters and subconscious mind (which it was, by the way). I even became a non-alcoholic beer connoisseur before there were any good non-alcoholic beers. It was a skunky, arrogant, impatient, ignorant disaster.
That was my story. I don’t want that to be your story. Enough about my failure. Here are the three keys to socializing sober – and loving it!
One – Let Those Sobriety Muscles Grow
I can attend any social function with any amount of alcoholic overtones without feeling cravings, jealousy, longing or shame. Even thinly veiled drunkfests posing to be legitimate occasions don’t twist my tassels anymore. Grown adults getting obliterated and repeating bad jokes is annoying and boring for me, but it is not tempting in any way.
But this takes time. A lot of time. At least a year is required to begin to rewire your subconscious mind and feel proud to be free from liquid poison. So, take out your calendar, and go month by month, considering every known and anticipated social event to which you will or likely will be invited. Analyze each one, and only circle the ones that are absolute career or family necessities. Don’t cheat and circle your old favorites – circle only the ones where your absence will result in serious negative consequences. Now, cross all of the uncircled events out.
Bob’s annual brisket barbeque and beer bash? Cross that one out as unnecessary. I don’t care who is counting on you for what. I don’t care how much fun you’ve had for how many years. I don’t even care if you have the best brisket barbeque trophy from last year, and are expected to award it to this year’s winner. I don’t care because you are not going. You’ll thank me in years to come when you are the life of the party, drinking your soda water with a lime, because you are sharper, whittier and a better barbequer than anyone else in attendance.
Christmas with your family – I get it, you’ve probably got to go. The annual company awards ceremony – that one’s going to suck, but you can white knuckle it through one corporate event. The rest of them – they’ve all got to go. Make up excuses well in advance. Lie if you have to. God and your moral compass will both understand. You are up against a societal stigma that makes drinking as necessary as oxygen, and releasing yourself from its grip is a warrior’s work. Think of how many times alcohol has lied to you. Do whatever it takes to clear your normal social calendar for a year for the sake of your enjoyment of all the following years to come.
Use the social hiatus to read about brain chemistry, learn about addiction nutrition, create connection with other sober evolutionaries, get comfortable with all the emotions you’ve always numbed away and reconnect with your family. That’s what I call growing your sobriety muscles, and it won’t happen if you keep running in and out of the lion’s den trying to avoid getting eaten alive by your faulty cranial wiring.
Two – Find Sober Stuff to Do
My wife and I started swing dancing a little over a year into my sobriety. The classes we take are in a really eclectic, bohemian bar/restaurant in downtown Denver. The place has a liquor license, and there is a server assigned to bringing food and drinks to the dancers, but almost no one drinks. We are there to learn, and to flounder around like blind, rhythmless, baby giraffes. It’s as if everyone is having so much fun that no one even thinks to drink alcohol. Rather than an accessory as it is in most social settings, booze would be a hindrance as we are all trying to keep up with the most talented instructors, and laugh at our triumphs and mistakes. It is as much fun as I’ve had with my clothes on, and there is absolutely no boozy vibe.
We all know our swing dance haven is the exception to the rule, but other exceptions exist, too. Go find them! Get involved in an adult sports league like volleyball, soccer, tennis or basketball. Sure, the rest of your team will likely go for beers after the game, but stop focusing on the negatives. Enjoy the time with them on the court or field. The action isn’t in retelling tired, old, slurred stories in the bar. Get out, stretch your legs, meet some people and have fun on your terms.
How about a book club that actually reads books. The good thing about the reputation the mommy wine culture now has is that you can ask, upfront, about the real purpose of the group without offending anyone. A friend of mine recently posted to a neighborhood moms group asking if anyone wanted to get together for an event without alcohol, and the response was overwhelming. Your tribe is out there. You’ve just got to find them.
Why not start right now – this week! Along with Denver’s most outspoken sober evolutionaries, I’m hosting an event Thursday night, May 14th at 6pm MDT. It will be by ZOOM, of course, but we are going to sip some delicious zero proof beverages and discuss, among other things, the challenges and advantages to socializing sober. Registration is free, but also required. When you register, you’ll receive some delicious zero proof beverage recipes courtesy of Bar Zero. Come hang out with us. Ask questions in the chat. Stop stressing about socializing sober and start doing it!
Three – Come Out and Meet All Your Sober Friends and Neighbors
I came out as sober to over 3,000 people when I was a year into sobriety, and it changed my life forever. I received the support I expected from friends and family. I did not lose my job as I expected. The most amazing and unexpected result of my announcement, and subsequent commitment to recovering out loud, has been the relationships I’ve developed with others who are sober or struggle with alcohol. Guess what – you are not alone. Millions and millions of people have a turd-smoking relationship with alcohol. They are looking for you while you are looking for them. If we all keep our mouths shut, we will never find each other.
I have met the most interesting and engaging people through my open dedication to the enlightenment of sobriety. Some of the old-school AA people like to tell me in their cute little code that they are “friends of Bill” (the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous). Others whisper their admissions to me, while still others don’t say a word, but suddenly take an interest in hanging out. The best are the people who find courage in my admission to speak out about their sobriety, too.
There is an evolution taking place, and you don’t want to miss out. We are going to crush the stigma and reveal alcohol for the brain-warping poison that it is. You are either with us or against us, and I’m not in the mood to take prisoners (of course, if you change your mind, you can be with us later – we are not monsters, after all). Do you remember when smoking was cool? Alcohol is a much bigger, more ingrained behemoth, but the bigger they are, the harder they fall, right?
You can do this. You can have fun without alcohol. In fact, your memories are always a ton better when you haven’t embarrassed yourself, and you can remember them.
What percentage of your life do you want to waste trying ineffectively to quit drinking? Don’t make the same mistake I made. Trade in your one-way ticket to the gates of hell for a ride on the freedom train. There’s room for you. In fact, we can use all the support we can get.
If you are ready to join the evolution, please enroll in our SHOUT Sobriety program for people in early sobriety. If you are a high-functioning alcoholic, we can use your energy and capabilities to keep this movement really going. We’ll give you all the connection and support you could need to turn your life around. We are a donation-based program, and we ask a $25 per month recurring donation from our participant to help fund the mission. You can stop donating anytime if it’s just not working for you. For more information, to donate or to enroll, please click the button below.