Getting Sober Young Isn’t Social Suicide
Well, you’re sober now. You may as well write a farewell letter to your friends, dust off your public library card, and get ready to spend your Friday nights knitting sweaters for the four cats you’ve adopted in anticipation of your new “indoor” lifestyle.
The truth is, while you may temporarily end up steering clear of the kind of parties where you leave smelling like a bar, you’ll find plenty of fun things to do in place of all that. While the people, places, and things in your life will change and shift, it’s almost always for the better, and it’s because you’re ready for something better.
You just have to know how to navigate it, and what to expect.
The truth is, you may lose some friends, but you will definitely make new ones.
“It’s important to look at the value in each friendship you have and assess those relationships,” says Tina Muller of Mountainside Treatment Center. “It gets easier after you walk away from unhealthy friendships and learn what a truly healthy relationship looks like.”
When you drank and partied, you naturally gravitated toward people who did it the way you did it – hardcore and frequently – and had access to “the good life.” Once you take a step back from that lifestyle, a few of the friends who still live there may become distant.
Beth Leipholtz, now 23, spent her freshman and sophomore years of college drinking on the weekends, then on Thursdays, then on other weekdays. When she got sober at age 20, she was concerned that she’d be missing out on the “college experience” and lose her friends for good.
“I was afraid that the same people wouldn’t want to spend time with me when I stopped, that I would no longer be invited places, that I wouldn’t know how to have fun anymore,” she said. “At the time it seemed as if my world was coming to a screeching halt.”
Over time, Leipholz realized these fears were unfounded. She had real friends, after all.
If you do start to lose touch, know this: it may feel like a major loss, but your real friends are the people who will text and call you back, are happy to do non-alcohol related activities with you, and support your decision. These people who care how you’re doing, not what you’re doing.
Which leads me to my next point: there are fun things to do.
Pretty much anything you can do while drinking, you can do without drinking. With that being said, for at least the first year, you may want to avoid the alcohol-saturated dance floors of clubs you used to charm your way into, or the beer-scented dorm rooms of buddies who throw ragers.
With the Internet at your fingertips, you can easily find activities that don’t involve drinking. Dance parties are taking place at 7am and 7pm in most major cities now. Museums across the country host tons of fun events, and unique classes abound, stuff like mozzarella cheese-making, salsa dancing, bungee jumping, and aerial yoga.
Of course, there are also endless volunteer opportunities (did someone say service?). You just have to look for them the way you looked for your next opportunity to drink or use.
“Try signing up for a class like improv or learning a new language. Find something that interests you and is fun, and you will give yourself the chance to meet others who choose things other than alcohol when they want to have fun.”
The people you meet at these events tend to remember your name and actually connect with you, as opposed to providing the false sense of identification you both felt while drunk. or high.
You didn’t decide to get sober because everything was going just peachy for you, so own your choice and own your truth. You may never want to go to a club again because you realize that it’s kind of a silly, shallow place that’s void of any real connections no matter how full of people it is.
“Nobody in sobriety is ever necessarily ‘safe’ or ‘ready’ to be put in a situation that revolves around alcohol. Sobriety is a daily battle that isn’t necessarily based on time abstinent,” says Jaime Gleicher, LMSW.
“It isn’t always realistic to skip all social activities because the truth is, alcohol exists, and sober people need to have tools in place to be around it.”
Make some sober pals and actually spend time with them. If you fellowship, you’re bound to be invited on outings like hikes, non-alcoholic parties, meditation retreats and pot-luck brunches. You guys all have something in common, are experiencing the same struggle sand triumphs, and you can pass the time, quickly, in a place like a diner or bowling alley.
Surprise: You probably can still show up to just about anything.
Friend’s party at a bar? Have to show up at a school, office, or family function? Fundraiser for your favorite charity taking place at a wine bar? Not a problem. Just be armed and ready with a plan:
- First off, plan to stay for one hour only, get into as many photos as you can, and say hello to everyone individually.
- Second, make sure you have something in your hand that’s non-alcoholic, like seltzer with lime or a red solo cup full of soda. You’ll feel less awkward if you have something to hold, just like everyone else.
- Lastly, make sure you have a sober buddy on speed dial, if you can’t find anyone available to tag along in person. Check in with that buddy, or your sponsor, before or after the event, and don’t be afraid to excuse yourself to “take an important call” (or make one).
“It’s important to build in that time to process the social event, discuss how you felt being there,” Muller says. “Reflecting on the experience can help you learn and move forward in a healthy way. Connecting with someone who intimately understands you and your situation can be very helpful.”
What about love?
The most important person to love right now is you. You’re saving your own life, and the reason people say it keeps getting better is because it does…as long as you stay the course.
Starting out on this “course,” you’ve probably heard the suggestion by now that you shouldn’t date in the first year. Like all of the suggestions, you can take it or not. Put something on pause, or don’t. Have sex, or steer clear. Regardless of whatever choice you make now, know that what you want from another person or how you feel about them is likely to change now that you’ve changed, too.
“You may end a romantic relationship because you’re seeing behaviors and relationship dynamics that you didn’t notice while drinking,” said Cohen. “I have seen clients completely change their viewpoint on many relationships, ones they now see as toxic, once the ‘beer goggles’ have been taken away.”
Because Leipholz was no longer getting drunk and hooking up with random people, she was able to focus more on forging real connections with men, rather than letter alcohol lead the way.
“In my second year, I met my now-boyfriend of two years and was able to be completely honest with him from the beginning,” she said. “I knew that I was entering the relationship completely myself, more than I could say when I was drinking.”
Similarly, Laura Silverman, founder of The Sobriety Collective, said that she thought she’d never be able to date without alcohol, especially since everyone suggested “going for drinks.”
“Drinking helped numb the nerves and lubricate the interactions. I was convinced that life as I knew it was over,” she says. “Guess what? It was. And a new life was about to begin.”
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