First and foremost: It is not your responsibility to censor yourself or change your behavior in order to be an ally to your sober friend. Our sobriety is our responsibility. However, if you choose to be an ally here are some ways to do so:
DO Educate Yourself
There are dozens of misconceptions about the disease of addiction. A common misconception is that “real addicts” are low-functioning (i.e. without a home, jobless, unable to maintain relationships). But in my addiction I had a circle of friends, a supportive family, a job and I even made it through college. Still, I was an alcoholic. I was just a master at parading around like I had it all together (AKA a Libra). I partially blame the media for perpetuating the low-functioning stereotype. The media loves a good headline. Often, the addicts and alcoholics we see and read about are hitting rock bottom quite publicly. Lindsey Lohan crashes a car. Anna Nicole Smith tragically ODs. Mary Kate Olsen walks the red carpet weighing next to nothing. There is little to no mention of the silent struggle and cunning nature of the disease of addiction.
But information on addiction is plentiful. SoberNation.com is a great place to start. Your local library is a trustworthy resource. There are even podcasts centered on sobriety and addiction. Check out This Sober Life and That Sober Guy. Addiction is not just what you read in the magazines and see in the movies. The more you know the more capable you are of being a good ally.
DO NOT Glorify Your Habits
So you just had the craaaaaziest night out on the town, right? You drank so much you can’t remember getting home and you’re pretty sure you gave your phone number to a total babe. You woke up covered in glitter, smelling of tequila and money.
It might be best to keep those details to yourself when you’re talking with your sober friend. A lot of addicts tend to romanticize their past drinking and using habits. Sure, I miss the thrill of a spontaneous, reckless night out with friends. But I tend to forget about the dangerous behavior, the spins hitting me as I’m driving, the people I should’ve never slept with and the inevitable puke-fest I knew so well.
I also forget about the nights I spent drinking alone, miserable. Romanticizing the feel-good moments is great fodder for a relapse. All of a sudden I’m thinking that maybe this time I can control my drinking and have a perfect night like the one you just described. Maybe I won’t end up on the floor of my apartment with no clothes on. But probably not.
DO Respect Your Friend’s Boundaries
The first step towards respecting one’s boundaries is to inquire about what those boundaries are. Remember that every addict is different. Here are some questions you can ask your sober friend in order to make sure you’re giving them the support they need:
- Do you need me to be sober when we hang out?
- Are there certain places, people, or things that make you want to drink?
- Would you feel more comfortable if there were no drugs or alcohol in sight when you come to my house?
- What are your major triggers?
- How can I best support you?
DO Plan Hangouts That Aren’t Centered on Drinking
I didn’t realize this until I got clean but you can, in fact, have a good time sober.
When I decided to get sober I wasn’t sure I’d be able to maintain the friendships I’d developed when I was using. I didn’t know if my friends would look at me the same way if I got sober. Some people faded away, but my best friend stuck around. And this week she showed me exactly what it meant to be an ally.
She convinced me to go to Medieval Times with her. Unfamiliar? Medieval Times is a giant castle in the middle of a Chicago Suburb where children gather to watch grown men joust on horseback. Guests are served a 3 course meal and are required to eat it with their hands. It’s the perfect place to bring your child on their 9th birthday. Or is it the perfect place to bring your 25 year old sober friend? For the sake of this article, let us go with the latter. I had the BEST time. Our knight won the tournament and we wore paper crowns. Get creative with your sober friends. It’s a really thoughtful gesture and will most likely result in a more meaningful and fulfilling relationship for the both of you.
Here are some creative things to do with your sober friend:
- Cosmic Bowling. Wear all white. Have no shame.
- Take a class together. You can find great deals online for fitness classes, art workshops or foreign language courses.
- Take a long walk around your city. Eat at a new restaurant and turn off your cell phones.
- Take a day trip to a neighboring state and see your favorite band.
- Make a meal together.
- Find out which local museums have free admission days for residents.
- Make some art. I picked up embroidery during my sobriety. I’m horrible at it, but keeping my hands busy helps get me out of my head. Plus, art can be a great meditation.
- Volunteer together. Being of service to others is of utmost importance in sobriety (and in general!).
Emilie’s Top 5: Things Not To Say
This list will not apply to every addict. Some sober people are happy to answer all of your questions! However, I would suggest asking your sober friend about their pet peeves (for your sake and theirs). Here are mine:
- “When do you think you’ll be able to drink again?” No offense but the answer to that question is none of your business. First, I am an alcoholic. I was never “able” to drink. I had to drink. Second, sobriety has taught me to take life one day at a time. Living in the future breeds anxiety. So, I’m not thinking about next week or next year. I’m staying sober today.
- “You can still smoke weed right?” This question is infuriating. This insinuates that you care about my happiness as long as I can still blaze with you. Not cool!
- “I could never be sober.” Great. Don’t be sober, then. I, on the other hand, do not have a choice. Sobriety is life or death for me. Don’t make my sobriety about you.
- “You were so fun when you were drinking/using.” I know. I was fun! I was talkative, spontaneous, and a really great dance partner. But there’s another side to me when I’m drinking. There is an intense depression that comes when I’m without alcohol. There are a lot of dark thoughts that accompany me home after a seemingly
- “You don’t seem like an alcoholic/addict.” Yikes. What does an alcoholic look like? This is a dangerous comment to make. Addicts already have a skewed sense of self, so by dangling this idea (you aren’t a real alcoholic/addict) in front of us you are adding fuel to the fire. Believe me, we aren’t putting in all of this effort for fun.
If you’ve read all of the above and are thinking to yourself that this all sounds like a hassle, I encourage you to do some reflecting on the relationship you have with your sober person. Is your relationship built on trust and respect or was it built on partying together? If you can’t enjoy your friend sober, maybe you aren’t as close as you thought you were. That’s okay! Sometimes the best way to be an ally is to take a step back and let your sober person find the people who will lift them up and celebrate their sobriety. You’re allowed to set your own boundaries.