There’s a common fear among those in early recovery that after becoming sober, they will no longer have a social life. Whether it’s going out with friends, after-work events, weddings, baseball games, or holiday get-togethers, we live in a culture where being around alcohol is hard to avoid.
For many, using alcohol was also the way to navigate these social settings. Anxious or nervous about meeting new people or large crowds? Pour a little liquid courage. Can’t dance? Have another glass of wine. Drinking served as a security blanket, a way to ease into uncomfortable situations without feeling self-conscious. Socializing in sobriety can be challenging at the beginning and it can be difficult to imagine a world where you’re able to make it through social gatherings without alcohol by your side.
While it’s normal to be apprehensive after making a major change like quitting drinking, being sober can actually improve the connections you make with others and allow you to have a more meaningful, richer social life.
I’ve highlighted below five common myths about being social and sober.
Everyone Drinks at Social Events.
30% of American adults don’t drink at all. Another 30% consume, on average, less than one drink per week. (Cook, 2007) You read that correctly. While it may seem that everyone is drinking at social events, that’s usually not true. When you’re an active drinker, it’s easy to believe that you’d be the odd man out if you were sober on a Friday night. But that’s because you may have built your social circle around friends who share a similar lifestyle.
You Need to Drink to Have Fun.
Try this experiment: think about the last social event where you had a really great time. Was it because of the alcohol or because of the friends you spent time with and the connections you made? Now think about times you went out and had your night ruined. Alcohol is usually involved when this happens. How many times have you gotten sick after having one too many? How many nights do you have trouble remembering? Or those drinking episodes where you said something you later regretted? None of that sounds like fun.
You Can’t Loosen Up Without a Drink
We believe we need alcohol to relax and ‘be ourselves’. Alcohol may feel like liquid armor, but when you consistently rely on drinking to be social, you’re not authentically you. To make real connections with other people, you need to be open, honest, and vulnerable. When you’re drinking, you can’t do that. You can’t walk confidently into social situations with a strong sense of who you are and what you value. Give yourself permission to be yourself, with anxieties and insecurities and all.
Everyone Will Know I’m Not Drinking
You will always be much more self-conscious about your sobriety than everyone around you. You may be concerned you’ll face questions of why you’re not drinking that may feel like being interrogated under bright lights. But most people will not notice or care whether you’re drinking or not. If anyone asks, you don’t need to explain yourself. You can simply say, “I don’t drink” or “I don’t like how drinking makes me feel.” Anyone that doesn’t respect your decision not to drink reflects on them, not you. True friends will understand and support you in your choice to stay sober.
I’m The Only One Who’s Apprehensive of Socializing in Sobriety.
Whatever fears you have about going to social gatherings sober, I can guarantee you other people share. It’s completely normal to be nervous when doing something for the first time. But there’s a growing number of groups and meetups, from kickball to cooking classes, that are built around sobriety. There are even sober bars popping up in major cities across the country where you can be social without the pressure of drinking. If you take some time to look, you’ll find your people.
Socializing in sobriety without alcohol can feel a little like getting your land legs after being at sea. After all, you might still be figuring out how to manage cravings to drink and creating healthy boundaries with friends that prioritize sobriety. You’re also still finding out who are you and what you want without drinking. For that reason, it’s important to be mindful not to rush into situations where alcohol is present too quickly.
But with time, you may find that being socializing in sobriety isn’t so scary after all. Facing social situations without alcohol, along with the uncomfortable emotions that may come along, means you’re walking into your life with authenticity and confidence. And that can lead to better friendships and stronger connections with those around you.