In April 2019 I poured the last of a bottle of wine down the drain and set out on my sobriety journey. The story behind my desire to become sober is complex, but it has been one of the most important decisions of my life. It is mostly second nature now, but it was extremely hard at first. Here are some things I learned on my journey that might help you on yours.
Pray – I maintain my belief that I would not have been able to get sober or stay sober without the help of Jesus, so if you’re considering it, that is step one. Pray. You don’t have to be good, it doesn’t have to be any kind of formal. You can just pray the Lord’s Prayer (found in Matthew 6:9-13) and tack on “please help me resist alcohol” at the end. By the way, God is up all night long so feel free to knock on his door with a prayer or two at any time.
Get a community – Join a group like Alcoholics Anonymous or Celebrate Recovery, find someplace locally that is offering step studies or 12 step programs. I cannot stress this enough. I waited a full year to do this and it made sobriety so much easier when I finally joined one. At the meetings you can get an accountability partner and a sponsor who will help you in your weakest moments.
Think ahead of time about what to say to people – Your sobriety is your business, so you actually don’t owe anyone an explanation about why you’re not imbibing, but people may ask, so if you’re not yet ready to share that you’re trying to be sober, decide before you arrive what you will say if asked. Here are some possibilities:
“I’ve got a long drive home and I can’t risk getting pulled over.”
“I have an early morning tomorrow”
“I haven’t been sleeping well lately so I’m gonna see if not having a nightcap possibly helps me sleep better.”
I wouldn’t want to encourage anyone to lie, but if someone won’t get off your case you can always tell them you are taking medication that interacts with alcohol. If you are on any kind of allergy medication, this is actually a true statement. See this article for more details on how alcohol interacts with allergy meds. So you could say something like this:
“I actually found out recently that alcohol interacts with Zyrtec and I have got to get my allergies under control.”
It is also okay to tell people you’re just trying on sobriety for size. What I used to always say at the beginning of my sobriety journey was “I’m not drinking right now, I’m just going to try it out for a while and see how it feels.” This is a real thing people are doing. Here’s a good piece from NPR on the sober curious movement.
Bring your own drinks to parties – On day two of my sobriety I went to a dinner party where every guest had brought at least one bottle of wine, but there were not any – and I mean ANY – other beverages. Finally I took a glass and filled it with tap water. Ever since then I have brought my own nonalcoholic drinks to every party I go to. Another good idea is to bring a little extra to share, it is a party after all!
You may have to relearn socialization while sober – After I decided to be sober, I looked ahead at my social calendar and wondered, “How am I gonna do all this without drinking?” I attended a fancy pool party at a downtown hotel and bought three $4 Topo Chicos before I realized I could just ask for water. I wondered how I would fare on our Disney vacation with no alcohol, but it ended up being remarkably easy, and left me without any lingering shameful memories of over-indulging in front of my children. It’s an adjustment but it is very worth it. In the late 2000s there was a campaign to stop smoking that illustrated the concept of relearning your life without your addiction beautifully:
Steer clear of “alcohol free” drinks – One thing I have actively avoided are any beverages that are meant to be alcohol free versions of alcohol. Drinks like O’Doul’s (alcohol free beer) or alcohol free spirits, or wine with the alcohol removed may be too triggering for a newly sober person. (Or even someone three years sober, like me).
Try out some recipes to find what you like – At first, I tried drinking mixers without adding alcohol, but it turns out that tonic without gin and lime is pretty bitter and terrible. Don’t do that to yourself. I hate the term “mocktail” because it evokes images of sugary daiquiris that are basically Kool-aid, but you can mix a little ginger beer with nearly any flavor of lacroix and a splash of lemonade or lime juice, and it’s not too sweet and probably won’t bring back any triggering memories of drinking (unless you were a big Moscow Mule drinker) basically, to each our own, but avoid drinks that are too similar to your particular poison as they say. World Market actually has a great variety of unique nonalcoholic party drinks. When dining out, some restaurants and bars have entire nonalcoholic menus, Punchbowl Social in Austin at the Domain serves a comparatively wide variety. If all else fails, most places serve water, soda and coffee or tea.
Drive yourself – Another rookie mistake I made at first was accepting a ride from a friend to a party. When you’re sober and everyone around you is not, you might end up wanting to leave early. You might feel inclined to offer rides to others but at first, I wouldn’t recommend it. In the early days of your sobriety you really need to just be taking care of your own changing needs. Once you’re comfortable in your sobriety, you can be the fun designated driver, but the first few months may be hard, and saddling yourself with that responsibility can breed resentment and put you at risk of relapse. Drive yourself so that when you’re ready to head out, you can do so without having to convince some drunk people to leave a party, which, if you have ever done it, is not always easy.
Be prepared to use the restroom more than your drinking buddies – Sorry, there’s just no polite way to say it. Turns out, if you go out drinking with a group of people, and they’re all drinking alcohol, and you’re drinking soda water, you will be taking far more potty breaks because the lacroix doesn’t have to make a pit stop in your liver like alcohol does, so it travels through your digestive system much faster. My friend actually asked me if I was secretly pregnant because I was both not drinking and also peeing a lot.
Don’t try to quit sugar and alcohol at the same time. Most adults try to watch our sugar intake, but now is not the time. Get sober first, then cut down on sugar. Your body is resetting. In fact, as you get sober you may find yourself craving far more sugar than normal. Your body breaks alcohol down into sugar, so when you stop consuming it, your body may seek it in other forms.
Prepare to be grumpy – Any time you are coming off any substance or habit there is an adjustment period, called detoxing. I know that word may seem melodramatic but you can detox from any habit forming substance (think of sugar and caffeine!) So if you find yourself snappish, it’s totally normal. Don’t take it out on your loved ones. This is when having a community comes in handy. Go to a meeting or call your accountability partner or your sponsor.
Understand some people may feel uncomfortable – When you do begin to tell people you are trying to be sober on a more permanent basis, your friends may wonder if they contributed to your alcohol dependency, or if you’re judging them because they still drink. That’s okay and it’s normal. Their feelings are not your responsibility. Reassure them when needed that you’re still you, in fact, you are more authentically yourself than you probably have been for a while. I had to remind many folks that my not drinking didn’t mean they couldn’t drink. However, my trigger is isolation, if your addiction takes the form of being the life of the party, then you need to identify and stay away from your own triggering environments, but do find healthy community. Isolation can be just a deadly as alcoholism.