I found myself smiling as I drove home from a night out with some ex-colleagues yesterday.

It had been a pleasant enough evening with good food and polite conversation which had become more interesting as the evening progressed. It wasn’t the kind of evening that I’d been looking forward to – more that I felt going along was the right thing to do. I have little in common with my ex-colleagues any more as they are moving in roughly the same circles as we all did together but I switched careers some time ago. So, when we do get together, I don’t have much interest in their descriptions of the painful bureaucracies and politics of the public service world they inhabit. Or much knowledge of the people they are referring to. So it can feel like a duty rather than a pleasure.

And, in the past, I would have made it more “pleasurable” by drinking. I would have given myself courage and an escape route with alcohol. Courage to be more myself and challenge and rebel; and an escape route from my inhibitions and desire to please and play the right part.

My drinking days being done, I had gone along with some trepidation and anxiety. And, to start with, I did feel a bit inhibited and self-conscious. I was also a bit bored with the content of the conversation. However, as time went by, I relaxed more, and by the end of the evening, the conversation had taken a more interesting and, in my eyes, a more authentic and engaging turn as it moved from the professional to the personal.

The reason I was smiling to myself as I drove home was three-fold. One was that I had found myself genuinely enjoying the latter part of the evening and was replaying some of the conversation and laughs. One was that I was laughing at myself and my unnecessary assumptions, judgements and anxieties. And one was that I found it amusing that I had seemingly started a trend for non-alcoholic lager.

I had ordered a bottle of Erdinger to accompany my meal and, one by one, the others had done the same. It was no big deal, it wasn't a discussion, the others just followed my lead and we ended up with a table full of empty bottles of Erdinger and no wine.

This is worth mentioning because some people can find it less-than-easy to deal with nights out with friends or colleagues, especially in the early days of sobriety. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is a perceived sense of peer pressure, which I’ll explore in another blog.

However, when you're confident in your decision to remain sober, when your friends or colleagues genuinely care about you and are respectful of your decisions, when there is no doubt in your mind at all, it is easy to have a night out where the worst you will feel is slightly anxious, uptight or shy for the first hour. I can’t tell you the amount of times I have gone to parties, meals or other social events feeling anxious and then have come away feeling great, having really enjoyed myself.

And, the interesting thing is, and what I was smiling about was, that instead of me feeling pressured by my peers, it was me that was influencing their drinking choices and they were happy to follow me with the Erdinger and go sober for the evening.

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