I’ve just spent the last week going out and about with friends, family and relative strangers. I’ve visited historic buildings, bars, and restaurants – I’ve done mountain walks, treasure hunts and kayaking across lakes. I’ve done all of this with a smile on my face, laughter in my ears and excitement in my belly.
I’ve done all of this completely sober.
When I was drinking, a trip to a historic building, museum or gallery would not have been complete without a drink at the end of it (and the drink at the end would have been the main event, with the trip just a hurdle to get over on the way to the main event). Any visit to a bar, café or restaurant with friends or family – and especially with strangers – would have involved drinking to get drunk to feel relaxed, comfortable and confident. Any exciting activities like walks and kayaking adventures would have been accompanied by some nervousness and always with a focus on enjoying some “well-deserved” and celebratory drinks afterwards – that would be when the real “fun” would begin.
What I couldn’t do when I was drinking, and even when I first stopped drinking, was imagine myself naturally and comfortably enjoying all these things without alcohol.
I used to notice other people who could socialise and do fun stuff sober and would think they belonged to a different species – that that just wasn’t possible for me. I used to feel angry and frustrated sometimes that I couldn’t just be like them and enjoy social events sober. I imagined all these activities sober as being boring, as being hard work and dull. I imagined that I would be boring and poor company. On some level, I imagined that, without alcohol, the real me just wouldn’t be good enough, entertaining enough or interesting enough.
If you can relate to any of this, the good news is it’s all rubbish.
You can do all these things sober and have a good time doing it.
I have had a great week socialising, connecting with people and enjoying conversations. I have even stepped right outside of my comfort zone and had dinner with friends of mine and their family (who I’d never met before). In the past, I would have been terrified of this situation without alcohol to help me feel comfortable. In the now, I don’t even think about alcohol, I just get on with it find myself relaxing and enjoying the conversations naturally.
As I often hear myself saying, if this is possible for me, then it’s possible for you too.
Yes, at first you need to practise doing these activities sober. You need to practise new habits. You need to plan and rehearse what you’re going to be doing differently every time you go into a situation that used to involve alcohol. You might even need to avoid certain situations until you grow in confidence. But, as time passes, and you begin to accept and then revel in your new-found sobriety, you find yourself doing all the things you couldn’t imagine yourself doing sober. It does involve stepping outside of your comfort zone. But every time you step outside of your comfort zone, your comfort zone gets bigger and you grow in confidence.
I felt slightly nervous and tense at the beginning of the meal out with my friends and their family, but an hour into the evening, I was enjoying some great conversation with everyone round the table and we were all having a laugh. By the end of the evening, despite the lateness, I didn’t want it to end. I drove home in the dark, smiling to myself and replaying the conversations and laughs. You simply learn to sit with any feelings of discomfort and allow them to be there for a while as they pass through.
Feeling slightly nervous for an hour at the beginning of the evening is way better than going through the hell that used to be my hangovers (with all the accompanying guilt, shame and anxiety they brought me).
Socialising sober just gets better and better the more you do it. And, eventually, you don’t give it any thought at all. The concept of drinking or not drinking doesn’t enter your head – staying sober has become automatic and you’re simply enjoying the company.
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