I was chatting to one of our members the other day and she was telling me about a party she went to sober at the weekend.
This was a party where she knew a few people but not too well. They were people she’d met at other parties and whose only knowledge of her was through drunken antics and hungover breakfasts together. None of them knew anything about her issues with alcohol.
Since she’d stopped drinking, she’d found herself nervous at social events, going into lengthy explanations about why she was drinking lime and soda or water. She’d make up excuses and say she was on medication or that she had an important meeting in the morning or that she needed to drive someone somewhere on the way home. She’d work herself up into a self-conscious state about what she was going to say and how other people were going to react – and she’d worry about what they’d think and if they’d guess she had a problem.
But, this time, she told me, she couldn’t be bothered to go into a lengthy explanation about why she wasn’t drinking so she simply asked for a lime and soda when she got the bar and didn’t go into any self-justification. Unsurprisingly, no-one batted an eyelid or questioned her or mentioned anything at all about it. She realised that other people just didn’t care about whether she was drinking or whether she wasn’t. The only person that cared was her.
She came to the conclusion that, by giving her “not drinking” all of this energy and thought, she’d been turning it into a bigger issue than it was.
While she was at the party, she was getting into conversations with people she didn’t know and they’d go the bar and ask her if she wanted a top up and she’d say, “no, I’m fine thanks” or “another lime and soda would be great thanks”. And, again, not one person said anything or questioned it. She realised that because she wasn’t calling attention to her sober behaviour, it wasn’t an issue for her or for anyone else. She didn’t feel like the odd one out or like she was under the spotlight, just like someone at the party who happened to be drinking lime and soda. When she looked around her, she realised there were other people at the party also drinking soft drinks and none of them were giving lengthy and self-conscious justifications – they were just accepted too.
Her lightbulb moment occurred when she was driving home afterwards and smiling to herself that she could drive home and she saw an image of herself, alongside people who were drinking and people who were not drinking as someone who just happened to be drinking lime and soda and it didn’t matter to anyone at all.
She’d been keeping the issue alive by paying attention to it and giving her energy to it.
What we pay attention to is what we get more of, so if we’re paying attention to the conversations, the people, the surroundings and we just happen to be drinking a soft drink while we’re doing it, there is no issue. The soft drink is a peripheral thing – the main event is the socialising. When we focus on the “what am I going to say?/what are people going to think?/is it obvious I have a problem?” then the "drinking or not drinking" becomes the main event for us.
I have experienced everything this member described and had a similar revelation too. I've also realised that the biggest signal to others that I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol was when I was drinking. The speed I was drinking, the quantities I was drinking and my behaviour when drunk were all pretty good indicators that I had a problem. But of course I wouldn't worry about that when I was drunk. I didn't care what people thought when I was drunk!
My brain wanted to cling on to my drinking habits so much that it tried to convince me that "not drinking" in front of people was a bigger giveaway than the drinking was! The truth is that choosing not to drink at parties or social events is an indicator of control, choice and power. It doesn't tell anyone anything about you other than you have the self-control to choose to drink or not drink. Nobody bats an eyelid or cares about it in the way that you do.
It can be quite a revelation when we realise that only person who cares about our drinking behaviours is us. When we’re confident with the choice we’re making to not drink and we don’t give it any attention or energy, we liberate ourselves from the issue it used to be.
It might be that we have go through this self-consciousness and this concentration on “not drinking” as a natural part of the “learning to live life sober” process but it can help to know that there is a point at which you not drinking will stop being an issue and you’ll put your attention on the social event itself rather than on how you’re going to justify your drinking choices. And, this is truly a moment of liberation.
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