I don’t know about you, but when I was drinking, I found it impossible to imagine enjoying anything without alcohol involved.
If I went out to watch my partner playing in his band at a local bar, if I went to a family event, if I went out for a meal, and if I stayed in to relax and watch a film on my own… alcohol was at the centre of it all. Alcohol added to the enjoyment and then alcohol became the enjoyment. Getting pissed was my secret goal.
To put it bluntly, this was bollocks. I have discovered it is possible to enjoy these things without alcohol.
Yes, these experiences are DIFFERENT sober. But it’s a good different.
Compare these two scenarios:
1. Picture the scene – Me “enjoying” a party a couple of years ago
I felt nervous and anxious as we walked in to the house: it was full of people I didn’t know and didn’t have a lot in common with. We went straight to the bar and I started drinking gin & tonic (felt immediately more relaxed with the first sip).
Sat at the bar making small-talk and thinking about my next drink. Walked around a bit with my partner, who introduced me to people I didn’t want to talk to. I was mostly concentrating on getting drunk so I could feel properly relaxed and natural and confident so I started drinking wine. I was literally waiting for the wine to work and, when it wasn’t instantaneous, drank more to force the effect.
Fast forward to the latter part of the evening (skipping the bit where I was conversing with people over-self-consciously and trying not to slur my words, trying not to appear drunk and therefore monitoring my every sentence and movement – such hard work!) and to me shouting and angry because a guy at the party had offended me with his sexist behaviour. I was out to prove he couldn’t get the better of me and that I wasn’t someone to be messed with. I had become the centre of attention and everyone was concerned about the slanging match that was going on. I eventually ended up in tears because this guy just didn’t “get it” and the world was full of ignorant people and everything was just so unfair. I was so alone and nobody understood me (my partner had heard all of this before but it might have been quite entertaining for a short while to the other guests).
Nobody needed to “mess” with me, I was doing such a good job of doing it myself.
Fast forward again to the morning and to me waking up under a duvet in the back of our van feeling very ill, embarrassed, ashamed and not remembering much of what had happened. We had “camped” in the hosts’ field and my partner had planned on driving us home in the morning. After an awful drive home where I was in a half-awake/half-asleep state, and unable to do either properly, I spent the day in bed, physically and emotionally exhausted and dreading hearing about the previous evening’s events from my partner. Six pm, I started feeling better because I poured myself a gin and tonic and then proceeded to drink some more (but less than I had the night before so I could “wean myself” off it a bit ready for the start of the week – such control!)
Sounds like fun, huh!
2. Picture the scene – Me at a party at the same house totally sober a couple of years later.
I felt anxious as we walked into the house which was full of people that I had met before but didn’t know very well. We went straight to the bar and I had an alcohol-free lager and stayed feeling anxious.
I had a couple of boring, hard-work conversations with people I had nothing in common with, walked around the house, mingling and wanting to leave (see photo above).
Fast forward an hour or so and I’m having a laugh with someone that I discover I get on well with – she’s really easy to talk to and isn’t drinking because she’s driving. She has a great sense of humour and is making me laugh. It feels good to be connecting with someone in an authentic and real way.
Shortly afterwards, we make our excuses and leave. I drive us home and we share a conversation and a laugh at some of the funny conversations we have had. (And, to be totally honest, we get a bit superior about the some of the people we don’t have much in common with).
We’re in bed by midnight with teeth scrubbed and Kindle in hand and wake up fresh the next morning and crack on with our plans for the day.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learnt is that it’s okay to feel anxious. It’s okay to feel bored. It’s okay not to like small-talk. It’s okay to leave early. It’s also okay to just not go if you don’t want to.
And, that it’s always possible to enjoy yourself, even when you’re at an event that’s not your cup of tea.
I think I was believing that I had to have a great time at a party. Parties had to be wild. I had to be wild and reckless and entertaining. There had to be some kind of incident to make it a memorable event (and I usually had to be at the heart of said incident). So, I needed to drink to do and be all of those things because I didn’t feel like any of them without it.
If you’ve been telling yourself you can’t enjoy certain experiences without alcohol, that’s understandable – it’s what you’ve programmed your unconscious to believe. However, you can choose not to believe it. If you’re thinking, “Hold on – I really can’t enjoy myself without alcohol – I really can’t imagine having fun or relaxing without it,” that’s because you’re believing it to be true. You’re in thrall to that belief.
Shake it up
Here’s how to shake up that belief a bit so it becomes easier to dislodge and replace with something a bit more helpful.
Think back to the last time you were sober and you had a proper laugh – when you laughed so hard you couldn’t catch your breath and maybe tears ran down your cheeks (it doesn’t matter how long ago this was – you might have been a child, that’s fine). Just remember for a moment how that felt.
Think back to the last time you were sober and felt lovely and calm and relaxed and safe (again, it doesn’t matter how long ago this was – any age, any place, any situation is fine).
You can allow yourself to enjoy these memories and elicit as much detail from them as you can:
• What you can see
• What you can hear
• What you can feel
• What you can taste and smell
What you’re doing here is reminding your brain that it IS possible to have fun and to relax without alcohol.
Once you have accepted that this belief about alcohol is just a belief and can be replaced by a healthier one (It’s okay to be bored and shy/I can have great fun without alcohol/I can be totally relaxed sober) it becomes easier to try new things and to introduce new habits. Knowing that this belief isn’t true can give you courage.
There are so many things I enjoy doing sober now that I didn’t believe I could when I was drinking:
• Eating out
• Meeting up with friends
• Staying in, watching films and eating popcorn
• Going to the pub
So now my belief has changed. What you believe is only what you choose to believe. What you choose to believe becomes what’s true for you.
I’d love to hear from you about an event or situation that’s come up for you recently where you believed you needed alcohol for enjoyment, or to relax, or to be more confident, etc. Visit the Support Forum now and let’s give each other a bit of support and reassurance. You’ll be amazed how many people will be experiencing similar beliefs to you.
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