As I navigate an old world as a new me, I have concerns that my relationships will be affected by my choice to be sober. Alcohol is everywhere in our society. It is present at every social event, even in places where it would seem out of place, (baby showers, kids birthdays). It is almost always shown in media through a positive lens. It is the social lubricant, the courage builder, the stress reliever, the night cap, and constant companion of all social gatherings. It is readily available and there is no stigma around its consumption (except while driving). Since beginning to consider my own consumption of alcohol, I have become conscious of its availability. It is almost everywhere. Choosing to not drink alcohol in a world that is so saturated (pardon the pun) is going to be tough.
I am concerned about the impact my choice to be sober will have on my social life. As I said, I am mid-divorce and my social support system has become extremely important to me. My “tribe” has helped me in ways I can never repay. They have propped me up when I could not stand (literally and figuratively). They have comforted me, cried with me, and been righteously pissed off with me. They have reassured me that I am stronger than I realize, that I can face all of what lies ahead and will come out of it better than before. I am forever grateful to them.
I have a few “tribes.” These are sets of friends that I engage with on a regular basis that may or may not interact with one another. In every one of my tribes (save one), alcohol is ever-present. Chats at the dining table over wine, laughs at the new brewery (there is one around every corner here), pies with pints, happy hours with margaritas or sushi and wine are all a part of this dynamic. Alcohol saturates almost every gathering. I find myself nervous that without alcohol my interactions will be different. Will my friendships change? I refuse to stop participating in social events because of my desire to remain sober, but will my friends find me less interesting? Less engaging? Less Funny? Will my choice to be sober while they drink become bothersome to them? Will they eventually find it intolerable? Will I?
I have two very best friends. One has chosen not to drink. Not out of a need to curtail her own drinking or out of a need to regain control, but just because she drinks so little, what is the point? I am very envious of her and may actually secretly hate her for this. (kidding). When I spoke to her about my choice, she encouraged me. She did not say I had a problem or that I should quit – but rather it was a personal choice and she supports whatever decision I make. Based on what I have told her, she agrees that this is a good decision for me- precisely because I am feeling concern about it. A person without an complicated relationship with alcohol, WOULD say that. I admit, I was annoyed with her level-headedness about it.
The other is a 25 yr friend who has been by my side through marriages, divorces, career decisions, raising children, all the phases of the adult female life, and more bottles of wine than I could count. I don’t think anyone knows the real me better than she. When I spoke to her about my concerns and about my drinking, and how I didn’t want to use alcohol as a crutch or a reward, she was encouraging. She said “You should do what you feel is right. If you feel it is out of control, then you need to reign it in. I felt the same way about smoking – so I quit.” Then she said “But I’m not going to quit drinking! I’m STILL going to enjoy my wine and use it as a reward when I’ve had a tough day or a great one!” And I get where she is coming from. I have thought a lot about this conversation. I was not asking her to quit or to slow down her drinking. However, when I spoke of my own sobriety, she seemed to be a little defensive, as though I was making an accusation or a judgement about drinking in general. I certainly am not.
From the outside looking in, I have been told that my drinking does not appear to be out of control. But I feel very much out of control – mentally and physically worse with alcohol, perhaps emotionally dependent. And in the end, sobriety is a personal choice. Drinking alcohol is a personal choice. I have no intention of a being a zealot or true-believer. I refuse to be the ex-smoker railing against every current smoker because I quit. We are all on our own personal journeys. I accept encouragement gladly and will give freely it where I can. I cannot say what is right for other people. I can only say what is right for me. And for right now, in this moment, sobriety is best gift I can give myself.
I am concerned that my friends will become bored with me and my tedious sobriety. But who knows? Maybe it will just become a change to get used to – like I changed my hair color? Maybe being sober and more present in the moment will allow me to be funnier, more interesting, and more engaging. I guess we shall see.