5 Challenges You'll Face in Sobriety

By Christine Livingstone 06/14/17

You've done the hard work of quitting alcohol. Next up the struggle of living a sober life, in a world where it's assumed everyone drinks.

Friends raising glasses, offering drinks.
They mean well, but...

You know what I mean. The tray of mimosas waved under your nose at brunch; the beers all round to celebrate achieving a team goal at work; the drinking binge that passes itself off as a religious festival.

You want to play an active role in society and maintain your sobriety. But how to pull that off?

It’s not easy, but here are five scenarios in which I’ve found myself recently, how I tackled them, and some insights you can take from my experience:

The team meeting at work

A couple of weeks ago, I was facilitating a two-day management meeting being held in a large private house. As I turned up on the first morning, before even saying "hello," the leader asked me if I drank Prosecco. I looked over his shoulder to see the caterer's layout: four bottles with buckets awaiting ice; rows and rows of beer.

In the past, I’d have said great, and looked forward to the ensuing drinks-fest, believing it was good for my career to be seen to be able to drink as much as the team.

This time, I told the boss water would do just fine, thanks. Later, as the team members started to pop their beer bottle lids and get wired into their beverage stash, I poured myself a large glass of iced water.

In the moment, as the only non-drinker, I felt naked. But the less I worried about myself, the more I saw folks were too wrapped up in themselves to notice what I was drinking. And it sure felt good next day not to need the ibuprofen being handed round.

My advice to you in similar circumstances?

Quit worrying about the need to fit in. Dare to turn up as yourself anyway.

The celebration drinks invitation

One of my coaching clients landed a new job and proposed we go to her favorite wine bar to celebrate. Some years ago, I'd have gone along and felt obliged to join her in whatever she was drinking. I’d have gone home in a liquor-induced haze, feeling affirmed for my coaching abilities.

This time, I said I was unavailable on the evenings she proposed. Instead, I offered dates when we could meet up in the afternoon, and suggested a funky venue that makes a good selection of regular, herbal, and green teas.

For a few moments when we met, I felt awkward to be in a social setting without a drink inside me. But in the end, sober-chatting helped me create a deeper connection with this woman.

That situation allowed me to realize there are relationships I value in which alcohol need not be a uniting factor. Who's important to you in this way? What cool venues beyond the horizon of traditional bars might you choose as alternative meeting places?

Drinks with the in-laws

On a similar note, my father-in-law and I have a history of drinking red wine together ahead of family dinners. I used to think it helped us create a special closeness.

These days if he offers me a glass, I decline but make myself a cup of tea while he pours himself one. And we sit down regardless to catch up.

Ditching drink, I figured, didn't require me to sacrifice a cherished ritual.

Nor need sobriety keep you from enjoying your treasured traditions. Just get creative about the contents of the glass or cup in your hand. Then focus on the person and the conversation.

The girls-only night out

My new neighbor intended well when she invited me over for a glass of wine.

"All the other women in the street will be there," she said by way of incentive.

Historically, I'd have jumped at the idea, tarted up, gone along and got drunk. Thinking of myself as the street's version of Ab Fab's Patsy Stone, I'd have launched into my current repertoire of jokes. Next day, I'd have woken, already mortified by flashbacks of my loud behavior.

This time, unconvinced I'd make it through without giving into wine, I declined the invite. Later, however, it occurred to me to invite my new neighbor to coffee, and get to know her without booze as a buoyancy aid.

I'm thus taking initiative in reinventing how I relate to others. You can too.

Match day

Who doesn't love a good football game?

A few weeks ago, I was part of a crowd that went to watch a Scotland vs. Wales rugby international in Edinburgh. I enjoy the camaraderie of being in the stadium, which used to look like us all sitting together, plastic beer cups in hand, screaming our lungs out.

This time when the lads asked what beer I wanted, I said black coffee, ignored the five minutes of rib-taking and enjoyed the match, nursing my warm beverage.

I had another coffee post-match. But when the drinking continued into the evening I ducked out, saying I wanted to have a quiet night. Instead, I ate a light dinner and later read a memoir I was into at the time.

What I'm learning is that not only can you choose the fun times of which you want to remain a part, you can create the terms upon which it's okay for you to do so. Duck out, without apology, as and when you need. Create non-drink habits - like reading, writing, or meditating - to nourish your soul when you may otherwise feel alone.

The point

Here's the point. Sober living, after years of addiction to alcohol, can be a tough new act to learn. Especially when it seems you’re the only person not drinking.

Sometimes it's right to avoid scenarios that feel as yet too intimate or tempting. But remember you're on a sobriety journey and an active player in your process. You have choice, and you can exercise it. Who knows, you may even find it fun!

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