By Joey Macari
Not all weekend’s are like this, but some are. You scooch up to the bar; rubbing elbows with the girl from high school you meant to say hi to when you walked in, but you haven't had the liquid courage to make small talk with yet, and you never will.
You begin to make casual conversation while trying to make eyes with the busy bartender. You finally get their attention and your “friend” (I say that in quotes because…are they really friends if you have to play a 5 year+ game of catch up with?) grabs their attention first. She asks if you want a drink.
Thus, commences the unavoidable conversation starter around my sobriety.
Ordering myself a non-alc beer or Diet Coke avoids any unwanted scrutiny because I hold the cards, figuratively and literally because, well, it’s my debit card. But when you’re offered a drink by someone you haven’t seen in a while, and they don’t know you like other people do, you know their mind first goes to some sort of visceral struggle with alcohol.
Addiction? Rehab? Family history?
My personal and probably preferable favorite was an, “okay, grandma.” But I think that guy was just trying to be funny. Hilarious.
It’s not that I can’t handle questions. It’s not that I’m ashamed or cynical about the normative drinking experience.
But when you’re sober, but not struggling, you wish it wasn’t so damning either way.
I stopped drinking a month shy of the pandemic. Yes, I went through the entire pandemic newly sober. The catalyst was recognizing that I was the “Can’t Hold My Liquor” type Kanye lyricized (that guy definitely can’t either). I was a bad drunk. Not an every day drinker or even an every weekend or every other drinker. But when I did drink, all bets were off.
The hardest part was there was never a consistent enough thread to tie together what did me over and what I could handle. It was like playing roulette with my hands tied behind my back. Eventually, parties felt like playing chances with the porcelain toilet seat gods, and I quit. That’s it.
The first 2-3 months were difficult, not in temptation, but in the realization that some of your friends would demonstrate their insecurities with your personal choice in frustrating ways. “Are you not going to be fun anymore?” one friend quite literally said to me. To be honest, I asked myself the same question in those early days.
Having to navigate real feelings and inhibitions sans alcohol required the most fortitude. I had to be really vulnerable and honest about my anxiety struggles for the first time. Alcohol made me the funny girl. The sure of herself girl. The ‘Yes’ girl. What I didn’t realize then but I know now is that I was already those versions of myself in the ways.
I like to view my sober self in the ways I observed my inner child. There are transferable qualities in each that I’m so happy I was able to identify with when I made this transition. Chiefly, in the way a kid processes emotions as raw and unadulterated, I was able to handle emotions as they come in a similar way. With alcohol, your emotions are hardly your own, whereas a child only has his/her own emotions in a viscerally authentic way. Secondly, without alcohol, I actually found that I’m a friendlier, more genuine version of myself. That child sense of discovery came back full force, and I was able to connect with the things that made me me a long time ago that I had since been repressing due to alcohol restraints and peer pressure.
When I became sober, I realized my capacity for life was much stronger than it was when I drank.
With the help of a good seltzer brand, self help books/blogs, and people who understood, I grew to be friends with my sober self.
There are so many ways to navigate sobriety, and finding what works for you is crucial. Though I’m sure you will find the path made for your unique journey, here are some resources I’ve found incredibly helpful.
Book: Quit Like A Woman by Holly Whittaker. She puts drinking culture into a generational/ cultural perspective and how women were fed into this disenfranchised drinking mentality, and it’s highly engaging, thoughtful, and inspiring. You can also find her podcast “Quitted” wherever you podcast!
Substitutions: It doesn’t have to be diet cokes and Shirley temples from here on out. Athletic Brewing Company out of CT makes amazing n/a IPAs, but if you can’t find it, Heineken 0 is so bomb. For non beer drinkers: Make drinks more fun by combining a mix of your favorite seltzer, juice of your choice, some fresh ice and frozen berries and make it a money mocktail!
Not so much a resource, but find friends and family who respect your healthy choices and aren’t just drinking buddies. Once you become sober, you realize how often you’ve made friends through the connection of getting drunk, and it might not always serve you after you stop doing what THEY love.