I’ve been very fortunate to avoid or at least limit my exposure to the kinds of social situations many of the newly sober find themselves in right away: weddings, business trips to Vegas, work happy hours, boozy client dinners, etc. I even skipped my 20 year high school reunion last summer because I didn’t want to face all that drinking sober. Never lost any sleep over that decision, btw.
This weekend was an abrupt switch from my carefully conscious sober life to being around people who drink like I used to drink. Alcohol was discussed and poured and even spilled more in front of me in a 24 hour period than in the last year of my life. At first I found myself thinking “why can’t I just drink with them?” They were all having so much fun. But the experience was like a hangover in reverse: the more everyone else drank, the better I felt in my own sober skin.
4pm Saturday – The other grownups drink beer or whiskey and get ready to go out and I feel anxious and low. I remember golden Saturday afternoons and fuzzy-headed buzzes and how nice those things feel. But when did I even have that last? I can’t remember the last time I waited until 4pm on a Saturday for a drink. What’s so great about being buzzed at 11am?
6pm – The others return from the brewery that used to be my favorite. Their high octane beers were my pride and downfall. They still serve amazing soft pretzels and root beer, plus their game room keeps the kids amused for at least 15 minutes, but I’m glad I didn’t go. In that moment, I didn’t belong there.
8pm – I’m glad I’m not slurring my words or having to expend all that mental energy to keep from slurring my words. I used to pride myself on not appearing as drunk as I was, so being drunk was pretty exhausting. It feels good to be a sober hostess…no forgotten side dishes or taking an hour to clear the table in between drink and smoke breaks.
9pm – I’m not out of breath or incapacitated after a few games of ghost in the graveyard. I used to be a social smoker, which means I smoked only when I drank. Which means I smoked a lot.
10pm – Our guests’ cigarettes smell good but I don’t want one. I can’t follow anyone’s conversation because everybody is talking over everbody else. I really want to go inside and watch Gremlins 2 with my kid, and I will soon, but first I think about what I would be doing after six hours of drinking. I would be talking over everybody else too but making less sense. I would be sharing too much and slurring and no longer caring. I might even be drinking from a beer bottle with a cigarette butt swirling around the bottom.
9am, the next day – I am hangover free and it is no less beautiful than it always is. We go to breakfast at a place that has great food and I didn’t feel the need to lobby for somewhere that at least serves mimosas. I enjoy our company in that relaxed, giddy mood of morning afters without all the pain.
For those who are new to not-drinking or struggling with all the changes it entails, it absolutely does get easier over time. Other people told me this before and it turns out they were right. Everything gets easier, but being around other drinkers is something in particular I’m more comfortable with now. My husband said me not-drinking just feels like the new normal, which is great. I’m glad he feels that way. I don’t quite feel this myself and I suspect it will always be a little hard and feel a bit tempting when I’m around others enjoying alcohol in the same carefree way I once did. But it’s not hard to remember carefree weekend buzzes were not my reality in the end.
Now I’m rewarded with a different kind of peace when I don’t drink. It lasts longer than any buzz and I don’t have to pay for it later, and that is why I don’t drink.