Fears about sobriety are common, even for people who desperately seek it.
On the one hand, you hate what your life has become due to drinking. On the other, you’re scared to death of what sobriety will do to your world.
Let me first say that it is normal to be afraid when you first get sober. However, if you don’t learn to manage those fears and put them into perspective, they will drive you right back to the bottle.
Here are some common fears in sobriety and what you can do to manage them.
Sobriety Fear #1: Well, Sobriety
The IDEA of sobriety can be scary in of itself. It’s the whole, “You mean I can never drink ever again?!” Let your brain marinate on words like forever and you’ll set yourself right up for failure.
Realizing that sobriety means you’ll have to figure out new ways to handle your “stuff” is a frightening prospect. The idea that you don’t get to chemically check out of reality every now and then is horrifying, especially when you think reality is pretty terrible.
What you can do:
If you think sobriety is scary, stop and think about the alternative. Do you really want to drink yourself silly for the rest of your life? And to that point, how long do you think your life will be at the rate you’re going?
Every day, week, and month that you let slip by without tackling your drinking problem is time you can’t get back and more damage you must undo.
It’s okay to be afraid. It’s not okay to be dishonest with yourself about where you’re headed.
Sobriety Fear #2: Everything will change.
This is a perfectly reasonable fear to have because you are 100% correct. Everything WILL change, and isn’t that the point?
I don’t think it’s change that you’re so afraid of. If you didn’t want to change, you wouldn’t bother to get sober. What you’re really afraid of is the unknown and that you may not be able to handle it. Depending on how deeply ingrained alcohol is in your life, you may be staring down an entire life makeover.
If all of your friends abuse alcohol and/or your spouse abuses alcohol, it makes a lot of sense to be afraid of what will happen next.
What you can do:
With friends, if they aren’t on board with your sobriety, you’ll have some tough choices ahead. The good news is that you don’t have to worry about it until you’ve got some solid sober days under your belt.
Don’t let difficult decisions and conversations with loved ones be the excuse you use to keep drinking alcohol.
Right now, you don’t have to do anything. Eventually, you will have to decide who to keep in your life and who to let go. That’s not going to be easy, but the alternative is to continue slowly destroying the one life you’re given.
No relationship is worth that.
Sobriety Fear #3: You’re going to fail.
Maybe you will. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start over. Plenty of people fail a few times before they finally “get it.”
Here’s the thing about the word “fail.” So long as you dust yourself off and keep trying, you haven’t failed at all. People go into these big personal transformations expecting a linear progression from start to goal. Just go ahead and erase that from your expectations now.
You will have good days, you will have hopeless days, and you will every other sort of in between day on this journey.
As long as you keep going, you haven’t failed.
Besides – allowing the fear of failure to completely influence big decisions like this is a cop out. It’s a dysfunctional version of “playing it safe.” You deserve better than that.
Fearing failure in sobriety is very normal. Treat it like an itchy bug bite. The more you scratch at it, the worse it’s going to get. Leave it alone, give it time, and it will go away on its own.
Sobriety Fear #4: You’ll actually succeed.
It sounds like a weird thing to be afraid of but it’s very real. Perhaps you’re there right now. It goes back to #2 – fearing change.
If you succeed, what will your life look like? Who will be left? Does it mean you’re no longer friends with your bestie because she still enjoys getting trashed?
Or maybe on some level you don’t believe you’re worthy of success. If you’ve done some major damage in your past, you might feel like you don’t deserve to be happy and healthy.
What to do:
Let that go immediately.
If you are letting yourself wallow in self-doubt and pity, what is the point of sobriety? I don’t believe you REALLY feel that way because otherwise you wouldn’t be here. You know, deep down, that you can and should have a better life.
Every cell in your body might not know this, but a strong piece of you that is battling for airtime in your brain knows it.
The truth is, you have no idea what success will look or feel like. It is not useful to spend mental energy on things you cannot possibly know. Every time you (or I) do that, we’re choosing to suffer.
Sobriety Fear #5: You won’t know who you are anymore.
If you’ve spent the last umpteen years being THAT girl or guy, partying hard, struggling through the days hungover, and doing it all again – sobriety means an entirely new identity.
That’s scary. But I want to offer a different question to you.
Do you know who you REALLY are right now?
Drinking stunts your emotional and personal growth. Do you even know what you enjoy anymore? What makes you tick? Alcohol doesn’t make you tick. It’s what you use to check out of everything else.
What do you do for fun that doesn’t involve alcohol? Anything?
My point is that you may not know who you are RIGHT NOW.
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What to do:
Reframe how you look at it. Instead of being afraid that you won’t recognize yourself, look at it as an opportunity. Sobriety is your chance to start over. You get to define yourself from here on out and there won’t be any regrettable drunk shenanigans doing that on your behalf.
YOU will be the captain of your own ship (so to speak).
Don’t expect to accomplish any big self-realizations in the beginning. If you do, FANTASTIC! More than likely, though, this meaningful journey of self-discovery is going to be a long, ongoing, and wonderful process.
Try turning your fear into excitement.
Sobriety Fear #6: You’ll be bored.
This is a sad byproduct of our cultural conditioning that fun = alcohol. Fun without alcohol? LAME!
It’s also equal parts wrong and ridiculous. But I totally get where it comes from. For years, I worried about the impact of sobriety on my social life. I honestly did not know what people did for fun without being slightly or very drunk.
Bars without drinking? No thank you. Clubs without drinking? Maybe for an hour. House parties? Ehhh, who’s going to be there?
In my mind sobriety meant Friday nights alone on my couch watching Netflix and hiding from the rest of the world who was definitely out drinking.
What you can do:
Broaden your horizons, my friend. If your social life is limited to bars and clubs, you’re A. probably much younger than me, and B. not using your imagination!
There are plenty of things people do that do not involve or center around alcohol. Your job is to seek them out. You might be a little bored at first, but with time, you’ll discover new and more fulfilling things to do with your time. That will lead to meeting people who are more aligned with your new vibe.
After awhile, you’ll be enjoying life on entirely different terms. The great thing about sobriety is that it enables you to find joy in things you previously took for granted, like eating a really delicious meal, or playing with your two-year-old daughter or niece.
There are entire movements of people out there redefining what it means to have fun and challenging alcohol’s role in our social lives. If a booked social calendar is important to you, you’ll find ways to be proactive and realign what you do to fit your new lifestyle.
Besides, your current idea of fun usually involves holding your hair while you throw up discounted tacos and cheap margaritas. Things can only improve from here.
Sobriety Fear #7: You’ll lose your friends.
Another common fear in sobriety is that you’ll wind up alone because no one will want to hang out with you. We are biologically wired for companionship, so this is a very real and instinctual fear to have.
Here’s the thing.
If your “friendships” are predicated on using alcohol, you’re not really friends. You’re just codependent on one another. What else do you have with this person besides partying?
In some cases it’s more complicated than that. Maybe these people have been in your life since childhood and you’ve all fallen into the same trap. You’ve got history, but you’ve also got baggage.
Navigating your existing relationships in sobriety is a huge challenge. The good thing is that you don’t have to worry about that in the beginning.
Here’s what you can do:
First, focus on your sobriety. If your friends don’t want to hang out with you unless you’re drinking, then you know where you stand with each other.
With proper counseling and/or a good recovery program, you’ll learn how to unpack these relationships and get guidance on how to handle them.
What you do NOT want to do is let your fear about what MIGHT happen with your friends in the future dictate what you do to take care of yourself in the present.
This is your life. It’s the only one you get. You have to do what is best for you and you can’t allow your anxiety about what a sober future looks like prevent you from doing what you need to do.
Sobriety Fear #8: People won’t like the sober you.
If you’ve typically required a little social lubricant to lighten up at parties (as many of us have), the thought of navigating social scenes without a some liquid courage is scary. This is particularly true for the more introverted among us.
And then there’s dating.
Being at a party or trying to find the perfect romantic partner without alcohol is the stuff of nightmares for many people. Even people for whom alcohol is not a problem experience this.
I’ll be honest with you. You’re going to be a little weird and wobbly at first. Don’t let that derail your end goal. It doesn’t really matter.
In fact, here’s a little secret – anyone who is charming drunk is fully capable of being charming sober. After you’re more secure in your sobriety, you’ll find that you’re actually MORE charming than “drunk you” could ever be.
Besides, once you get to the point where you can attend boozy social functions sober, you’ll see that a lot of people THINK they’re being charming, when it reality, they’re kind of a mess.
People will like you. YOU will like you. And that’s going to turn you into a human magnet.
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And you know what else?
You’ll get significantly better at identifying the kind of people you genuinely enjoy being around, which is much harder to do when everyone is vibing off overpriced cocktails in dimly lit bars.
Right now, you’re freaking about some hypothetical, future social life because sobriety is a big change and that little liquor demon in your brain is trying to talk you out of it.
It is impossible to know what things will be like tomorrow, let alone in one month or one year. Don’t torture yourself trying to anticipate it.
Sobriety Fear #9: You won’t be able to handle your feelings without alcohol.
This is a big one. In fact, this fear personally led to a dozen failures in my own sobriety journey. Many of us drink because we need something to turn down the volume on the shame parade running through our brains.
It’s a legitimate fear.
To manage it, you need to look at the bigger picture.
- Alcohol is not solving any of these problems for you.
- In many cases, drinking is making these negative feelings worse.
- If you don’t deal with your problems, they will keep growing until they swallow you whole
You have two options – to keep going as you are, drowning your pain in booze until it destroys you, OR admit that you need some help, and start working on these things.
Depression in sobriety is completely normal, but running from it won’t make it go away.
You will have strong days when you feel like you can take on the world. And you will have days when every minute feels like a struggle. It won’t stay that way forever.
The only way out is through, my friend.
This is the hard part, but it’s also the most rewarding. I’ll tell you one thing. When you DO start to deal with your problems in healthier ways (and you will), you are going to feel completely transformed and unstoppable.
Give yourself time (and space) to get there.
Sobriety Fear #10: People will judge you for being sober.
Two things I will say about this:
- People do not think or worry about us nearly as much as we think they do, and
- Who cares what they think?
Honestly, if you tell someone that you don’t drink and they make it weird, it says way more about them than it does you. Would you feel uncomfortable if someone gave you a weird look because you told them you don’t do heroin?
Alcohol should be no different. It’s a drug that you choose not to use. You’re not obligated to drink just to make others feel good about their drinking. So don’t allow anyone to make you feel that way.
In the grand scheme of things, other people’s opinions of you should be the LEAST of your worries. Are you doing the best you can? Is your life significantly better in sobriety?
That’s what matters. Nothing else.
Besides judging someone for not drinking alcohol is stupid and you don’t need to be cool with that person anyway.
Sobriety Fear #11 You’ll never be able to fix your mistakes.
I’m going to offer you a little tough love on this one.
You might be right. Depending on the severity of your drinking problem and resulting behavior, there are bridges that may be forever burned. There are people who may want nothing to do with you no matter how much you change.
You have two choices.
- Accept that what’s done is done and commit to being a better person from now on.
- Feel sorry for yourself and continue to destroy yourself and those around you by drinking.
Your sobriety has to be built on a strong desire to get better. I don’t have a time machine for you, my friend. Wish that I did.
Let your sobriety and honest way of living be your penance. You make it up to everyone you ever hurt by never being that person again.
Your sobriety cannot be contingent upon people’s forgiveness. That’s an unfair burden to place on someone else. It’s time to take responsibility for your life.
Sobriety Fear #12: Sobriety will always be hard and you’ll have to battle with it for the rest of your life.
It is very normal in the early days to feel like you’ve resigned yourself to a life of misery by quitting alcohol. Those early days of sobriety may leave you feeling hopeless.
Nothing is permanent my dear, not even this.
Besides, what’s the alternative? To ensure you will be miserable and hungover by going back to drinking?
You’ll have some tough days, but they are temporary. You will eventually get to a point when sobriety is easy, when you can’t remember the last time you had a serious hankering for a drink. How long does that take?
There’s no one right answer to that question. It’s different for everyone.
It’s the Stockdale paradox.
Those who are overly pessimistic and say, “I’m going to be miserable forever” will inevitably fail. On the flip side, people who are overly optimistic and say, “Oh, once I have three weeks sober, I’ll be fine” will also, likely fail when the three-week mark comes around and they realize their expectations were false.
It’s the middle-of-the-road folks who end up making it.
These are the people who know that the days are hard right now, but they endure because they also know that eventually they will come out on top. They don’t know when or how, but they trust that it will happen. In the mean time, they do what they have to do to survive the day.
This is what you have to do to make it, too.
Sobriety Fear #13 – It’s too hard.
If you’ve decided before you start that sobriety is too difficult, that you don’t have what it takes, I’ve got some bad news for you.
What’s that old cliché? Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re probably right.
You don’t have to produce some hidden, superhuman strength to be successful at sobriety. All you need is some patience, a little empathy for yourself, and a firm commitment to meeting your goal.
Again, any fear you may have about sobriety that is rooted in self-loathing is going to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. You can do it. Some people manage to get there faster than others, but it’s not a competition.
I failed more times than I can count before I finally got it right and I assure you there is nothing special about me that you can’t find within yourself.
You’re Going To Get There…Eventually
Everybody is a little scared when they first get sober. Your job is to recognize the fears for what they are – little lies we tell ourselves to keep from changing. Sometimes our fears are logical, but mostly they are not.
Nobody knows what the future holds. Worrying about it constantly will only strengthen your fears, and lessen your resolve to do anything. It’s a convenient cop out we’re all guilty of using.
Don’t let fear keep you from a living a better life.
Sure, the future could be rocky. But it could also be great, better than anything you could’ve imagined. You owe it to yourself to give it a go.
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