You’ve finally done it. After months (years?) of going back and forth with yourself about your drinking habits, self-reflecting, devouring recovery memoirs and self-help books, and secretly joining Facebook groups for sober people, you’ve decided to change your life. You’re going to quit drinking.
Congratulations! You got this, and on those days when you don’t, there is an entire virtual community of folks in the exact same boat who will support you and keep you on track.
But what about the people in your real life?
The ones who call you to go to the bar every Saturday or your significant other who owns half the bottles in that liquor cabinet in your living room? Or what about your work boo who likes to bring over a bottle of rosé and dish about all the people you can’t stand at the office? How are you going to tell them that you’re not drinking anymore?
The key to a successful life overhaul like this is support and honest, open communication with your people. Some days when you might feel like you’ve made a terrible mistake by quitting alcohol. There will be days when you are bored, or excited, or heartbroken and you’ll want to drink.
Sometimes you will attend events and parties where you might be the only sober person in the room. There are going to be days that just plain suck. If the people in your life are on board with your sobriety, you have a better chance of getting through the bad days without drinking.
Telling People You’re Sober
Before you start telling people that you’re no longer drinking alcohol, take some time to understand your reasons for sobriety.
What do you want people to know? You’re not going to be comfortable letting EVERYONE in on your deepest thoughts and concerns about alcohol, so be prepared. Figure out what you want to say to the different types of people in your life who will need to be told at some point that you’re off the sauce.
For example, to your work friend who you like to go to happy hour with on Wednesdays, you might say, “Hey I’m not drinking anymore. It’s costing me too much money and I’m going to focus on my fitness now so I’ll be going to yoga on Wednesdays instead of the bar.”
I know that there are some people who recommend telling little white lies to avoid potentially awkward conversations around not drinking, like saying you’re on medication so you can’t drink when it isn’t true.
I get WHY people give that advice. It’s easier and you don’t owe anyone an explanation, so saying you’re on medication or feigning an alcohol allergy can be one way to go, but I don’t like to go down those roads because any follow-up questions or conversation requires more lying.
A simple “I don’t drink anymore because I don’t want to,” can be powerful on its own, especially if it’s delivered in a way that suggests not drinking is totally normal (because it is!).
With someone like your spouse or significant other, that conversation is going to be much different. It’s likely that this won’t be coming out of nowhere for them. If you’ve been wrestling with this decision for awhile, chances are, they’ve noticed. You could say, “Hey, I know I’ve been talking about it and I’ve decided to quit drinking. I feel like I drink too much and I don’t like the effect it’s having on me.”
Be Clear About What You Need
Once you’ve told someone that you’re not drinking, depending on how close the relationship, you’re going to need to be clear about what you need (and don’t need) from them. Not everybody needs a conversation like this. You don’t have to explain yourself to everybody, just the key stakeholders in your life.
To the co-worker friend, you can let her know, “I really want to stick to this, so please don’t invite me to happy hours for awhile until I get in my new routine. We can still hang out and get coffee sometimes!”
Let people know what you are and are not comfortable doing in the immediate future. There may be a time in the distant future where it doesn’t bother you to pop in during the weekly happy hour to hang out and gossip with the old gang, but if it’s a trigger for you (and it probably will be), avoid it like the plague.
You don’t owe most people an explanation deeper than “I’m not doing happy hours right now.”
They’ll respect that, and if they don’t, they probably aren’t people you should socialize with if your sobriety is important to you.
How To Talk to Close Family and Friends
Close friends, spouses, family members, and significant others are a different story. You’re going to want to have the important people in your life understand exactly what you are going through. It’s not only a big change for you, but for them as well. Because our loved ones can’t read our mind (thankfully), we have to be the ones who set boundaries and expectations, especially in the early days of sobriety.
“Honey, we need to empty the liquor cabinet. You can keep the bottles over at your brother’s, but I don’t want them in the house right now because I might be too tempted to drink from them.”
“Let’s just have dinner on Saturday because I don’t think I’m ready to go to a bar without drinking.”
“Hey Mom, maybe we skip the wine this Thanksgiving?”
If there’s a situation that you’re uncomfortable with that can’t be changed, it’s okay to opt out. Sobriety is hard and nostalgia for the “fun drunk” nights is both real and powerful.
Attending your cousin’s bachelorette party one month into sobriety might not be a wise decision for you. Talk to her. She will understand, and if she doesn’t, there are strategies for handling that.
When People Don’t Get It
Let’s say your work friend is pushy and tries to nag you into going to the bar on Wednesday. It’s no fun without you! C’mon, just one drink!
This is a sign that someone doesn’t respect your boundaries. If you’ve told someone that you’re not drinking and they try to pressure you into joining them again, it’s a red flag. Reinforce your boundaries with that person.
“No, I can’t go. I already told you that I’m not drinking and focusing on my fitness instead. But you guys have fun!”
Remember that you do not owe an explanation to everyone about your sobriety. You can be firm without turning every conversation about it into a confessional.
If that person doesn’t take you seriously and continues to hound you, that is a relationship that is going to jeopardize your sobriety and you may want to let it go.
What To Do When Loved Ones Aren’t On Board
Of course, with loved ones, it’s not so simple. Our loved ones can be the people who challenge our sobriety the most. Because you are such an integral part of their life, whatever big change you’re making is going to impact them. They get nostalgic for the fun nights out at the bar together just the same as you.
It’s likely that someone in your close orbit is going to try to challenge your resolve to not drink, to get things back to “normal.” Maybe this person actively participated in your addiction with you, or maybe they had no idea you were struggling and haven’t come to grips with the idea that drinking was a problem for you.
In these difficult situations, it’s important to articulate some key points to your loved one:
- Acknowledge that this is a big change for both of you and you’re sympathetic to that
- Reassure your loved ones that the relationship is still important to you, but your focus is on sobriety right now
- Give suggestions for things you can do together that don’t involve drinking
- Remind them of your reasons for wanting to be sober
- Reiterate to them that you need their help and support to be successful
For loved ones who may want some information or resources on how to navigate this new sober world, here is a link to Al Anon that may be useful.
Please note: If the relationship with your loved one is particularly toxic or bound up with your drinking, you may need a tougher strategy to handle them. There are many layers to people “not getting it” when it comes to sobriety which I’ll explore in future posts.
Sobriety is not easy. There are going to be challenging, triggering, and annoying incidents along the way that will test you. My goal is to provide you with as many tools as possible to stay the course on the tough days. If you’re newly sober and reading this, KEEP GOING! You got this!