Just a Simple Night Out
If you’re trying to quit drinking, going out sober is a bitter-sweet reminder (more bitter than sweet) of how tough your decision to quit will be. There’s nothing like trying to keep yourself together as you walk into a bar and savor the raw awkwardness of ordering a juice instead of your favorite draught beer. The edgy feeling as you join your friends, all enjoying fresh cocktails and chilled white wine. When you sit down, a few friends greet you with questionable glances at your beverage choice. Trying to play it off, you keep it cool. You smile, strike up the conversation and let the night roll.
But, then you start to think, those drinks look so good! They’re just sitting there, cold and delicious. Here I am with my juice, hating everything about the world and juice at this very moment. Why did I order a stupid juice? Then, as the night carries on, a little jittery feeling keeps you on your toes. Maybe I should just have one, and then that will be it. I’ll go home and start my quit tomorrow. I don’t want to be a buzz kill. I can have one, it’s no big deal if it’s just one. Everyone is drinking, and I look out of place… and so the inner dialogue goes.
Like others, going out sober with friends was one of my biggest fears when I quit drinking. I know it’s difficult, and that’s why I’m writing this blog piece. Remember, difficult is not the same as impossible. You can get through it, but first you need to get out of your head.
The Struggle is Mental
Sobriety is a mental game, and you need to first stop any thoughts that tease your mental strength. I use the word tease because we tend to think with false confidence when we enter a bar sober. We think we have a good game plan, like, One drink and then I’ll go home. But, how many times have we stayed for just one drink in these fun social settings? How do you react when your friend buys you a shot and demands you to take it with him? What about your boss who uses a happy hour to bond outside the workplace? Or your sister’s wedding with an open bar?
Your mental game is key. If you’re going out sober, be ready to say no when offered a drink; it’s not as bad as you think. Most worries that come with sobriety are only in your head. People won’t care if you’re not drinking because it doesn’t affect their needs. However, if you do have a needy friend that can’t drink alone, then schedule a coffee date with them instead. But, the first time I turned down a drink, I thought a riot of questioning and peer pressure would erupt. What I actually encountered was a slight shoulder shrug and an, “Ok, so what do you want me to order for you?”
Like I said, the worst is always in your head. People don’t care if you don’t drink.
Say “No” and Love It!
Saying no feels empowering, but if that makes you uncomfortable then you don’t have to be so direct. Say whatever you want if it keeps you from drinking. Lines I’ve used include: “I want to stop drinking and just see how I feel, like a detox.” Or, “I’m trying to be healthier.” Or, “I don’t feel like wine tonight, I’m craving coffee.” Odds are, your friends won’t give it another thought and it’s done. Crisis averted.
We know full well how hard it is to muster the courage to say no to a drink. Otherwise, we would all have a healthy, moderate drinking lifestyle like all our favorite TV show characters who jokingly drink “too much wine” with their catty girlfriends. It’s a game of willpower, motivation, accountability, and fortitude.
Bonus story: I can’t tell you how many times I was asked if I was pregnant or if I was “feeling OK” because I wasn’t drinking. The concern on the faces of my loved ones, because I had water instead of wine, was gold. I know it’s mean, but going out sober was hard so I had to have fun with it wherever I could.
Plot Your Success, Be Even Better Next Time
If you’re going out sober, go out with a plan. I’ve found this to be the best method before losing myself to madness. Order a non-alcoholic drink, be it a coffee, soft drink, water or a mocktail, and pay for it right away; do not keep a tab open. This way, when you start to feel the edginess creep in, you can quickly say your good-byes and GTFO. Then go home, applaud yourself for not giving in (it feels freaking awesome!) and remember that you can do it again next time.
Every time you modify old behaviors (like turning down a drink) new neuro pathways connect in your brain. This makes it easier to repeat next time you’re offered a drink. So, politely turn it down and strengthen that connection even further. If you slip, you slip. It happens. But those neuro pathways are still connected so you might be able to rebound easier than you thought, so keep going.
Join the Hermits
During the first month of your quit, refrain, as much as humanly possible, from going out to social gatherings. You’re new to the quit and your confidence fluctuates on a day to day basis. Going out sober is toughest at this time. Being around alcohol will most likely stir up some anxieties inside you. When anxiety comes near alcohol, you have a sure-fire way to start drinking again. Or, best case scenario, you dwell in extreme discomfort. So, just like you’ve removed all alcohol from your home, you must also remove alcohol situations as well. It’s not forever, it’s just temporary.
When you’ve made it through the first month, congratulations you did great! But the game isn’t over. Two years sober and I still struggle with some social settings and alcohol, but not nearly as bad as my first 90 days. You’re still vulnerable to mood swings, cravings, jitters and peer pressure.
Rolling Your Own Snowball
Here’s the struggle. After a few months without drinking, you start to feel pretty good about yourself. You got this, you’ve made it through the worst and now you’re starting to coast. Then, out of nowhere, you think, I’ve got this alcohol problem under control, I think I can handle one drink now. And, maybe you do. You order one drink, then go home and think, Hell yeah, I had just one drink and I didn’t get wasted. I controlled my cravings and I’m perfectly sober still.
Then, a few weeks later there’s another gathering and you think, Hey, I did so well a few weeks ago, so now I can definitely handle a drink without getting crazy. So, you drink again. Maybe you stay lucid, maybe you get a little tipsy this time. Then you go out again the next week, you order a few drinks, you have a good time and get a solid buzz, or you get drunk. Do you see where snowball is going?
We stopped drinking because we had a problem. Taking a vacation from alcohol doesn’t solve the problem, it just postpones our next plight. It’s easier to not drink today than to drink and try to get sober again.
Success is Sweet
Two years later, I have very few problems going out sober. I love ordering specialty coffees, virgin mojitos, and other mocktails. My friends know I don’t drink and expect me to order alcohol-free options. They don’t care. I can focus on them and their and stories without interjecting my inebriated nonsense. And if I’m feeling jittery I just tell them I need to go home. Crisis averted, once again. So, unless you like sitting in uncomfortable settings with water while everyone around you gets wasted, then I suggest you stay in. Don’t tempt temptation, or you’ll end up feeding the same habits you are simultaneously trying to crush. Remember your goals, and don’t quit the quit. You’ve got this.
Jennifer Coletta is a blogger for ExpatHousewife.com, a blog dedicated to travel, expat life, self-improvement and alcohol-free living. Her days are spent writing for her site, and evenings are dedicated to working virtually for clients in the US. Born in California, she resides in The Netherlands with her husband and pet rabbit.
Find more of her posts on https://www.facebook.com/expathousewife/