When I first quit drinking, I didn’t know what the plan was long-term. Was I taking a temporary break? Would this actually stick? Did I just have my last drink…ever?
But here’s what I did know about myself: moderation did not work, because I never wanted to stop at just one drink.
I also knew that alcohol use disorder ran in my family and that my average 3–4 glasses of wine per night were way over the lines of ‘healthy’ for me. Parenting two small children with a vicious hangover was perhaps the most miserable, self-inflicting pain I have ever encountered. So, I quit. I woke up one morning with a pounding headache and a weak stomach determined never to experience another hangover for the rest of my life.
I read books on unhealthy drinking, such as the Big Book and This Naked Mind Controls Alcohol. And I worked with a therapist on understanding the framework of my aching desire to numb out every night.
Navigating sobriety or moderation for women (Mon/Sat)
Those first few weeks were difficult, but as long as I could control my environment and my schedule, I knew what to do to physically stay away from alcohol. If there wasn’t alcohol in the house, I couldn’t drink at home and around my kids. Perhaps the most challenging part was navigating the experiences I could not control — mainly, social gatherings and the cultural norm of drinking. Weddings, funerals, book clubs, even moms sidelined at the Sunday afternoon soccer game are known to break out some bubbly or sneak cocktails in their tumblers. Alcohol is everywhere, and to be social in this world often means to be surrounded by alcohol.
I remember so clearly a play date at another mom’s house, back when I was still early in my sobriety. Almost the moment I stepped through the front door, the mom giggled, “Mimosa time!” And my body froze. I did not know how to handle that. Yes, we can plan, we can engineer, and we can practice, but when it comes to social functions, things can frequently feel out of our control. We don’t have power over others. The good news is, we can control how we show up. So, alas, now nearly three years sober, here’s how I socialize wine-free.
Always bring a fun drink.
I’ve become known for bringing a unique non-alcoholic drink with me to parties now. Honestly, I just add it to the party cooler and share it with anyone else who might be interested. Spoiler alert: someone always wants to join the alcohol-free party. Sometimes people are just looking for an invitation to abstain, and a companion to do it with. My go-to drink? Soda water with a splash of flavored vinegar.
Check out Monument’s Delish AF for some fun non-alcoholic cocktail ideas.
Look for the other non-drinkers in the room.
There is a misconception when you’re drinking that everyone else is drinking too. When you start to look more closely, however, you will quickly recognize that there are almost always a few non-drinkers mingling (and having a great time, I should add). I frequently feel drawn towards those folks, and we have great conversations — without the cacophony of slurring that most social drinking elicits. Making more meaningful connections is a huge benefit of sobriety.
Put your own needs first.
I have learned that the importance of my sobriety trumps any sense of obligation or pressure. Whether it’s Christmas day or a dear friend’s wedding, if I ever feel triggered or unsteady, I give myself permission to leave. Full, unequivocal validation that my needs are important. If that means going home, so be it. If the people in your life are advocates for your wellbeing, they will understand. And moreover, they will actively support you. I’ve never regretted prioritizing my needs.
The freedom of sobriety is the most empowering gift I’ve ever given myself. However, it’s not always easy. As humans, we are socially structured and need to coexist in a world where most people drink. Being alcohol-free can feel ostracizing at times. You may wonder if you will ever feel comfortable in your own skin again, let alone going out to a party or a football game. But I can promise you that with time and practice, you too can enjoy the social engagement of life as you once did. And the best part is you will remember what you did and said the next morning, too.
And that is something to celebrate.