A guide to hanging out with friends sober
Recently, I was asked a question that pertained to the idea of socializing for the first time in early sobriety. This came from a young mom of two kids who recently quit drinking, because she decided alcohol wasn't playing a healthy role in her life anymore. She wanted to know how to feel confident without feeling the buzz.
"How do I get over the fear of hanging out with friends sober?"she asked.
There is a lot of anxiety that surrounds this concept. We use alcohol to ease our fears and to mask our insecurities. We drink to increase our confidence, fueling ourselves with an artificial sense of courage. I know this better than anyone. I drank before dinners out, big events, small parties. I even pregamed before back to school night at my kid's preschool, which wasn't even a social event. I just didn't know how to interact with other people without alcohol in my system. I had such social anxiety, and deep down I knew I was terrified to go anywhere without alcohol.
I thought it was easier with the mask of booze to get through the evening. I was SO wrong.
But, it took me a few times of going out without drinking to realize how much more anxiety inducing the alcohol was making me. How much more freaked out I was feeling because I was drinking. Once I had developed my sober sea legs, my anxiety had decreased so much. It took a few times of going out and being around my friends sober, but once I did it a few times and experienced how good it felt - I realized going out without drinking was so much better. I had to just do it - rip off the bandaid. It got easier and easier, the more I did it.
You need to build up some confidence. Start small, with an intimate group. Don't make your first intro back a wedding or something so large scale. Perhaps, go out with another couple to dinner. Surround yourself with people that make you feel safe and that understand what you are going through. If you don't want to talk about the fact that you aren't drinking - then don't! You don't owe anyone an explanation whatsoever. I loved telling people about my sobriety - because I was loud and proud about it. But that approach obviously isn't for everyone.
I like to observe how others act while drinking. I feel as if I am a pretty intuitive individual - so it is fun to watch people progress through the different stages of drinking. I am always keenly aware of how I would have been actively drinking in certain moments to avoid specific people or conversations, but instead I can now acknowledge these feelings and move on.
Early on in sobriety, when I had the usual FOMO and started to feel sorry for myself, I would play the tape forward. I would remind myself how the night would always end for me - in a black out with a raging hangover the next day. I would never be able to stop at just one drink.
A good suggestions as well, bring your own NA drinks/seltzer, if it is a party at someones house. Also, pack some Swedish fish or gummy worms in your bag as a sweet treat for yourself. Take frequent bathroom breaks to compose yourself if you need to steal away and take some deep breaths. And get out of there early - there is no need to hang around until midnight. Get your butt home and in bed by 10pm!
Chances are, no one will think twice about you not drinking. People will probably be too drunk, and people are always too self-absorbed and overly consumed with their own thoughts to worry about what you are doing. That is one of the biggest things I learned in sobriety - everyone ultimately cares about themselves the most, at the end of the day.
Soon enough, you will start to feel like yourself again, and you will realize you never needed that glass of wine to have fun in the first place. It takes a few months for your neural pathways to reform. Once they do and when you really start "feeling" again without the aid of a substance, that is when you begin to understand that you will don't need booze to help you be you.
On my vacation, we were with a bunch of families that didn't drink that much, thankfully. I didn't feel the need to try to get away from the scene and escape, because it was never a boozie atmosphere. It was a relief to be around people that knew how to genuinely enjoy themselves without relying on alcohol to try to improve the night.
If you are nervous about your first sober social outing, that is normal. Rip off the bandaid and get out there. Talk to a friend or your partner and take small steps. Send me an email and let me know how it goes. You got this!