You’ve decided to get sober – an awesome decision to support your physical and mental well-being that will radiate outwards to benefit so many areas of your life. When you share your decision with a select few who are close to you early on in your sobriety, they show you support and encourage your decision. That’s awesome! Once you’ve gotten a solid streak of sobriety under your belt and start to hit your stride, you decide to tell others. The momentum keeps going until, abruptly, you get some feedback you didn’t expect and it really hurts. That’s when you realize, there are some people who won’t be supportive of your sobriety.
If you’ve already experienced this or haven’t yet, let me be clear: other people not being supportive of your decision to get sober has absolutely NOTHING to do with you and everything to do with them. Don’t let their opinions make you second guess yourself as to whether or not it’s something you should be doing if you feel good about doing it.
While support and encouragement are reactions we certainly hope for, they’re not ones we always get. If you used to be a social drinker then your drinking buddies, for example, might feel a bit awkward. There are a lot of different reasons some people might not be supportive of your sobriety; here are a few to give you a better idea of why it really is something they need to work through and isn’t something you should feel bad about:
- They don’t have a problem with alcohol so they can’t understand how anyone could possibly have a problem with it. For them, they can easily obey their drinking limits so they struggle to put themselves in your shoes (or they haven’t really tried to because they aren’t willing to come to terms with the fact that you are going through something so foreign to them).
- They’re in denial of their own potential drinking problem. Either they know that they should cut back but they rationalize it because other people are drinking, or they’re using alcohol as an escape and your sobriety is reminding them that they’re eventually going to have to face whatever they’re running away from (which they don’t like).
- They feel guilty that they either supported your drinking habit or didn’t realize you were struggling. They feel bad that they weren’t able to help you and that they’re finding out about this after you’ve been able to gain some traction. Instead of being supportive or even admitting that they feel they wish they had been more helpful, they’ll pretend it’s just not happening – that you don’t have a drinking problem so there’s no reason for you to get sober. They pull the wool over their own eyes.
- They might assume you’re now going to have a “holier than thou” attitude and look down on them for drinking (or try to get them to stop drinking). The best you can do with this one is to let them know up front (if this is how you feel) that just because you’re sober, you’re not judging them for drinking and unless they come to you for help you’re not going to preach to them about how they should get sober, too. Your sobriety is a personal choice, just like their drinking is their personal choice. They might still feel awkward but letting them know you’re not there to judge them definitely helps.
I found that by facing my drinking problem, others around me began to reflect on their own drinking habits — and some of them didn’t like what they saw. They got angry and upset (mostly because alcohol was their vice of choice to get away from realizing they weren’t living their lives the way they’d like), then directed that anger at me! Additionally, they now no longer had someone who drank more than they did to bring to bars and parties in order to make themselves look better.
I never lectured them about how they should get sober, nor did I preach to them how sobriety changed my life or anything like that. Simply telling people I no longer drank made them upset. It was difficult to face. Why did doing something good for myself make people upset? Shouldn’t they be happy I was taking care of myself?
That’s when I learned that having an attachment to a response I anticipated on getting hurt me more than it helped. When I didn’t get that response, it blindsided me. It wasn’t fair of me to assume how other people would feel or react and then get upset when they responded differently. Letting go of those anticipations was difficult, but necessary in being able to continue with my sobriety and not get held down by any negative feedback I received.
There are other reasons people might not respond ideally when you’re comfortable enough to “come out” about your sobriety to them, but believe me, it’s worth telling people you’re sober. If these people only want to hang out with you when you’re getting wasted and don’t want you to improve your own well-being, are those really the kind of people you want to be around? You’d be hard-pressed to call them your true friends in the first place. This can be a difficult realization for you as well as for them.
For my close friends who didn’t understand my decision to get sober and I really wanted support from, I had one-on-one conversations with them explaining my hardships with alcohol and how I really felt. Tears were cried, hugs were had. If someone can’t put themselves in your shoes, all you can really do is spell it out for them by opening up. Ultimately it’s up to them if they choose to understand you or not — I found that my true friends were willing to understand and my flaky friends weren’t. I didn’t want to lose any friends but it was for the best. Remember, getting sober is a form of bettering yourself. What kind of friend wouldn’t want you to be the very best you can be?
It’s hard to let go of friendships that no longer serve you and realize that they weren’t as solid as you once thought they were but let me tell you, it is so freeing once you are able to get to that point.