Having been an online sobriety coach for over two years now (and sober for three and a half), I’ve heard a lot of misconceptions about sobriety. Here are the top five I’ve come across, and what the reality is. (I originally posted this on Medium)
1) Everything will be full of sunshine and rainbows after the first few weeks of sobriety.
While the first few weeks of sobriety can be challenging, you’re unfortunately not in the clear once you get through them. It is 100% true that the days, weeks, and months to follow can be more manageable once you make it past the first few weeks (and, let’s face it, they aren’t possible unless you make it past the first few weeks), but that doesn’t mean things are going to be smooth sailing from there on out. It’s that sort of thinking that lands a lot of people in trouble. They build up a type of confidence that makes them cocky — they think they’re invincible and that their drinking problem is a thing of the past. While it’s awesome to be confident with your sobriety, I constantly remind my coaching clients that they need to be comfortable in their sobriety in order for it to really stick.
What’s the difference?
Being comfortable in your sobriety means you identify with being sober, not simply feeling like you’ve got this sober thing down. If someone offers you a beer, your response of “No thanks, I don’t drink” will come as naturally as telling someone what color your eyes are — your sobriety becomes part of your identity.
When you only have confidence to lean on, you’re setting yourself up to play cat and mouse. One little whisper from a voice inside your head (no, you’re not crazy, we all have internal dialogues) will tell you, “Hey, you’ve been sober for a few weeks now. Clearly this drinking thing wasn’t as big of a problem as you thought it was. How about you go out, have a round with your friends at a bar, then call it a night. I mean, you obviously have control over your drinking, otherwise you wouldn’t have made it this far!” And you’ll believe it.
That voice is wrong. Oh so wrong. A few weeks of sobriety does not mean “you obviously have control over your drinking.” That’s not to say you don’t have control over your sobriety, but what’s a better way of exercising that control than to continue abstaining from drinking? Testing your limits isn’t showing off how in control you are — it’s a slippery slope that can end up with you back at day one, kicking yourself repeatedly.
When being confident teams up with being comfortable, I call that hitting your stride. This is when your mind stops generating a false sense of confidence to make up for your insecurities, when you aren’t as anxious or anxiety-stricken about how you’ll get through the day sober, when you don’t salivate at the thought of an alcoholic beverage, and so on.
I can’t tell you when you’ll hit your stride — for some people it can be around a month or two, for others it can be closer to a year. But what I can tell you is that you’ll know for sure when you hit it…and it’s going to feel amazing.
So while you won’t necessarily be basking in sunshine and rainbows after the first few weeks, stick with your sobriety. You won’t regret it.
If someone offers you a beer, your response of “No thanks, I don’t drink” will come as naturally as telling someone what color your eyes are — your sobriety becomes part of your identity.
2) You can’t have fun sober.
This one tends to perplex me. Sure, drinking can be fun, but have you been drinking alcohol since the day you were born? I hope not. Have you had fun before ever having a sip of alcohol in your life? I hope so. That right there proves you can have fun sober. You just need to try.
When I “came out” about my sobriety to friends and colleagues, I was once asked, “So if you don’t drink anymore…what do you do?” They were referring to what on earth I could possibly be doing with my time if I wasn’t spending it at a bar or a friend’s house getting drunk.
Gee, I don’t know, literally ANYTHING else.
True, I don’t go to nightclubs as often as I used to, but that’s because I now know that being drunk helped me have fun at them. I thought they were fun until I went to a few of them sober and I realized, “OH! So this is why I’d always get wasted at these things.”
They are not very fun to me. I know people who are sober and go to nightclubs, so I’m not saying they’re intolerable if you’re sober, this is just my personal experience.
What fun could I possibly be having now that I wasn’t getting wrecked in my spare time? Well, there were lots of options considering you have a LOT of spare time when you stop drinking. For each day I was sober, I didn’t spend six to eight hours drinking, nor did I spend three to six hours babying a hangover the next day. That added up to getting nine to fourteen hours of my life back.
Fourteen hours? That’s a huge amount of time!
And with that time came a lot of thinking about not drinking…which was stressful, which made me want to drink more, which made my anxiety spike. I knew I had to fill that time with something and figured out (through trial and error) that doing productive things was the way to go — things I felt some sense of accomplishment from, made me feel rewarded, allowed me to relax, or made me feel good. Not things that simply kept me busy.
Other than getting into mindfulness (which was the number one way I was able to get and stay sober), I used my free time to clean around the house (not what I necessarily consider fun, but definitely rewarding; my apartment has never been as clean as it was when I first got sober), explore new hobbies I always wanted to try or used to enjoy but stopped because I didn’t have the time, read a lot more books, dove into the realm of self-care and started to give a damn about how I treat myself, learned new things about anything and everything, and simply took some time to relax.
I wasn’t spending six to eight hours drinking, and subsequently wasn’t spending three to six hours babying a hangover the next day. That easily added up to getting nine to fourteen hours of my life back.
3) People will automatically think you had a huge drinking problem since you’re now sober, or you must have hit rock bottom.
While there definitely are some folks out there who will think this right away, most people won’t. Either they’ll accept that you don’t drink, or they’ll inquire about why (usually in a curious rather than challenging way — unless they’re jerks).
You know the story behind why you’ve decided to quit drinking. It doesn’t matter if you were a clinically diagnosed alcoholic, someone who drank once a week but could never stop at just one drink, or if you drank a glass of wine every night but didn’t want to anymore. The point is that you felt that alcohol was no longer serving you, it was a problem, so you made a change and cut it out of your life.
A problem is a problem and needs to be treated as such. Problems are also very relative — what I consider to be a problem might be a walk in the park for someone else, and vice-versa. Even if no one would say you had a drinking problem, if you thought your drinking was problematic compared to how you want to lead your life, that’s all the justification you need for your decision.
You actually don’t have to justify your decision to get sober to anyone. If it’s what you want to do, it’s what you want to do. Who are they to question something that’s an improvement to your well-being? While they may not understand it, that’s fine. It’s not their choice that they need to understand and accept. It’s yours. It’d be nice if close friends, family, and significant others could understand it, but that’s not always the case.
When someone asks you why you don’t drink anymore, I’ve found it’s best to have an elevator pitch of sorts ready to use so you’re not caught off guard. Something that doesn’t go into your personal issues (if you have any) but gets the point across. I have a couple, depending on the situation. My light-hearted one when people ask if I’m sober because I don’t like alcohol is, “I actually love beer, that’s why I can’t drink it anymore!” Which is honest, gets a laugh, and answers their question so we can move on.
A problem is a problem and needs to be treated as such.
4) If you can’t get the hang of sobriety the first few times you try, you never will.
This misconception breaks my heart whenever I hear it. It’s easy to feel like you’re not cut out for sobriety when you go back to “day one” repeatedly, but you can’t allow that to define the rest of your life. Seize the opportunity to learn from your slips and to grow from them. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting (as the saying goes).
Getting sober is a process, a process where there isn’t one clear cut way through to the other side. Everyone has arrived at the point of no longer wanting to drink at different times in their lives, after different events, and from different trains of thought. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to sobriety. That means there’s a lot of trial and error involved to find what works for you.
For some people, they can adapt quickly to what works for them and what doesn’t, carve out a plan of action they’re able to stick to, and go from there. For others, they’ll create a solid plan but can’t follow through on it. Another group of people will wake up each morning wishing they could use their willpower to overcome their drinking problem, becoming frustrated and confused when they can’t.
There are many other situations I haven’t mentioned. That’s because there are simply too many to list. The point is, if we didn’t get the hang of something the first few times we tried doing it and then gave up, none of us would know how to walk or use the toilet. Think of how many tries it takes before a baby learns how to walk. They fall down repeatedly and, yes, they become upset and frustrated but eventually they do get the hang of it. Soon, they’re running around the house and you can hardly keep up with them. Same deal with sobriety. Fall down, stand up, rinse, repeat until your feet are planted firmly where you want them to be.
Seize the opportunity to learn from your slips and grow from them. If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.
5) You’ll never be able to be around alcohol again in your life because it’s just too risky and tempting.
Not true whatsoever. While I don’t suggest throwing yourself to the wolves and never giving yourself a break from being around alcohol (if you can help it), there will come a time when you can be in the same room as it, sitting next to people drinking it, and you won’t be fazed by it.
This ties into what I said above about hitting your stride. Once you’re comfortable with your sobriety and it’s a plain stated fact that you don’t drink, that sets up an invisible barrier between you and alcohol. You don’t drink. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it. It’s not that you’re trying not to drink, it’s not that you’re experimenting with sobriety, it’s that you don’t drink. End of story. No wiggle room in that statement.
This doesn’t happen right away, and you can’t set a date or time as to when it’ll happen. What I’ve found works really well for many people (but not all; remember, there’s more than one way to get sober) is laying low for the first month or so and not putting yourself in situations where you’ll be around alcohol. After that, you can test the waters a little bit. Think of it as exposure therapy, where someone has a phobia of something and is incrementally exposed to it until the phobia is manageable or disappears. You don’t have to have a phobia of drinking, but gradually taper your exposure to being around alcohol while not drinking. It’s very different to be sober on your own, keeping to yourself, and being sober in a context where almost everyone else is drinking.
A great way to reintroduce yourself to situations where there’s alcohol is the buddy system. By the time you’ve had a few weeks of sobriety behind you, you may find it easier to open up to others about your decision to get sober. You don’t have to sing it from the rooftops (unless you want to, of course), but it’s nice to find someone you can confide in who can go to various events or get-togethers with you, acting as a layer of support when alcohol enters the scene. Maybe have a code word for when you’re starting to get anxious or feel like you’re going to slip. You could ask them to intercept any drinks you get handed (or try to order) and give you a pep talk to help you through it. They can act as a buffer if anyone asks why you’re not drinking and you don’t have a comfortable answer just yet (topic changing can be your saving grace). However, remember that you’re the only one who decides whether or not you’ll drink — your buddy isn’t the gatekeeper of your sobriety.
You won’t always need someone by your side if you’re in a place where alcohol is being served. Sometimes having someone on your side who knows what you’re up against and is only a text or phone call away is enough. The more comfortable you become with telling others about your sobriety, the more you’ll find yourself in social settings where everyone knows you’re sober, so you won’t need to put so much stress on yourself to come up with ways to avoid peer pressure. Your real friends will respect your decision to better yourself and won’t try to push you to break that commitment.
Once you’re comfortable with your sobriety and it’s a plain stated fact that you don’t drink, that sets up an invisible barrier between you and alcohol. You don’t drink. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it.