A Toast to Sobriety. Navigating those tricky ‘I’m sober’ conversations.
For my first 18 months of being a fizzy water warrior I stayed at home, hiding. My sober journey felt very private, just between me and my family. It took me ages to come to terms with ‘becoming boring’ and my quitting booze felt like I would let a lot of people down.
When on occasion I did go out during that 18 months I would sit holding a beer and pretend to sip on it in order to fit in. I was over 40 years old, faking to avoid ridicule.
I guess I was scared and not ready. I needed to feel like this was something I was really going to pursue before I shouted about it. So, I sat, beer in hand, pretending to do something that had caused me mental health issues.
It’s peculiar how we live in a society where a toxic, addictive substance is cheered on from the sidelines. Sober people feel like the ones making an irrational decision when all we’re doing is trying to be healthier.
The fact is that alcohol was making me very unwell, that panic attacks had infiltrated my hangovers and I was missing out on time with my children. These three points should be sufficient for people not to question me.
Surly those massive reasons made enough.
But, even though my reasons were rational...I still hid.
I hid because people’s opinions of me mattered,
way too much.
They mattered so much that at times that drinking seemed like a better option than sobriety.
Drinking, fear and panic seemed more alluring than getting sarcastic eye rolls.
But I knew, after a year and a half, that the time had come to face the music. I had to start telling people and deal with reactions of others.
I told my Mum first. I sent her a blog post called ‘Confessions of a sober mamma’ that I’d written for a women’s magazine. I was too scared to hand her the document, I didn’t want to see the discontent in her eyes as she read the words, so I just emailed it to her and then sat on my sofa all afternoon staring at my phone. When I saw her name flash up onto the screen I took a deep breath and prepared myself for the ‘What a load of rubbish, this is ridiculous Victoria’ speech, but her voice was soft,
‘Hello Mum, did you read it?’
‘Yes, I read it’
‘What did you think?’
That’s when she surprised me…
‘I’m sorry’ she said, ‘I didn’t know it had gotten that bad.’
‘That’s ok, no one knew, it’s not your fault.’
We went on to have a lovely, heartwarming chat in croaky, nearly crying voices.
And that was that.
But, unfortunately not every conversation was as accepting as this. For some annoying reason people don’t like it very much when people get sober. Choosing sobriety is like swimming in rough seas with only a few hands reaching in to pull you out on to dry land. Convincing people that I was serious, and my reasons why were important, took some persuasion.
Some were intrigued. They thought it was amazing that such a huge binge drinker had managed to stop. They asked kind questions like,
‘How did you do it?’
‘Does it feel good not having hangovers?’
‘Are you proud of yourself?’
‘Did you seek help?’
Some were surprised, because I wasn’t passed out in a gutter with a bottle of JD they never considered me to be a problem drinker. They said things like,
‘You’re a fun drunk’
‘You never had a problem’
‘You drink like everyone else’
‘You’re not an alcoholic for gods sake!’
(Notice how the kind questions turn to judgmental statements.)
I actually didn’t mind these too much because I remember saying these lines myself and understand that people that drink feel threatened by people that don’t. They‘re scared that your good choices might ruin their night out and it’s too self-reflective of their own perhaps, confusing relationship with alcohol. I actually have sympathy for the people that give sober people a hard time because it means they are so deep in, like I was, that seeing a way out is virtually impossible. Sober people are just mirrors, that shine light directly in their eyes.
Then I got the silent lurkers, the friends that never mention it. I think this has to be the one that makes me sad. Some friends never reference what I’ve done, never talk about the changes I’ve made, like it’s too painful to be addressed. It’s as if my not drinking has offended them so deeply that they can’t even find the words to express their disappointment. They just scuttle off to the bar mumbling what a boring fuck I’ve become.
And that’s ok, being a boring as fuck is awesome!
Then there’s the ones that care, the ones that stay, the ones that love me no matter what I do and, in the end, they are the only ones that matter.
They ask me, respect my choices, carry my lemonade in one hand and their wine in the other. They tell me I’m doing a good job and don’t question my reasons because they know my reasons were important enough for me to stop.
And that one thing should be enough.
The explanation is in the statement.