10 Top Tips on how to make it through unscathed
Me, in my sober happy place....ALONE!
There is nothing wrong with hiding.... for a while. But at some point, like me, you're going to have to leave the safe confines of your house and face the outside world. My first ever sober social event was, to say the least, awkward. Fresh from therapy, I stepped into a pub where I’d arranged to meet my two best mates. A throng of revelers pushed past me as I tried to find a bar stool. I sat with a straight back and my heart racing wondering what to order. I tried to look as if I was normal. Just your average punter on a very ordinary night out. Of course, it didn’t feel like that at all. My toes were curled inside my trainers and beads of sweat were rolling south from my temple. This oh so very familiar territory.... had changed.
It was loud, blotchy people were shouting. Small projectiles of spit landed on my comfy cardigan as the man next to me ordered a beer. The lights were bright, and the smell of stale beer hung around me, giving me flashbacks of heavy nights and seedy lock ins.
My friends arrived and they ordered drinks and I ordered a fizzy water. No matter how hard I tried to relax, every word I spoke felt external from me. I could hear my own voice in my head. Judging, pulling apart each word.
The night dragged on. I wanted to leave. But, because I knew I had to do this, I plastered a painful joker like smile across my face in the hoping my outward demeanor would fool all the people around me into thinking I was having fun.
I kept the inner torment to myself, like a dirty little secret.
When I got home and my anxiety subsided, I knew I had achieved something massive. I had gone out and socialized and not had a sip of booze. A miracle. It had been hard, but I got through it. Going out is an important part of this sobriety journey. After my first jittery attempt, I knew that after every tricky interaction and self-conscious dance move, I was getting stronger. After a while, ( 1186 days to be exact) I can happily declare that I now look forward to socialising more than ever.
So, I thought I'd share my tips on how I got here. How this party girl (otherwise know as an alcoholic with back stage passes) became sober and social.
1. Tell them 'You're Sober Now’ before you go.
This one means you can avoid many uneasy conversations with people on the night. I explained my reasons why I’m sober in a call, over a coffee or in a text. Even though what I do with my own body is really irrelevant to anyone else I knew I didn’t want to discuss it at length in an environment where I wasn’t safe. Being in a pub surrounded with piss heads with ‘Living on a prayer’ blasting out from speakers behind you usually isn’t the best place to have a one to one. So, make sure in the weeks before your first sober social you give friends the heads up. This should avoid any stupid comments and allow you to not feel temptation. Oh, and if people still say silly things like, ‘You’re boring’ or ‘One won’t hurt’ tell them to mind their own bloody business or just give them a wedgy.
2. Stick to the plan – (if you can)
As the event draws closer try not to chicken out (like the last 5 events you’ve been invited to) There are only so many times you can fake illness, say the cat got its head stuck in the cat flap or feign ‘a big day tomorrow’. Now is the time to grab the red bull by the horns and get the fuck on with it. It has to happen at some stage so it may as well be now. It might be ever so painful and extraordinarily awkward at first but, I promise, if you stick to the plan you will truly feel proud that you did. Having one night out under the belt allows you to plan for the next one. You won’t feel anywhere as near as vulnerable. With each successful ‘show up’ you’ll feel more confident with the shiny socially sober you.
3. Be Alcohol- Free Prepared and Take Cash!
Depending on the circumstances, try to be alcohol free prepared. Think about what you want to drink before you go. If it’s a restaurant, check out their drink’s menu online the day before. Decide on your AF tipple without your mates peering over your shoulder making unhelpful suggestions (‘It’s two for one Sangria jugs night!) If alcohol free drinks are your thing then make sure they have the options, if not, call and ask the restaurant if its ok to bring your own (I did this once and they were very obliging) One thing I’ve found really annoying after mingling with the half-cut, is the dreaded ‘Let’s just split the bill’ comment. Take cash with you because you don’t want to unfairly pay for other people’s booze. Sneak up to the till before the bill has even arrived and pay for your items, thus avoiding any infuriating exchanges about you not drinking the peach schnapps and only wanting to pay for a Veggie Korma. If it’s a BBQ or a house party, just bring your own drinks in a cool box and a few snazzy in decorations, like parrots on plastic sticks and paper umbrellas. Make it flamboyant so you still feel like you’re having a treat. (your real treat will be the hangover free Sunday)
4. Take a Sober Mate
To make this entire experience more bearable I recommend finding an equally sober mate to join you. This way you have support, someone to talk you through the temptations and someone who understands why you feel like you might puke your heart up onto the table at any moment. Having friends that are further along on this path can be just what you need to get through. Watching them have sober interactions with a genuine smile, rather than a counterfeit one, will encourage you to do the same. Seeing your sober buddy dance, with no self-awareness might motivate you to moonwalk next time you’re near a grimy dance floor. Having a sober mate means you have someone to back you up when the questions come, someone to roll up their sleeves and take over when the conversation dries up and someone to take over when you disappear to the toilet to splash water in your face. Then at the end of that long night, you have someone to give you a big hug and tell you you're amazing in the car home.
5. Turn Anxiety into Excitement – Feel Those Sober Emotions.
It’s a fine line, one I’m only just getting my head around. When I used to go out as a drinker, I drank through any emotions I was feeling. I numbed out excitement with a cheap red and dissolved shyness into a G&T. Any nervousness around social events was soaked up by alcohol, so I never got to truly experience a night out without being blotto. So, of course going out for the first time without this crutch is going to stir up all sorts of new emotions. Fear, anxiety, doubt and trepidation will leap at you as soon as you click going to that Facebook invite. But try to sit with the feelings, let them pass, remember what you’re doing is right, for you, and nothing else matters. Embrace those feelings that have for so long been locked away and allow them to pass through your body and if you can (especially if you meditate) turn dread to pride, because working through them and letting them go will allow the real you to shine… and actually enjoy yourself!
6. Try a New Venue.
Don’t frequent old haunts. Association to environments, people and things is a huge reason people relapse. So, for the first year or so, I recommend staying away from places where you used to drink. I think if I had lived near an old, low beamed, English pub when quitting drinking the temptation of a warm ale in a metal tanker would have been too much to stomach. So, change things up. Find places that suit you and your sobriety better. Bars with more peaceful sections, restaurants with cosy corners away from the noise. Festivals with no bleary-eyed ravers offering you speed (actually, avoid festivals for a bit!) Go for breakfasts instead of dinners, go for walks instead of discos. Associate your sobriety to people, places and things rather than your drinking. I have found that I just don’t like going to places where I can’t hear what I’m saying or feel overwhelmed with the amount of people within the space. Forget what you used to like; find places that suit the sober you.
7. Take Deep Breaths and Remember Why.
When things get tough, if you feel overawed or the night is making you to want to run for the hills, (or the bottle) just take a time out. Wherever you are, step outside for a minute. Go into the garden, out onto the balcony, or lock yourself in a toilet. Just somewhere to escape the horde. Take however long you need to gather your strength. Breathe. Deep breaths in and out. Think about why you have chosen this path and remember the chaos that alcohol created. Think about the hangovers and anxiety you felt as a drinker and then stand up straight and march back into the party with your head held high. Not being a drunken sheep that's following the crowd can feel very satisfying. (Avoid the Baaaaar!)
8. Shake Off The Opinions of Others.
One thing I hate... is others thinking I’m a party pooper. I wasted so many years concerned about opinions I had no control over. It’s impossible to read the brains of others so don’t try to. Change the story. What they think about your drinking journey should have no impact upon you.
Now, I make that sound easy, but honestly, for me this was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do. I'm a people pleasing machine that thought I was letting people down by not drinking. I thought I was disappointing friends by not being a reliable drinking partner. I knew when I quit everyone I knew would hate me, or at least demand I drink with them. But to my surprise, nearly every single person I know has supported me. This made me realise that people don't like me because I could down a pint of snake bite and black quicker than anyone in Luton Town, they loved me for me. Drunk or Sober. So, if you have friends that are confronted by your drinking or pissed off that you won’t be going to karaoke anymore… shake it off, they have their reasons why they’re annoyed with you. Giving up drinking is confronting for drinkers because it reflects their own behaviors, so give them time. They will come round. And if they don’t, well that’s ok too.
9. Have an Escape Plan.
Before you go out, ever… Always make a plan to leave.
Have an escape strategy on hand, so when people get glassy eyed and wobbly… you can leg it! I have kids, so saying the babysitter is only booked until 10pm is my go to. But yours can be anything from the last bus home to your flat mate being locked out, just make something up if you have to. Before the drinking even starts, tell your mates what your plan is so you can avoid exasperating attempts at persuasion later on in the night. Nowadays, I even do the unimaginable, I sneak out of the fire door hoping everyone is far too wasted to notice I’m gone. But, if we're going to be honest, which of course is always the best policy, tell friends you’re in the early stages of sobriety and will be leaving as soon as you feel uncomfortable. People can’t argue with honesty and don't worry, there's something wonderfully smug about leaving a party before everyone else. Knowing you’re going to make the most of the following day, far outweighs the shame that comes with drinking.
10. Give Yourself a Pat on the Back.
You did it. You went out sober. Bang the drums, let off the fireworks and raise the trumpets! One down! Woo Hooooooo! Yeee haaaa and wham bam thank you maam! You are a super hero!
I know it’s hard and I know it’s tiring but us sober people have something to prove. We can be fun and be non-drinkers, we can party with you, (until 10pm) and we can let out hair down. Sobriety does not mean giving up fun, it just means redefining it and re-learning it.
Towards the end of my drinking days, I dreaded going out because I knew I would be the drunkest person there, fall in a gutter and have a hangover so bad that I thought perhaps I might die. Now, (thank fuck) those traits are gone. Flushed away like a regurgitated vodka shot. Now, 3 years in, I look forward to going out. I’m proud to be the only sober person there. I see drinking for what it is, a crutch for soaking up our social fears, and I feel gratified that I don’t have to trade in my true authentic self for a blubbering mess.
I can be me, alcohol free, with no expectations and no fake smiles. So, if you do manage to get through your first sober night out, then give yourself a well-deserved giant pat on the back. You are amazing…. Now, you just have to do it again and again and again.
And I promise, it does get easier.
The bright lights will dim, the music will soften, and after a while, you’ll find where you fit in to the social world. Afterall, you can’t stay home forever, go out… dance, laugh, chat and mingle. Then skip home in time for a movie, a cuppa and a gimongous tub of chocolate ice cream.
To learn more ways of being sober and social please listen to my podcast 'Sober Awkward'
Available on Spotify and iTunes and via my website www.drunkmummysobermummy.com