Updated: Jun 29
I recently just surpassed the six month mark of being alcohol free (woohoo!), and successfully overcame the initial hardships. I learned how to deal with cravings, fill my time with hobbies, cope with difficult emotions, and adjust to life without booze. I often compare my sobriety journey to a rollercoaster; both are filled with euphoric highs and anxiety-provoking lows. The first six months I spent re-grounding myself, making amends, managing the emotions I had ignored, and finding comfortability in being sober. It's easy to sum up the lessons I've learned in a sentence, but it took six months of deep reflection and hard work to get here. Every challenge was difficult in its own way, operating at different depths and testing my strength. I'm extremely proud of how far I've come. However, I've found that there is a different kind of challenge that I'm currently facing, and it might be the hardest one yet.
This challenge is all about the doubters and naysayers; those who don't respect, appreciate or tolerate your sobriety, and learning how to deal with them.
Initially, when I first decided to quit drinking, maintaining friendships was a huge concern - I was nervous that I'd be left out of plans and lose the friends I had. It turned out to be partially true; some friendships with co-workers that revolved around drinking dropped off, but for the most part, my close friends supported me. My newly established friends respected my decision and planned activities for us that didn't involve alcohol. Many friends from my hometown expressed their support, while others remained quiet. One hard truth I had to learn is that the people in your life that matter will stay and support your decision no matter what.
In the beginning, I didn't really have problems with people doubting or opposing my sobriety. It wasn't until about a month after I was sober that I started to experience negativity surrounding my decision. I'm not sure if it's because certain people thought my sobriety was temporary, but I started to become aware of comments made on behalf of my new lifestyle. People started to make comments like: "She'll drink again eventually," and "You'll have to drink the rest of the wine that I bought." Others would tell me to try their drink, offer to put alcohol in my coffee, or blame the hurtful comments on their (lack of) memory. And the worst of them all was when someone expressed that we should celebrate my future accomplishments with wine. Ouch.
I don't expect everybody to remember that I don't drink because that would be a ridiculous expectation. Especially if we're not close. It's not the forgetfulness that bothers me, it's the lack of empathy after being reminded, and/or the decision not to remember. It's like when someone you just met forgets your name. You brush it off at first because you know that remembering new names can be hard. But when the person continues to ask for your name or calls you by the wrong one a handful of times, that's when it starts to feel personal.
It's been six months, so my close friends and family know that I don't drink. I hope that by now, most of them know that I take it very seriously (hence the blog, social media posts, and aspirations to write a sober novel). For the most part, I feel supported. I even have a few friends and family members who don't drink or are trying to quit, which makes the process a lot easier. I can relate with them by sharing my experience while listening to theirs. However, I still encounter upsetting comments that disrespect and diminish my decision to stay sober. It's been really hard not to take these remarks personally, but there's a few things that I have learned.
For one, we are all human. I have to realize that my decision to be sober also has an impact on others. The reason I decided to get sober was entirely personal. However, I understand that my decision to stop drinking affects my relationship with other people. Even though it's extremely discouraging when people try to push me to drink, it has enabled me to think about my sobriety from their perspective. It might have been hard for me to stop drinking, but it's probably hard for them too because they lost a drinking buddy. Oftentimes people like to drink with others so they don't feel uncomfortable with their own decision to drink.
When I decided to stop drinking, people started talking about their drinking habits with me. A lot of people started to explain their drinking wasn't a problem, or that they only do it socially. Others came to me with the belief that their drinking was a problem. My point isn't to tell you if you're a problem drinker or not. I can't make that decision for anyone. What I'm trying to say, is that I found that my decision to quit drinking made other people examine their own relationship with alcohol. From that, I've realized that whatever people say to me about alcohol is a reflection of how they feel, and it has absolutely nothing to do with me. I've learned the hard way that what people say on behalf of my sobriety reflects their own internal reality. If they make upsetting comments about my decision not to drink, it's usually just a projection of their relationship with booze. The remarks still sting, but it helps knowing that it's usually not personal.
If you're looking for a solution on how to deal with the doubters and naysayers, I don't have a clear answer... yet. I'm still experiencing the anxiety-provoking lows, and attempting to climb to the euphoric peak of the rollarcoaster. The advice I can give is this: If you're attempting sobriety and the people that make hurtful remarks to you don't bring value to your life, it's okay to move on. I know it's hard, but remember that you are making a decision that is ultimately right for you. On the other hand, I know that it usually isn't this simple. It certaintly isn't for me. If the person making the hurtful comments is family or someone you want to keep in your life, I've learned that the only way through is to engage in open communication. I'm still learning, but explaining that their comments are hurtful is one way of letting them know how serious you are about your sobriety. At first, I let the comments slide, even though they deeply impacted me. However, I'm learning how to gradually stick up for myself. Explaining that I'm prideful in my decision not to drink sets a boundary for next time. It also helps to remember that their comments are a reflection of their reality and not yours.
If you have someone in your life who is sober or wants to quit drinking, the best thing that you can do is to be patient. Sobriety is a huge decision to make. I always feel supported when people ask how sobriety is going, or congratulate me on my decision. It's okay to drink in front of your sober friends (if they're comfortable with it). I don't feel offended when people order alcohol in front of me, because I respect their decisions and feel confident in my own. When you push others to drink or belittle them for their choice to get a soda instead, that's when it becomes a problem. Nobody likes to feel like the decisions that they make aren't respected by the ones they care about. In a world where the one's who don't drink are the outliers, don't make your sober friends feel even more like the outcast with your sh*t comments. Carry on.