How to maintain existing friendships after sobriety
August 22, 2019 7:45 AM   Subscribe

Newish sobriety (weeks), and looking for some non-alcohol centered activities to maintain relationships with friends who drink, but are not alcoholics. Because of me, almost all of our social activities in recent years have involved alcohol.

I’m *not* asking for additional sobriety support, I have that and know where to find it. I have several long term friendships that predate my escalation of alcohol intake and with middle age, children, work, etc, for the past several years “social time” has meant going out for drinks with my buddies. They’ll have a couple beers. I’ll have a couple double whiskeys, a couple beers, another glass of liquor, and another couple whiskeys when I get home. Nights at home tend to end with a couple of whiskeys. My wife and friends have noticed and it’s been time and I’ve been able to stop.

Except for the small matter of going out and socializing. Everything I can think of doing is associated with alcohol and every time I’ve gone out in the last couple months I’ve drank when I didn’t want to, so I’m just not going out for now. I think the drinking has had a dampening effect on my ability to think of other non alcohol related fun.

I’m planning to turn to my friends with this question, I’m very comfortable with that, but I’m afraid they’ll stop inviting me out of respect for my health and plus, I’m not convinced this means I’ll *never* touch alcohol again and what that will mean 6 months from now when I decide to have a beer.

Other facts. We are reasonably fit, athletic folks, but competitive sports isn’t our thing. Hiking, climbing, etc is more like it but hardly Friday night activities. We are mostly hard working professionals with graduate degrees, most have young kids, most of us are musicians, we appreciate art, we enjoy talking.

Help me socialize as a sober person!
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (20 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Rather than going out -- where the bar is there, and the drink is easy to order -- try inviting people over. Movie night (kids in one room with kid movie, grownups in another with grownup movie, if that's practical given the kids ages) or board game night or other low-key, home-based social activities can work well and if you don't keep alcohol in your home, reduce the temptation to drink. Serve a few kinds of interesting, non-alcoholic beverages and ask people to potluck snacks to keep the prep time down.

Consider also, Friday Night Meatballs
posted by jacquilynne at 7:54 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]

Would your friends be up for going out for dessert / coffee / decaf at a non-licensed cafe? A lot of cafes can be a nice place to hang out; in my city, they are often quieter than bars and one near me hosts music nights.

I happen to have a pretty sober/non-drinking group of friends, and we spend a lot of time at cafes - including boardgame cafes - and at each others' houses drinking tea. The tea or coffee, like alcoholic drinks, is just an excuse to hang out and talk, and lubricates the conversation. For people I don't see regularly, I will often book coffee dates on a Saturday or Sunday morning, and it doesn't matter if anyone actually likes coffee. One of my friends with whom I frequently have "coffee" doesn't drink caffeine. She orders an herbal tea.

Friday night potlucks are also a nice idea; or Friday night pizza/take out (if no one has time to cook).
posted by jb at 7:57 AM on August 22 [8 favorites]

I bet your town has open movie nights/music events/farmers markets. Go play frisbee golf, board games at a coffee shop, ping pong, trivia nights (though these are often at bars).
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 8:06 AM on August 22

In the earlier stages of helping with a loved one's newfound sobriety, we took on more of the social planning than we were used to, to ensure they weren't hanging out in bars. (Later on they were fine with being in bars while other people drink, but those early weeks can be shaky and they felt better skipping them altogether.) We hosted movie nights or dinners, invited people out for coffee or frozen yogurt, made more of a point to look up local events and invite people to plays, festivals, the farmer's market, a movie, brunch, whatever.

A couple of particularly successful things were those where one sort of did the bulk of planning once and then had a recurring thing set up - like, "the first Friday of every month we do a potluck brunch and watch a bunch of anime," or "we're doing a slow-motion ice cream crawl this summer, here's the schedule, every Thursday at eight I'm gonna be at one of these places checking out their ice cream, I'd love it if you'd join me!"

Several years into their sobriety, social activities still mostly look like meals, coffees, desserts, plays, movies, TV marathons, game nights, craft meetups, etc. Some friends weren't able to make the transition away from booze-centered festivities, but most were, and it was all pretty easy after that initial conversation about taking a break from drinking.
posted by Stacey at 8:23 AM on August 22 [3 favorites]

Ask your friends, they are non alcoholics and will have ideas that they specifically enjoy .

A couple of my friends and I are going minigolfing this weekend, which probobly isn't what you have in mind but really the possibilities are kind of endless. Movies, musuems, maker spaces, sightseeing and just dinner! Cafes are great too.
posted by AlexiaSky at 8:24 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]

You could take advantage of your sober-driven increased mental acuity and physical prowess to win some friendly games and sports. When I was drinking a lot I didn't really enjoy doing that stuff so much but now I love it. I play games with my daughter and actually enjoy it rather than do it out of obligation. I'm better at biking and playing casual team sports, too. Lots of laughs. Also, camping is more fun sober. Hiking, swimming, mountain biking, fishing and especially waking up to a beautiful sunrise and making breakfast while friends are sleeping in with hangovers (everyone wins).
posted by waving at 8:42 AM on August 22

Movie night at someone's house, with pizza. Go bowling. Go play tabletop games. Host poker night. Look for events in your town or city n Facebook; I live in a small city (circa 250,000) and I get a ton on invitations to things.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:08 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

I'm absolutely fine not drinking around friends that have stopped, so your friends may be supportive. I still show up with beer when I come over to play pool or board games with one of my dearest friends, just now it's the ginger or root variety.
posted by Candleman at 9:20 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

We are reasonably fit, athletic folks, but competitive sports isn’t our thing. Hiking, climbing, etc is more like it but hardly Friday night activities.

Why not? A lot of climbing/bouldering gyms are open Friday nights, and it's a great social activity - there is a lot of downtime to hang out and chat while one of you is on the wall. It's not competitive at all, and you will be nowhere near alcohol.
posted by googly at 9:24 AM on August 22 [2 favorites]

Depending on where you live, there may be lots of many street festivals, art fairs, community center events, etc. that might be happening without your previously having noticed them. Keeping tabs on community calendars can be surprisingly fruitful.
posted by mosst at 9:53 AM on August 22

I know you're professionals, but look, someplace like Denny's is usually way easier to talk in than a bar because they're less hideously noisy, and they're usually quite friendly to having people hang out in the evenings as long as you tip well. Maybe not necessarily Denny's itself, but somewhere in the diner or family restaurant kind of category. No alcohol, but a certain feeling of self-indulgence with free beverage refills and occasional impulse orders of appetizers. Even with food orders and decent tipping, still comfortably affordable.
posted by Sequence at 10:13 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]

My friends and I are a pretty sober group, so here's what we enjoy doing: museum evenings, tea and cookies catchups, crafts, full moon hikes, movie nights, boardgames, afternoons in the park, attending library programs, the cafe at the local bookstore, wandering around a neighborhood that we don't usually go to and taking photos of whatever catches our eyes...the world is your oyster!
posted by sugarbomb at 10:59 AM on August 22 [4 favorites]

There's lots of social sports now, as part of what I think of as "doing things together" social opportunities that allow engagement (unlike stuff like movies, concerts etc) but give you a thing to do. Mini-golf is probably the original and I think Top Golf is the adult version now, but now there's rock climbing, axe-throwing (highly recommend, very cathartic), indoor or lit outdoor archery, and you may have local regionalizations.

Do you have any local game stores or game cafes? We have several here, they generally have nighttime open play hours. Spend some money, buy some tea and snacks, hang out and play some low-key games and talk.

If you don't want to hang out and talk at home, some of my favorite hangout spots are Panera/Corner Bakery type places where they're generally chill about people camping to talk or work or have meetups as long as you buy some stuff and don't get rowdy or messy.

If you have any of those fancy post-mall-malls, the outdoor shopping experience fake neighborhood things, they usually have a post-food-court-court next to a couple coffee/pastry/tasteful sandwich shops plus a nice fountain and maybe an instagram wall. As long as you buy a few things you can sit there a while.

Depending on where you live this season may be ending soon, but I find that the older I get the more I do a lot of socializing on the outside edge of Wholesome Community Activity stuff. We get series of drive-in movies all summer, concerts in the park, food truck nights along the edge of a community park or shopping center. The kind of stuff you need to pack a lawn chair for, and then we might move well away from the people there to enjoy the actual activity and just circle chairs around and shoot the shit. Similar events - harvest festivals, pumpkin patches, farmers' markets, First Friday and similar art crawls - where we just walk around and talk and that's the whole point.

Another way to do less-boozy activities: take y'all's kids with you. Take them to the drive-in, the pumpkin patch, the janky-ass parking lot fair. Have picnics. Agree in advance that parents will take shifts with wrangling responsibilities so they get to rotate in and out of the grownup time.

My ladies' book and anarchy club often crafts together, either we all make a specific thing or we make a collaborative thing or we have project days where everyone brings whatever WIP they need to work on plus a potluck dish. Luckily we have one member who has a garage studio and that makes a handy place to gather. If you don't have space at home there are other ways to get semi-private space, you just may have to do some legwork to figure out what that is in your area.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:14 AM on August 22 [1 favorite]

There are some fantastic suggestions here, but keep in mind that if you need/want totally alcohol free destinations for awhile1 (and you need what you need, anyone who tries to get you to hang out in a bar before you're ready can STFU), that a lot of these great suggestions are going to have alcohol, even if they're not booze centric. Two out of the three indy coffee shops near campus have licenses to serve, our favorite movie theater just got licensed, Top Golf has drinks, the axe throwing near us does (this seems... ill advised), art fests and other such events are overrun with people blazes on Rosé... it's frustrating.

My list when I'm out of cope for being around people drinking: my house and we just don't serve that night (my wife still drinks, it's fine, I'm chilling but it's been 16 months, it's okay if it takes awhile), friend's houses whom I know aren't going to pull out booze (I took dinner to a friend's house last night, we drank water and watched the Little League World Series, it was nice), corporate coffee shops without liquor licenses, diners, walks (so many walks, the first few months all of us got our steps in, and depending on where you are you should still have enough daylight post work to get in a walk) [do you have dogs, do you have friends with dogs? dog park!], bookstores, museums that don't have cafes (a friend and I did a loop around the campus art museum today, it was nice), your local zoo if it doesn't serve anywhere.

Keep asking your friends to do things. They will likely invite you out less out of concern for you to begin with, you're not wrong there, so you're likely to have to do more of the planning to begin with, but as things settle into the new normal, they'll start suggesting booze free things to do (well, some of them will, at any rate) and your social life will settle down again.

1. And I suspect you do, from the "when I've been out in the last couple months I've drank anyhow" aside.
posted by joycehealy at 5:27 PM on August 22 [1 favorite]

Groups and gatherings that have been social over the years without alcohol:

An open bridge practice group that regularly gathers
Going out to farm fairs and festivals
Chesapeake Rock & Gem (years ago-a hobbyists group)
Faith based activities in my community
Volunteering for a range causes, sometimes with friends or the kids when appropriate
Taking a more-involved first aid training

We have a couple game shops that have regular focused game nights, which also let your group test- drive games they sell.

Also, look on Meetup and see what people are doing locally for inspiration.
posted by childofTethys at 7:55 PM on August 22

Rock climbing at a gym is definitely a Friday night thing. Also shows, art shows, performances, movies can all be alcohol free - seek out venues that tend me be less about the alcohol and more about the performance.
posted by Toddles at 8:15 PM on August 22

If you have a skating rink that hosts adult nights, id try that. Bowling with a mefium size group and food is fun. One on one gym hangouts.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:13 PM on August 22

Check to see if there is a Shisha cafe near you. They usually have amazing food, nice teas and milkshakes, comfortable seating for groups, interesting music and most importantly a late night hang around and talk vibe. You don't have to smoke shisha in them or be around smoke (usually in a warmed outside area). If you go enough you get to be a regular and alcohol is not in the picture. It's not needed or wanted or part of it.
posted by einekleine at 12:37 AM on August 23

Dumplings! Movies. Coffee! Tea houses! Walks in the park. Museum exhibits. Dinner parties. Library expeditions. Walk and talks. Drive arounds. Antiquing. Treasure hunting. Photo scavenger hunting. Dessert nomming. Playgrounds. Metal detecting. Sky staring. People watching. Beach going. Hiking. Finger foods. Making fancy cordials and tiny cucumber sandwiches. Brunch. Biscuits. The zoo. Roller skating. There's so very much to do.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 6:03 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

You can also be straightforward with your friends — “I’m taking a break from drinking, it’s been wearing on my health. Not sure whether it’s a temporary change or permanent. But I was wondering if we could meet at the rock climbing gym this Friday instead of the pub.”

Also, in my experience the words “sobriety” and “alcoholic” usually mean “this change is permanent, I have a problem that got out of hand.” If you feel more casual about it, you might choose different language to describe your situation.
posted by hungrytiger at 6:09 PM on August 23 [1 favorite]

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