The social ABC of quitting drinking
July 7, 2022 9:07 AM   Subscribe

I just quit smoking and am thinking about quitting drinking, but I am worried about the impact this will have on my life. Help me think through some of these anxieties so I can quit without looking back.

A few days ago I quit smoking using Allen Carr's Easy Way method, which I have found to be absolutely, stunningly effective (unlike my previous attempts to quit or cut down using willpower). I know Carr also has a book on alcohol, and I am strongly considering trying his method for that as well in the near future. However, to be effective the method relies on getting rid of any sense that you are depriving yourself of something, and it also rejects any kind of compromise approach--once you quit, you quit. (This sounds very ineffective but it is remarkably good.) I am 95% confident that once I read this book I will immediately be able to quit and not look back, but before that I want to work through the implications of that decision for the rest of my life. I have a friend who quit about a year and a half ago and she's still dealing with the loneliness and social isolation that has come from losing her entire friend group and being unable to attend any function where people are drinking--though the nature of her alcohol problem means staying sober is still worth it for her.

My reasons to quit drinking:
1) I have, on my father's side, a very strong genetic predisposition to alcoholism. My grandfather became an alcoholic in middle age, lost everything, and died as a derelict. My father disowned him when he was a teenager, but eventually became an alcoholic himself and died last year from alcoholism-related heart problems at the age of 56. I am pretty sure that in terms of my drinking I am roughly where my father was at my age (mid-30s)--i.e. I'm a heavy drinker who has not yet experienced any significant negative social or physical consequences from it--but I am terrified of what will happen if I keep drinking.
2) My one previous attempt to cut down (rather than quit) petered out after a couple of weeks. I have no interest in trying to cut down and use willpower again, in part because it drains my life of enjoyment by setting up a permanent dynamic of guilt and feelings of deprivation. Which is why the Easy Way approach is so appealing.
3) Medically speaking I am a heavy drinker (1-2 most nights if I'm not going out, 4-5 if I'm meeting someone, 5-10 on the weekends--about average for my social circle). My hangovers are mild and although my liver, blood pressure, etc are not optimal they aren't serious causes for concern yet, even if they will be as I get older. I am okay with my weight and finances for now but saving money and losing a few pounds wouldn't hurt.

My worries:
1) I have multiple friend groups and drinking is an important part of all of them. I have no doubt that my friends will be incredibly understanding, since they all know what happened to my dad, but I am worried that they will end up drifting away from me anyway over time, even unconsciously. For the purposes of this question let's assume I will have no problem hanging out at the bar and drinking club soda, but how sustainable is that really? I don't really feel like I have any interest in the kinds of stuff I assume nondrinkers get up to (boardgames or whatever?)-- raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversations are what I live for.
2) Relatedly, there's so much trust that alcohol creates through mutual complicity. My colleagues at work will certainly understand if I don't want to drink, but will they still want to share secrets and gossip with me at happy hour? I hate the idea of being left out of this stuff because other people subconsciously think of me as a boring stick-in-the-mud. And of course, much like smoking, hanging out with an ex-drinker often makes current drinkers feel guilty about their own relationship with alcohol and causes them to pull away in an attempt to protect that. (This is what seems to have happened with my friend.)
3) I am single, though not currently dating. I am worried about the way not drinking will limit my pool of potential partners in my age range. Also, while I've gone on coffee dates before, I don't feel like they've ever gone quite as well as dates where alcohol was involved--both because I benefit from a little chemical help to get out of my own head, and because the same seems to be true for the people I've dated.
4) While I usually don't drink to get drunk, once every month or two I like to get really hammered and go out dancing. I love the feeling of being out of my own head and being able to give myself up entirely to the vibe. I could probably substitute the alcohol for pot or other drugs I don't have an addictive relationship to, but I want some reassurance that it's still possible to experience these kinds of highs as a non-drinker.

Any advice, perspectives, or experiences would be appreciated. I don't want to be in AA or "get new friends," which seems to be the most common advice people give about this. (I love my friends, they are so much more than drinking buddies to me.) I have a therapist already.
posted by derrinyet to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your friends are only your friends because you drink around them, and you have no other ways to have fun with them--if you're unable to have genuine conversations with people you care about unless you're intoxicated--if you can't go on a date without first dulling your judgment--then your problems are worse than you realize right now. But I suspect--and hope!--that most of these things aren't actually true. I'm not a teetotaler, but, while I might have a cocktail or two when I'm out, my social life in no way depends on alcohol, and that's the way most grownups I know live. Right now it sounds like you are using alcohol as a coping mechanism for anxiety, an underdeveloped capacity to be authentic and vulnerable with those you care for, and a lack of other interests or tastes. But all these issues, while challenging, don't require getting drunk to deal with. Don't you...kind of want to be the kind of person who can face their fears, share with their friends, and enjoy life without having to mildly poison yourself in a way that gets less and less sustainable over time? The alternative sounds really depressing.
posted by praemunire at 9:24 AM on July 7, 2022 [14 favorites]

I spent a large part of my life teetotal and drink sparingly now. Maybe a few times in a month and rarely if ever to the point of actual intoxication. I've always had great times out with my friends - it gets raucous and vulnerable and gossipy and everything else you mention.

I promise you, the narrative that non-drinkers are 'boring stick in the muds' and spend their time playing 'board games or whatever' is absolutely untrue and I feel that letting go of this narrative will be incredibly helpful for you as a starting point. Framing it this way can make you feel like you're leaving behind something rewarding and plodding dutifully but joylessly into a life of boring virtue.

You can have a life full of rich and authentic connection without needing alcohol. I tell you this to reassure you. You won't leave behind the things you value. In fact, through this act of caring for yourself you will be creating value in your life and in the lives of those who value you.
posted by unicorn chaser at 9:34 AM on July 7, 2022 [16 favorites]

Wow. Okay. Your post was very interesting to me.

The following is my personal experience, and maybe it will help you:
I have six siblings. In my family, if we drink, we barf. Period. Therefore, we barely drink. When my son was one, I went to a New Year's Eve party and had, like, 3 drinks over a period of about 6 hours. The next morning I ended up barfing into the toilet as my one-year-old son stood next to me saying, "Uh-oh, uh-oh!" I thought, "Man, this one-year-old kid has more common sense than I do!" So I promised myself I would never put myself in a position like that again - and I haven't. This was decades ago.

1) My friends still like me just as much. I still have raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable conversations all the time. Just go for it ... no liquid courage needed ... just be your raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable self!
2) Just because I don't drink doesn't mean I'm a shy, prudish wallflower, for God's sake. Because that just ain't the case, at all. Continue to be yourself. Don't give alcohol any credit. It is yourself that your friends love. You'll still be yourself without alcohol.
3) I've gone on a zillion highly successful dates where alcohol was not involved. (Well, not exactly a zillion, although I like to imagine that a zillion people would love to date me.) Just go get some ice cream. Who doesn't love ice cream? Ice cream makes everyone happy. Ice cream is a bonding experience!
4) As for dancing: One year, at an office party, I shared a table with some people I had never met before. I kept going out to the dance floor (I LOVE to dance!!!!) and danced my ass off all night. One woman at the table never went out to dance at all. Once, when I got back to the table, she wistfully said to me, "It is so great that you have to courage to dance without drinking anything." I thought, "What in the world is she talking about? You don't need alcohol to have fun, just get out there and DANCE!!"
posted by SageTrail at 9:40 AM on July 7, 2022 [11 favorites]

I was kind of shocked when you told us how much you drink on a "normal" weekend—but I drank at least this much, or more, for years. You'll find that a lot of things get much easier once you've settled in to a life without alcohol. I agree with just about everything paemunire and unicorn chaser have said here: your life with booze isn't nearly as normal and satisfying as you think, and you can make a better life without it.

Next to marrying my wife, quitting alcohol is the best thing I've ever done—it's in a dead heat for second with quitting smoking.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 9:41 AM on July 7, 2022 [3 favorites]

I’ll write more later, but want to chime in quickly. I decided to try not drinking a few years ago, because it was making me feel like shit, and it’s one of my favorite decisions ever. There *are* a lot of people who don’t trust non-drinkers, or who think that not-drinking equals No Fun - those folks belong in therapy themselves. When they actually open their mouths and say something about it, they are showing how immature, insecure, and insensitive they are. Alcohol is part of many, many human rituals, and *can* be an important social lubricant - but the idea that life ends if we decide not to drink it is, as praemunire suggests, a pretty sad idea.

I can’t add links right now, but I recommend checking out Daybreak, which got started in Australia, and This Naked Mind, which I think might be inspired in part by The Easy Way.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 9:45 AM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversations are what I live for.

I so, so get this. I've never been a big drinker for various reasons, but this isn't the only way to get to that kind of intense and intimate vulnerability. I've found it in indie comics and the zine community, and there's a lot of highly confessional art in any medium out there - and cool people making it. It's going to be a process to find what you're excited about that isn't centered on drinking - find things you want to move toward, rather than just what you want to move away from. What are your goals? What do you want for yourself that's not present currently? Do you want to get involved in activism, make art, learn a new language, cook better, travel?
posted by bile and syntax at 9:46 AM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I will have no problem hanging out at the bar and drinking club soda, but how sustainable is that really?

I'm going on like twelve or thirteen years of it, so... And for a lot of that time, my non-work social life revolved around pub trivia. (Like, sometimes two or three nights a week. Yeah...) Trivia is different than dancing or regular bar-going in that it tends to attract a somewhat quirky clientele, and I guess I'm a little quirky myself, so most people just saw it as a quirk. Some people flirt with the bartender, some people wear Star Wars-patterned leggings, some people drink cherry Pepsi.

I hate the idea of being left out of this stuff because other people subconsciously think of me as a boring stick-in-the-mud

I've never had this happen, for the simple reason that I'm just not a boring stick-in-the-mud. Say what you will about me, but you can't say I'm not fun to hang around. I'm there for gossip, I'm there for bitching, I'm there for inappropriate jokes. Listening to yours, and giving back some of my own.

I don't feel like they've ever gone quite as well as dates where alcohol was involved--both because I benefit from a little chemical help to get out of my own head, and because the same seems to be true for the people I've dated.

The last part really doesn't bode well for the long-term success of these relationships.

raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversations are what I live for.

From my experience, quitting drinking made me funnier and more raucous, because I was actually paying attention to both myself and the other person/people in the conversation. The thing about "raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversations" is that, if you were to transcribe them and read them again later when you're sober, they're not nearly as raucous or funny as you think. When I drank, I used to think I was funny, but it turns out I was really just being an asshole and yelling a lot and talking over people. Now, I listen, and my conversation is better. I can call back to jokes that were made a half hour ago, because my memory isn't impaired, and people find it uproarious. I can actually react to a joke someone else makes, because I'm not storming my way in to make one of my own. I rarely insult people accidentally anymore, which is a thing that happens when your only concern is being raucous and funny. And if I intend to insult someone (gossip, you know), I can do so cleverly rather than just yelling out "so-and-so in Accounting, she's a STUPID BITCH!" and slamming a bottle on the table. People would laugh at that, but is it really funny?

I mentioned being quirky before, and I do think that's helpful as means of defusing tension. Like, sometimes I'll walk up to a bar and tell the bartender that I'd like a rum and Coke, hold the rum. As with anything else, fashion or taste in music or whatever, leaning into what makes you different often pays off.
posted by kevinbelt at 9:47 AM on July 7, 2022 [13 favorites]

A professor of mine came from an industry where colleagues were suspicious of anyone who didn't drink at a corporate event, to the extent that she was accused of being a spy for the C-suite. Her solution was to walk around holding a club soda with a lime. Trust went back to normal after that.
posted by michaelh at 9:54 AM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

My experience has been that raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversation actually turns out to be unbelievably boring and/or actively irritating when you're the only sober one in the conversation. Drunk people aren't actually as funny as they think they are a great deal of the time. Maybe you'll find your social group to be different but you may want to prepare for the possibility that that's going to bore the shit out of you, but you will get to have amazing funny, confessional, vulnerable conversation with people who aren't drunk.

For what it way be worth, the approach that finally worked for my partner after several quitting attempts was very much the "stop thinking of it as deprivation" slant that you're suggesting. Actively seeking out things to add to his life - interesting new nonalcoholic drinks and snacks, adding some non-bar activities to the social rotation, picking up a new hobby - worked much better for him than thinking about it as depriving himself of certain activities, substances, etc.
posted by Stacey at 9:57 AM on July 7, 2022 [10 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I'd nth that when you have your raucous funny etc. conversations, it's possibly not the content of the conversation you're enjoying, you're just drunk and high off the booze.

I'd recommend that alongside keeping your current friends, you also very actively try out a variety of other social outlets as you make this change, and suspend that baseless pre-judgement you have about whether they're going to be boring or not. You're going to be a different person out and about sober, and over time, you're going to develop some different social preferences, and it'd be a good idea to have a few places on the boil that might gel with those new preferences. The friendships might move more slowly without the social lubricant of drunkenness removing people's inhibitions, so don't dismiss them out of hand if you're not swearing blood brotherhood to one another on the first night - give it time and carry on and just be curious about what friendships are like when they're not about being drunk. What you don't want to happen is that you sober up, suddenly realise your drinking friends are boring and incoherent when you're sober, and then look around you and feel like you're looking onto an empty social wasteland and the only option is to start drinking again. Start now on finding things you can enjoy that don't rely on anybody drinking - give yourself the chance to see this as growing and expanding in new, interesting directions rather than just losing something.

For example, after 10 years of working with them, my experience of running groups is that people often develop really close, confessional, vulnerable friendships at them, surprisingly quickly. You're going through something physically challenging together, you're shoulder to shoulder, which means less intimidating eye contact, you meet regularly with time to talk and think and reflect, and people often open up in ways they don't in other circumstances and bond really quickly. Running might not be your thing, but there are definitely other places and ways of developing closeness and friendship.

I'm definitely not an expert, but I suspect the conviction that drunken socialising is somehow intrinsically better than any other kind (more intense, more vulnerable, more real), is often part of the picture of alcoholism, so if you're wanting to permanently avert yourself onto a different path, you'd do well to do a lot of active work to challenge that assumption you're holding, as well as carrying out the physical change of stopping drinking.
posted by penguin pie at 10:51 AM on July 7, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: This is super exciting; I'm excited for you. I shared your reasons for quitting and your concerns (at least, 1-3.) And today I'm 10 weeks alcohol free, which is pretty great! I was drinking quite a bit more than you, for reference, and I'm a mid-size woman.

I haven't joined AA but have talked to my therapist about this extensively. I read some 'quit lit' books, including a couple of books by Annie Grace, which I think were the most helpful out of the bunch. I got the "I Am Sober" app and surprised myself with how much I like it - you get grouped in with people who stopped drinking at the same time as you did. This morning we all posted nice comments to each other for hitting 10 weeks.

Overall, though, I don't want this to be a part of my personality. I don't do a lot of things, but I don't feel compelled to talk about them or spend much time thinking about them. I wanted drinking to be the same, and I'm getting there. I'm still very much me - probably more so - just without drinking.

So, for your concerns:

1. I have drunk a LOT of seltzer with bitters and NA beers at bars in the last 10 weeks. Few of my friends noticed. Or they did and didn't say anything. In any case, I'm still getting invitations and everyone still seems to be having fun. I've noticed I leave things earlier and that I'm less...amused by other people by the end of the night. I've also starting pulling away from some friends and spending more time with others. It turns out that my main group of friends are a bunch of heavy drinkers, and I chose to spend time with them because it let me drink without worrying (at the moment! I worried about it plenty otherwise, but drinking with my friends meant it was non-problematic, in my head. (Spoiler: it wasn't non-problematic.)) Prior to stopping, though, these were my sleep-on-each-other's-couches, vacationing together, emergency contacts kind of friends. I

2. Yep. People will do this. I haven't figured out a way around it, other than to choose to think that they're self-selecting themselves out of my life. But I also don't give a lot of explanations around not drinking. Usually I say "eh, not tonight" if people ask, which most people do not.

3. I've gone a few dates - I've actually gotten a lot more attention from my target demographic, dating-wise. We go to bars where they drink and I don't, or ice cream, or hiking. I'm kind of at the point where I'd rather be alcohol free and single than drinking and taken, so I'm choosing not to care too much about this right now.

For me, I needed to add in a lot of things to replace alcohol. A couple of big hobbies (I've gotten into rowing, which I recommend wholeheartedly: early mornings, extremely physical, highly social, very pretty), a lot of non-alcoholic drinks (NA beer, fancy sodas, a Sodastream, shrubs, packaged mocktails like Ghia), some certifications for work...I'm staying busy. And I'm throwing money at it, too. I get whatever I want, as long as it's not booze and won't bankrupt me. I actually totaled up how much I spent on alcohol last year, and then divided it by 12, and I have to spend at least that much money each month on things just for fun.

What do you like to do when you're not drinking? What do your friends do when they're not drinking? Can you do more of those things? Do you know what you like to do when you're not drinking? Do you like to do things without drinking? Because I didn't, for a long time. So if you don't have things you like to do, you need to figure that out.

For me, figuring that out meant adequately addressing my depression and anxiety, but until drinking was entirely off the table, I was at most 80% enjoying things. The other 20% was waiting for the next drink. It wasn't until I stopped drinking that I started getting real good feelings from doing things I thought I might like. It did happen, though. So don't assume that your current disinterest is genuine - it might be for some things, but I'm finding myself getting into activities and ideas that I would have never gone for before (a mushroom hike, for Pete's sake.) Alcohol fucks with your ability to enjoy things that aren't alcohol.

The Annie Grace books push a 30 day break from alcohol, so I'd suggest that for you. Do a month to give your brain some time to heal and reform the pathways that will let you have non-alcohol-based joy. 30 days probably won't trigger those areas of concerns, but it'll give you an idea of what to expect.

Please message me if you'd like to talk about this more (anyone else, too!)
posted by punchtothehead at 10:59 AM on July 7, 2022 [19 favorites]

So, I used to drink at the level you are now. Like you, started to get worried about my health and also started to wonder about just what kinds of relationships it was fostering. I drink some now, but much, much, much less, and at times (for, like, 18 month periods, off and on), not at all. My experience has been that part of the reason I was drinking was to make other people interesting -- that is, drunk people aren't actually that clever or funny, actually. They're ok, they're not bad people, but I've found bit by bit that I'm making more substantive friendships doing things that don't involve alcohol. I haven't lost my barfly friends, but I've made others. And I've also found that for that occasional itch to go dancing, there are better, non-addictive substances out there that make your clubbing experience positively liberating.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 11:08 AM on July 7, 2022

I drink so infrequently that my doctor treats me like a complete non-drinker. The most drinking I ever did was when I was still working in theater, and even then it was, like, a cider and a cranberry-juice-and-vodka at the opening night party for a play and then maybe another night like that about midway through the show's run, and that would be it for like two months. I have always been this way. So I may be uniquely qualified to address some of these questions.

1) The kind of "raucous, funny, confessional, vulnerable alcohol-fueled conversations" you want will still be there - you'll just be able to remember them better. Especially if your friends are drinking but you aren't. Because it's not just the alcohol fueling them - it is your trust in your friends fueling them. And their trust in you.

But this leads into....

2) You say you're worried about whether your friends may treat you like a stick-in-the-mud. The first time or two when you go out it may feel a little awkward for everyone, really, but if you're still telling raucous jokes, or laughing at theirs, that will help loosen things up. If that trust between you all was there in the first place, they'll see that "oh, okay, nothing's changed REALLY" and then you'll be back to old times (in fact, you can now be the designated driver so they may come to APPRECIATE you for that, heh). If you do have a couple people who are all "feh, he doesn't drink any more, he's boring", this actually says more about them as friends than it does about you. But with the right kinds of friends....well, have an example: in college I was a COMPLETE teetotaller, and one other person in our group was as well. But she and I had the TREMENDOUS good fortune to meet a group of people who respected that; they would have big parties in their dorm rooms, and there was alcohol involved and they invited us. But NOT ONCE did they pressure us to drink if we didn't want to. On the contrary - they set up a SEPARATE "dry" bar just for us, so we wouldn't be forced to fight our way to the bar for orange juice or soda if we were thirsty. They didn't shun us for not drinking - they RESPECTED our choices. Because they didn't just like Drunk KP or Drunk EC, they liked KP and EC, and that was how we were, and that was that.

I grant that sets a high bar for friends. But....if your friends are real friends, they should at least come close.

3) There are a great many people trying to date who are also hoping to meet someone who isn't into alcohol - you've just opened yourself up to them.

4) This kind of gonzo party dancing is ABSOLUTELY possible - just ask the legions of Straight Edge punks. Jason Mewes often went out to clubs together with his recovery group, so they could remind each other to get into the music and leave the booze and drugs alone. (And I know this because at one such outing, they ran into my sister-in-law's bachelorette party at the same club and he tried hitting on her.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 11:19 AM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I want to kindly suggest that people who are drunk are not as funny as they think they are... and that you may find, as you stop drinking, that your friends are less funny and less fun than you thought. So if you want to worry... I would worry more that you will find yourself bored and embarrassed by your friends, than that they will somehow find you less interesting when sober.

I definitely don't want to put you off the idea of getting sober - from everything you've said, you definitely need to get sober. You're on the road to an early death if you don't. And I can't speak to what the other heavy drinkers in your life may think of you, but I can almost guarantee that your sober or light-drinking friends and family are worried about you and want you to stop drinking or at least cut way back.

But there is a reason that many relationships between heavy drinkers don't survive one person getting sober. Drunk people are generally only fun to be around if you are also drunk. It sounds like for years you've been burrowing into a social group that works mainly because everybody is drunk whenever together. The only way to know for sure if you still like them when sober is to get sober and find out.

Maybe think of it this way. If your sober personality is so much different from your drunk personality that your drunk friends will not be able to relate to sober-you... then your friends don't really know you at all. Because your drunk personality is not YOU; it's alcohol wearing a you-face. Again, the only way to know for sure is to get sober and see where it leaves you. I highly recommend it... because never in the history of civilization has anyone's drunk personality actually been an improvement on their sober personality.

And just a final note - drinking as much as you describe is actually damaging your ability to function in society. The vast majority of people in the world don't have to get drink heavily to have good friendships or to lead happy fulfilling lives... but you already think there's something wrong with being sober, that sobriety makes you less worthy of trust, less able to have fun, be vulnerable, be honest, be happy. That tells me you've already been drinking way too much for way too long; your view of the rest of the world has been warped by your drinking. There is an incredibly fun, bright, happy, healthy world of non-drinkers and light-drinkers out there, that you aren't currently able to see through your drunk-goggles. It will definitely be worth your while to take those off.
posted by invincible summer at 11:31 AM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: I've been in your shoes (and to an extent, still am, though I'm not drinking right now). Your concerns are very real and I fear that the commenters pooh-poohing these concerns are doing you a disservice.

One way to do it without too much FOMO, is to quit alcohol for a year instead of permanently. (IMHO you don't really get out of the psychological alcohol habit in less than a year; but a year is short enough to not feel like a super long-term commitment.) If you make this year-long commitment, hold yourself to it no matter what. Once the year is up, if you feel like going longer, you can certainly do so - or not.

In my case, the first time I quit alcohol for longer than a month, I found that quitting was easy to do but the result was very boring. So be prepared for that.

Having fun when sober isn't automatic, it takes work (especially for people who are anxious and/or are pretty used to consuming alcohol). And by "work" I mean mindfulness, being really kind to oneself, being patient, and being willing to accept change. But when you try, you'll remember the times that alcohol *didn't* make an anxious party better, or when you listened to some really bopping music while perfectly sober and it made you happy.

Your social life *will* change (some of your friends will continue to hang out with you as before, some will fade out of your life, and some may quit alcohol and change their lifestyles too). You will find yourself feeling anxious and awkward at parties, and instead of reaching for a beverage you will tell yourself to be mindful and take a moment to just feel what you're feeling instead of trying to change the feeling. You will continue to find ways to have an uninhibited good time with music, dancing, lying in the sun, and heart-to-heart conversations - but you will have to make more effort to get over the initial energy barrier to doing these things, and they will fulfill you in deeper and more long-lasting ways. And you will have days when you say "fuck this, drinking was a lot more fun". Just continue being kind to yourself and super patient. Life is a many-splendored thing, and alcohol is just one thing.
posted by splitpeasoup at 11:32 AM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've not had a drink for more than 23 years, and it's my experience that the only people who are super-interested or bothered about what's in your glass are people who themselves have a problem with drinking. Most people don't care what you order as long as they get what they ordered. For me, I like a fizzy drink, so a diet coke or club soda work for me, as I need the mouthfeel of bubbles.

And as others have said, being in a place where everyone is drunk isn't fun, but it'll pinpoint the reasons why you might not be comfortable around drunken behaviour and inform any decisions you make about where you hang out and with whom.
posted by essexjan at 12:54 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm a very light drinker who generally prefers the taste of soda without alcohol in it. I also have had a social life that revolves around artists and musicians -- I hang out a lot in bars and other places where people drink. I drink my soda, it's fine. Nobody treats me differently because there's no rum in it. Generally nobody but me and the bartender even knows there's no rum in it. Overall, the few times I've had enough alcohol to be able to feel it while socializing, I had a worse time, just because I wasn't as sharp and didn't feel as physically good.
posted by shadygrove at 1:00 PM on July 7, 2022

I hate the idea of being left out of this stuff because other people subconsciously think of me as a boring stick-in-the-mud.

Honestly? This will probably happen, but it will be okay. You'll gradually make new friends, or solidify relationships with your current friends but not in alcohol-based situations. Drunk people are boring, or concerning, to hang out with. You can arrange more interesting things to do with your friends (hikes! movies! museum trips! board games but during the day!) and see who is really someone you like to spend time with, and who you need to be drunk to enjoy.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:28 PM on July 7, 2022 [1 favorite]

I've gone up and down with my drinking and other inebriating substances habits over the years. At this point, I may have a cocktail or two once or twice a month total, if that. However, I have many close friends who drink like you. My live in boyfriend drinks less, but not that much less. It's a total non-problem that I don't drink.

Genuinely, if you don't make it into a thing, most other people won't either. People who love you will still love you and think you're fun. Many might not even notice you aren't drinking, especially if you don't point it out. I've had people who have known me for decades who didn't realize I wasn't drinking. Most people weren't paying such close attention to what I was doing or not doing, especially if they themselves were drinking. Anyone who got weird about it at any point had issues with their own relationship with alcohol, or insecurities in general.

It's funny how we can worry that we will be the one who is rejected if we stop, because the relationship stress test often works the other way -- once you're sober, *you* are the one who clearly sees the deficits in your relationships, not the drunk ones. They don't notice because they are drunk.
posted by amycup at 1:56 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

I'm someone who used to be a heavy drinker who now mostly sticks to two drinks when going out to meet people, but still, on rare occasions, gets drunk if the situation warrants it to me (like, a wedding with a bunch of old friends I haven't seen in awhile, and we're all cutting loose).

A few thoughts:

-Something that helped me is remembering how fun and exciting and raucous childhood could be, in the days before drinking. If childhood me could be high on life, clearly so could adult me.

-I'm no longer dating, but when I was, I hated coffee dates too. But I found sober dates that involved some sort of activity (my favorite was hiking) much better - the physical activity gives you something to do/focus on which offsets any awkward pauses.

-I've had some heavy-drinking friends go cold turkey and stay with it, and they all report going through some changes with some friends. None of us commenting can know how your social life will change, but it likely will somewhat - but also, while those friends lost some friends, they also were able to keep some of their friends, and they made new ones. None of them turned into loners as a result, so that's not a foregone conclusion. If your friends are more than drinking buddies to you, I'd figuring out non-drinking activities to do with them.
posted by coffeecat at 3:31 PM on July 7, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: One of the things that was most valuable to me when I first decided to try not-drinking*** was to ask myself, What do I *really* want right now? It was never a drink. I would want a glass of wine because I wanted to feel sexy, to feel happy, to connect with friends and dates, to de-stress, etc. You want to have silly, raucous conversations, to dance with abandon, to connect with potential lovers. Drinking doesn't actually *do* any of those things.******

What *could* do those things that you want?

For me it was spending time naked in front of a mirror, finding and wearing clothes that made me feel sexy and confident, singing and dancing with abandon (making playlists of dance music is so much fun), planning meaningful meet-ups with people (to watch movies we love, make crafts, volunteer, go to parks or museums), doing yoga, cooking food for myself, getting into therapy, writing in a journal, acknowledging after thirty-plus years that I've got a lot of anger I never let myself feel, setting boundaries, being honest in my dating life about what I wanted, building my skill at not flinching away from difficult feelings. Your point about "getting out of my head" rings so true - a lot of what's happened since I stopped drinking has been about getting in touch with and comfortable in my *body*.

For you, what about taking some house dance classes, going to a daybreak rave, arranging brunches or potlucks with friends, (cough) playing silly board games, joining an improv troupe, updating your dating profile to be more clear about what you're looking for in a partner (also could write "I'm not a big drinker, but I love to connect over good food/a hike in stunning scenery/stand-up!"), speed dating, reading up on charming and incisive questions to ask on dates, calling your regular bars and talking to the beverage manager about adding high-quality NA options to their menu (Lagunitas Hop, Bitberger Drive, NA beers from Athletic Brewing Company), getting a good mocktail book, perfecting your patter for a fancy NA drink available at most bars (there is hardly any place where one cannot get a splash of orange juice in soda on ice in a rocks glass with a twist and two dashes of bitters, and it feels a hell of a lot classier than the pint glass non-drinkers usually get served in)?

I'd also encourage you to think about ways to frame this potential choice for yourself and your friends that don't involve you giving something up or needing to make this choice because you're On A Dangerous Path. You don't like the current situation, and so you're trying something different. If you decided to stop wearing polyester clothes because they itch, would your friends need to "be understanding" about that choice, or think about it in terms of your granddad who just kept wearing leisure suits, even though they gave him chronic ideopathic urticaria? I know that Western society has a lot more freight around decisions to stop drinking than to stop wearing polyester, but we get to be the change we want to see in the world. If *you* still trust them, are hilarious and vulnerable in conversation, bring your awesome to the party, love them, support them, you won't be asking them to accommodate a fault. If they have a sad that you don't get hammered anymore, that is their own issue, not yours.

I don't mean to say your friends' feelings don't matter! It's one of the most vulnerable things I've ever done to talk with dear friends and say, "Hey, this not-drinking thing feels really good to me, but I felt scared that people might not want to hang out, etc. Does it bring up anything for you? I love you!" During the first few months I wasn't drinking, I felt awkward as hell, and said a lot of "This not-drinking thing feels really good to me, but I know it's different - thanks for riding out the awkward with me!" I mean to underline the idea that if you consciously refuse to frame not-drinking as a loss or an imposition or a doomed fate, both you and other people will be less likely to perceive it as a loss or an imposition or a doomed fate. Also to note that mourning is a feature, not a bug, of human relationships. If your friends are really good friends, they will be able to mourn whatever is lost by you not-drinking without diminishing their joy for you making choices to have and be what you want in life.

***The word "sober" has zero meaning for me. I don't smoke weed or eat salmon or play the stock market because those aren't things I want to do - not doing things I don't want to do doesn't make me some special category of person. I actively reject the idea that not-drinking is a morally superior choice - which takes ongoing self-awareness and effort, because it is such a prevalent attitude that not-drinking IS morally superior. Sanctimony is toxic. That said, for some people, the concept of sobriety or "sober" as an identity marker is important - different strokes for different folks.

******For me, what drinking did do was give me a couple of hours of not-caring and doing-same-thing-as friends, followed by fucking up my sleep, making me anxious, giving me headaches and under-eye bags and creaky knees, exacerbating work and relationship stress, numbing me so that I didn't deal with my negative feelings. On dates it shushed my fear of rejection and provided a source of banal, stereotyped small talk about drink preferences. It also slowly took over my social scene as my friends and colleagues got older, such that by my mid-thirties, almost all social gatherings involved copious drinking and endless recounting of stories about drinking or being drunk, or prospective conversations about building out one's home bar or wine cellar, which drinks/bars are the best, planning vacations around drinking. I feel a deep ache whenever these kinds of social dynamics happen - it feels like middle school, where people don't know what to say and want so desperately to be liked, and so we all talk about popular music or the local sports team because it is a way to connect that feels safer than talking about our real interests and feelings and hopes.

Thank you for reading my novel! I really can't tell you how much happier and better I feel since I stopped drinking, and what a laugh-out-loud surprise it has been to feel really and truly in my body that I don't want to drink. A few years ago, my partner (who has a beer or a cider every once in a few years) asked if I wanted a glass of champagne on a New Year's Eve, and without even a beat my body spoke my feeling which was, "Oh, no - that would give me such a headache!" Feel free to MeMail me, OP or anyone reading this long into the future, if you want to chat.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:55 PM on July 7, 2022 [6 favorites]

I quit drinking with a very similar sounding social circle. I just started having a soda or ice tea and like, literally no one commented on it. I occasionally got offered a drink but just turned them down and it was nothing. I was shocked at how much of a nothing it was. Social group is now about half and half people who have also quit drinking quietly and people who are still drinking. Thought I’d have to say something but people just either didn’t notice or didn’t care. If someone made a special drink they wanted everyone to try, I might take a polite sip, but I think that’s the only time I ever felt any mild pressure, and it was at the same level of someone making their dip they wanted everyone to try. Mostly I have said no even in those situations and it has been completely fine. No explication necessary.
posted by Bottlecap at 1:08 AM on July 8, 2022 [2 favorites]

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