I stopped drinking alcohol in April – and it has been awfully tough.
No, not for me. For me, it has been easy. But it has been very tough on some of my friends.
A few of them must have struggled with the idea so much that they have not contacted me since. They have kept their distance in case sobriety was a contagious ailment of some sort!
Others have not ditched me yet, but they keep enquiring about it, waiting for me to change my mind and re-join their tribe.
It is clear that I have become an outsider.
Of course, it makes you wonder if I have become boring to them! Perhaps I have. Or maybe I am highlighting their less-than-perfect relationship with alcohol. Because the saddest truth is that the ones that have forgotten my invite are those with a drinking problem – and they know it – and they know that I know it too.
My sobriety is the elephant in the room now and possibly too confronting. It was bad enough that I used to go to the gym, but I have clearly taken it a step too far.
It makes me laugh because I was expecting it, and deep down knew they were not friends but drinking buddies.
The truth is that I had been thinking about stopping since I left the corporate world. I did not like the hangovers or the increasing health risk now that I am on the other side of 50. Then the sudden onset of a chronic illness a couple of years ago pushed me to consider if to take the leap.
In the prior three years, I had stopped a few times; I had done a couple of “Dry January” and Dry May & June (I know, it is not a thing). So, I had practice already and knew I would get some stick.
This time I was ready; my go-to line was going to be, “I cannot drink because of my meds.”.
Do not get me wrong; the restriction of the medications is not a lie. They are nasty stuff, and I was told not to drink at all. But alcohol is such a big part of British culture; even the doctors said a little exception is not the end of the world. No more than one small glass a couple of times a month.
The thing is – I do not want it.
So, I omitted those details and used the meds excuse because I knew it would be easier. And I was right; it has been easier. I have been asked fewer questions, and fewer people have challenged my decision. This time, I was also prepared to lose people along the way. I secretly welcomed a clear-out.
And so, it happened. It turns out that no one invites a sober person to a bottomless brunch or a cocktail happy hour. Go and figure.
Yes, my social life sank like the Titanic.
Don’t feel sorry for me, though. My newly downsized circle is a great circle! I got to keep the ones I value the most. In all honesty, I do not feel that I have lost anything. On the contrary, my sobriety has inevitably made me re-evaluate what matters to me – and those ‘friends’ were never on my list to keep.
Plus, I enjoy my own company a lot; I have a very young business that keeps me busy, and I am a homebody for the most part. My reflective and deep work navigating these changes makes me a better coach. I am an expert in navigating change after all! So yes – I am happily sober, and it has been smooth sailing.
Yet, this silence has proved somewhat challenging now that Christmas is approaching. And I am not feeling quite so smug anymore.
I do not miss drinking and am not worried about triggers, but the empty social calendar has been getting to me. Christmas is constantly advertised as a “togetherness” season, and every advert seems to feature happy drinking people, which is how my holidays have always been. And, in the spirit of honesty (pun intended), happy drinking people have featured in all my weekends too. I was always the first to get invited – and the last to leave the party.
But I digress, back to Christmas.
As a child, I used to loathe the holiday season, but then I learnt to love it as an adult.
The lights, the drinks, the… I am now realising that a lot of what I loved about it involved parties, mulled wine, cocktails, and the general booze-induced merriness. Not Merry, but more like Drunk Christmas!
Reflecting on my first sober holidays, I have spent the last few days questioning again whether I love them or loathe them.
At first, I felt utterly lost. How am I ever going to enjoy Christmas again? What about my favourite things about it? What about the mulled wine? But then I found an alcohol-free one.
What about the beautiful cocktails? I noted I was the one making them and would have been spending too much money. That helped to let that one go.
I kept going through the list, then realised I could still eat mince pies and all the puddings. That made me happy. Fairy lights are also still allowed; even better, they are sugar-free! So, I bought more of those and put them everywhere like they were going out of fashion. My flat turned into an epileptic nightmare.
Then I spoke to the local women’s shelter and organised another workshop. Because it is not all about the decorations, but it is about giving. And if I can give the gift of optimism, then my love for Christmas is finally saved.
So, if you are thinking of stopping drinking, or like me, this is your first sober Christmas, please remember to show yourself plenty of compassion. It is okay if your old friends or values do not fit. It is okay if it feels a little sad and challenging. Why wouldn’t it? After all, change often feels tricky.
As for me, I am still beginning this journey, knowing that part of my old identity has gone. Instead, I am building a new one and learning once again what I value the most. I might have that small glass one day, but not anytime soon. I am too proud of what I have achieved so far.
This year has reminded me that with change inevitably comes loss – but loss always leaves space for something new. I am unsure what this newness will bring me yet, but I am excited about it.
Merry Christmas and Happy 2023.