A month ago, I wrote a post called Are You Ready to Stop Drinking? I wrote the post for people who might not need to stop drinking, but who might want to, for those of us who suspect life might be sunnier and sweeter without alcohol. I wrote the post because it’s one I would have loved to read several years ago when I was quietly thinking about my own drinking patterns and wondering if I might want to change them. I wrote the post because I don’t think there are enough people writing about this topic – the choice to rethink alcohol in modern life – and felt I had something to say.
To be honest, the response to my post startled me. So many people reached out saying that it struck a chord, that they have been wanting to experiment with a new way of living life. Several people – some that I know, some that I don’t – have actually given up alcohol in the wake of my September post. Hearing this is both humbling and gratifying; that my words are landing where they should inspires me to keep exploring this topic even though I continue to struggle with whether or not I want to.
You see, not drinking is not a big deal for me anymore. It is rare that I feel tempted to have a cocktail. The craving I once felt has faded. I no longer associate relaxation or fun with consuming alcohol. And so none of this seems super interesting to me because it’s just become my life. But then I hear from friends, from you guys, from real people who are curious about living life without alcohol and I remember that what I’m doing is not the norm and is not necessarily easy. I remember that it was difficult for me, or more difficult for me, at first. And then I feel compelled to write about it again because the truth is I have learned a lot and have lots to say on the topic.
So, once a month, I will write about this. Today is October 7th which means that it has been six months since I made this decision to live a dry life. That’s half a year. Kind of major even though it doesn’t feel major because it has gotten to be easy and purely a good thing. Six months of living clearly and sleeping well and waking up every morning feeling good. All worth smiling about, and celebrating. To celebrate, I will leave you with seven tips on how to navigate those first days/weeks/months of going out and not drinking. Because the territory can feel tricky and treacherous and there are little insights I collected along the way.
1. Arrive armed with answers.
For better or worse, people might expect you to drink and give you strange looks and pepper you with questions if you don’t. Particularly here in New York City where alcohol is ubiquitous, this is the case. If you will be in a setting where people will be drinking and might expect you to partake, arrive armed with a few answers. Note that these are simple answers and no elaboration is necessary. If someone says: What can I get you? you might say: I’m going to start with water. If someone says: Why aren’t you drinking? you might say: I don’t feel like it tonight or I don’t drink during the week or I’m experimenting with not drinking. Note: You might want to explain more about your decision not to drink. I was always happy to engage people on this topic and I found these conversations fascinating, but I appreciate that not everyone wants to talk about this. The bottom line is that you might feel empowered to have a few easy answers to toss back at people who choose to ask. Also note that many wonderful people will not even notice whether or not you are drinking or care one way or the other. One more thing: Pay attention to the people who give you the hardest time for not drinking. It’s worth considering whether they have their own issues around the topic.
2. Push through the first round(s).
Though it’s now no big deal to go out and not drink, it didn’t feel so easy-breezy at first. In the beginning, I noticed that the biggest temptation came at the start of a social event. Perhaps predictable, but I felt most deprived and resentful when everyone was ordering their first take-off-the-edge cocktail. But after that first stretch of time passed, that first round or two, it got much easier to not be drinking. By the end of the night, when some people were slurring their words or doing sundry other silly alcohol-fueled things, I was thankful to be clear and in control, happy that I had chosen to abstain. The beginnings of the nights are trickiest, so just push through.
3. Choose a go-to mocktail.
In the beginning, when I wasn’t drinking, I sometimes found it easier to look like I was drinking so that people would leave me alone. I would drink sparkling water with lime. On occasion, I’d order a virgin Mary. These days, I don’t care at all, but in the beginning, it’s easy to feel self-conscious. Also note that many bartenders can whip up wonderful mocktail versions of many cocktails.
4. Celebrate the details you’d otherwise miss.
This is my favorite tip and I acknowledge that I might be more jazzed about it than most because I’m a writer and obsessed with details, but when we are drinking, when the world starts to blur at the edges a bit, we can lose the details of our experiences. Sometimes, this loss is welcome; it’s nice to escape a bit. But it’s also wonderful to be in a restaurant or at a party and have a crystal clear lens on life. I remember being at a restaurant downtown with Husband a while back. It was a trendy, happening place and we were seated at the bar and waiting for our table. Everyone around us was sipping beautiful, lush cocktails and for a fleeting moment, I felt a sharp envy that they were doing this and I was just drinking boring old water, but then I started to really see what was happening around me, to hear snips of stories (a couple arguing next to us, another couple whispering sweet nothings), to smell the food traveling by us, to feel the cardboard coaster in my hand, the air sweeping in from the outside, to taste the flavors of our food. It’s amazing how dense and rich the world can be without the gloss of booze.
5. Pay attention to who you are without booze.
This is a big one. I noticed that when I first started socializing without alcohol, I was a quieter version of myself. I was less exuberant and chatty and more reserved and observant. It took me a while to realize that this was, and is, okay. It also took me a while to realize that this was, and is, who I really am, that alcohol might make us more animated and exaggerated versions of ourselves, but that the raw material of self is what it is without this and other accoutrements. Without alcohol, I am more careful, but also more authentic. I say what I want to say and have a better filter. I have come to love who I am without getting tipsy. This is a process, this learning who we are when sober in social settings, but it can be a really wonderful and eye-opening process.
6. Reward yourself.
When it comes to this kind of stuff, I believe in rewards. At least in the beginning. If we are in a world where everyone seems to be drinking and we are abstaining for reasons that feel important to us, then it’s okay to reward ourselves for making it through evenings without wine or our drink of choice. For me, rewards have come in the form of candy, trashy magazines, extra workouts, writing, selfies (ha), etc. Obviously, as we become more comfortable in our abstinence, it’s probably best to eliminate these rewards, but I think in the beginning, it’s totally okay.
7. Memorize the morning after.
Waking up after a good, solid stretch of sleep with zero hangover is the absolute best. Even when we don’t drink a lot, I think mornings after can be tough and a bit draggy. I didn’t realize this until I stopped and my mornings became so much brighter. Yes, I am still perpetually exhausted from the shuffle of kids and books and all else, but I don’t feel the same trademark physical/emotional/existential heaviness that drinking sometimes caused. In the beginning, I would pay close attention to the hues of these mornings, how good and pure they were, and this would serve as wonderful motivation for my next booze-free night out.
- Is it easy or hard for you to go out and not drink?
- How does it make you feel when someone you are socializing is not drinking?
- Do you pay attention to how much other people are drinking?
- Do you have any additional partying-without-drinking tips?
- Are you interested in changing your drinking habits? What do you think is holding you back?