I went out with a bunch of girlfriends recently. A big group of us hitting the town for dinner and a comedy show. Pretty unusual for me to be out and about in town - let alone on a Wednesday night! - but yes it definitely happened.
Walking through town I was gobsmacked at all the people getting amongst it in the bars & restaurants along the main strip. I was astounded at how many places were packed full of people boozing and smoking. It was a familiar scene, one that bought back strong memories. I have spent hours and hours sitting in bars drinking. The dim lights. The dusky smells. The inebriation. The camaraderie. I’m a social being but to be fair it was probably mostly about the inebriation. Boy did I love getting boozed.
Until I didn’t.
I wasn’t sad or nostalgic last night watching all the people supping their beers and wines. I didn’t feel left out. I didn’t even feel superior for being out of that stupid alcohol trap. I just felt neutral, like it was something I used to do but don’t any more.
At our restaurant most of my girlfriends had wine with dinner - one had a cocktail I think. Me and one other ordered sparkling water. There’s always a little moment when I feel slightly self-conscious as discussions are being had around the table about what to drink (“shall we split a bottle of sauvignon?” “I think I’ll have a glass of red”) but I know now that the awkwardness is just in my head and no-one else gives a toss if I’m drinking or not. And it will pass quickly. I just have to hang tough through that brief moment and the rest of the evening usually plays out smoothly.
The comedy show was good but boy there were a lot of jokes about hangovers and drinking. Everyone laughed (“ah yes the three-day hangover!”) and I did too. But I was hyper aware of alcohol being a regular topic amongst the jokes.
Overall the evening was fun but it really highlighted for me how counter-cultural it is to live sober. Alcohol is deeply intrenched into our worlds. It’s everywhere all the bloody time as evidenced by my simple night out in town (full bars en route to the restaurant, friends all drinking during the meal, comedy show with numerous mentions of booze). To move around this world as a sober person and never touch any alcohol ever is revolutionary.
Frankly I think this makes us sober people all the more brave and amazing. Not only do we have to do a huge amount of inner work when we take alcohol away - getting used to living with raw emotions and un-inebriated brains 24/7 - we also have the mammoth task of re-framing ourselves as sober people in a booze soaked world.
In my early days as a non-drinker I felt so uncomfortable and odd moving around without my boozy skin. My whole identity had shifted, I felt awkward, conspicuous, foreign - like I’d grown a third eye or something ridiculous. I was a stranger to myself. Who was I without my beloved wines? Was I still chatty and fun? Was I interesting or deathly dull? I didn’t feel chatty, fun or interesting. Mostly I just felt incredibly raw and vulnerable.
But I hung in there and slowly over time my new non-drinking persona became more comfortable. I got used to being the sober elephant in the room at family gatherings and parties (and started discovering not everyone was getting plastered every time they went out), I got used to the brief awkward moment at the beginning of meals when discussions were being had about what to drink, I got used to being a non-drinker.
I got comfortable being the real me - authentic me - with no alcohol in the way.
And so now on the odd occasions when I do go out into town and walk amongst the boozers or sit with my friends as they drink wine I’m no longer that three-eyed monster feeling raw and vulnerable. I’m just me - chatty and fun - with no desire to muck up my newly discovered authenticity.
And I’m very happy with that.