Socialising Sober

Another fabulous guest post by my friend @sueK – full of practical tips on how to handle parties & social events in early sobriety.


@suek: Probably the most terrifying thought when I first quit drinking was “How the hell am I going to socialise now?” I’m quite shy, and really hate big crowds and noisy scenes, so drinking was pretty much compulsory to calm my nerves, even before I stepped out the door. Contemplating a sober dinner party was too depressing for words. 

My first sober socialising experiences were excruciating. I was mortified in the twisted way of thinking that everyone would be looking at me, knowing my awful secret, their eyes boring holes in my back, talking about me in hushed and horrified tones.

I would be glowing in the dark sober.

But that was all in my own head. Nobody actually gives a damn. Most people who don’t drink or drink moderately don’t even think about other people’s drinking. And drinkers are usually only concerned with keeping their own glass full.

For a while, when you quit, you’re in that no-man’s land where you’re acting like a non-drinker and thinking like a drinker, and everything’s screwy in your mind. But it doesn’t take long to start feeling OK and normal socialising sober.

Here are some practical things that really helped me while I was getting used to it.

* When you go out, make sure you drink! Not alcohol. Just have a glass in your hand and keep it full. (If you’re like me, you’re an expert in keeping your glass topped up!) If you already have a full glass, nobody is going to ask you if you want a drink or a top-up, so you won’t have to say anything.  This applies at home too. For me, not drinking at home was a huge change. We almost always had wine while cooking, wine with dinner. It was a ritual that we’d had for years, and I felt really terrible that I was going to be the one to wreck it. But I really wasn’t wrecking anything by stopping drinking. We can still have our rituals. I just changed the liquid in my glass, because that’s the choice I’ve made. Raise a glass, say “Cheers”. And enjoy your lovely soberness as well as your together times.

* Avoid awkwardness by taking your own. If you take a supply of your own favourite drink when you go out, it’s so much easier when the host says “What can I get you to drink?” “I’d love a glass of that Lemon Perrier I brought thanks.” Easy.

* Order water like you’re ordering wine. When the waitress asks if you’d like to see the wine list, be confident and direct. “I’d like a large bottle of sparkling mineral water and a wine glass please. No ice.” Or whatever drink you want. Just order it as if you want it way more than the wine list. I really think we can retrain our minds and hearts and bodies if we stop saying things like, “No thanks, I’m not drinking wine any more. What else do you have?” See how that puts all the power and responsibility back on the other person to offer you something else, and then you have to choose, and then it’s just another struggle you don’t need. Decide ahead of time what you’re going to have, and order it like it’s the only thing you want. “I’d love a gingerale in a pint glass please!” Done deal.

* But what if someone pesters you? At some point, someone who’s drinking or drunk might start badgering you about why you won’t drink with them any more. I really only have one policy about this. I don’t talk about my decision to stop drinking with anyone who’s drinking (as in has a drink in their hand right now). There is absolutely no point in discussing sobriety with someone who’s drinking — their judgment is clouded, their minds are not present, they’re not really listening anyway. This has only happened to me twice, and I said something like “Hey, I’d be happy to talk to you about this. Give me a call when you’re free for a coffee.” They didn’t.

* But why aren’t you drinking any more? It’s actually nobody’s business, but people will ask, so it’s super helpful to memorise an answer, and use it over and over. It might take a while to find one that suits you and feels honest and comfortable for you. These days, if people ask me why I don’t drink, I just say “I used to drink too much, so I decided to quit.” And there’s always someone who says “You didn’t drink that much, Sue!” And I reply “I drank more than I wanted to. And I feel so much better now that I don’t drink at all.” That’s the end of that conversation. Short and sweet. I don’t go into all the gory details about how much and how often I drank, and how secretly crap my life was because of it. I will talk with sober friends about that, because they get it and they know how precious and important this all is–they honour it, and only see how wonderful it is to be free. That’s the kind of support I need.

* Know when to back out. Of course, there will come a time, over dinner or at a party, when the other people get tipsy and whooping it up, and you’re stone cold not. For me that’s the time to head off home, or go to bed. It’s not rude or party pooping. It’s just time for me to check out and get into my bedtime happy place, and look forward to tomorrow’s wake up happy place. That’s how I look after myself now.

* Eventually everything changes. Eventually, you start feeling normal being sober when you go out. And eventually, people know you as a non-drinker and that becomes just a simple fact about you. On our last holiday, one of the best things that happened was overhearing this little conversation, in the car on the way to a dinner party:

“How much wine should we take?” “Umm. Well, Pete doesn’t drink, Gary doesn’t drink, Sue doesn’t drink… so that only leaves four of us. A couple of bottles should be heaps.”

Sue doesn’t drink. It’s the new normal.

I can’t tell you how happy I was to hear those words.


© 2014

  1. timbo 3 months ago

    Finished “This Naked Mind” last weekend, a book all about alcohol. It has made it so easy to not want a drink anymore. Totally trained my unconscious mind to not even crave alcohol anymore as I now know exactly what it does and how it doesn’t help me in any way. Big reccomendation!

    • malloryRN 4 weeks ago

      I’m looking i to finding this book right now!! Thank you for the recommendation.

  2. andrewchew 4 months ago

    I just went to my first outing sober…I’ve been hibernating because of the madness in the world. I had fun but was definitely hanging on to my Body Armor Lite, like it was going out of style. I haven’t been out to a club or anything like that though, they aren’t open, and I’m not that strong yet so baby steps. Lol..

  3. sophiedl 5 months ago

    This really helps as I am only just about a week in. First time trying to quit.

  4. 2083ryan 5 months ago

    I’m 5months sober finding it pretty good at the start for the first couple of weeks it was the habit at about 5 ish at night to beat was the first hurdle ,then when I first went out but by the end of the night it was very amusing watching the people who were drinking I still had a good time though the only thing I have to conquer is I get a bit over drinking fizzy drinks so looking for a bit of variety there 😉🙂 but all in all I’m actually feeling better for it and a little proud of myself!

  5. Jess 8 months ago

    Very very helpful. I’m 3 weeks in and looking forward to your stage Sue.

  6. venus 11 months ago

    Wow. I needed to read this today as I head into a long weekend. Thank you!

  7. Angel1 11 months ago

    This is an awesome read thank you and I can relate so much. I will use some of the advise in here as I worry about socialising sober. Thank you ?

  8. mrssippy 2 years ago

    This is such helpful advise! Thank you @suek – I just joined here, 4 days in.
    Totally relate to friends saying I don’t drink too much but “I drink more than I want to, so now I don’t drink at all” . It’s going to be hard this next month, but these socialising tips are great!

    • felcin30 1 year ago

      Yes. This! I’m new here today. We got this! ??

  9. chanelle13 2 years ago

    It was my mums unveiling yesterday. Because i relapsed earlier during the week I am on these pills where if i have a drink i get really sick. Being around people who were drinking i felt like i wanted a drink, but i knew i have to get my kids back. I asked someone to take me home

  10. GabbiG 2 years ago

    Great blog. Something else I have found really helpful was a tip to go early and leave early _ I enjoy connecting with people before they get intoxicated. Also I don’t do much caffeine so I can get a little high on a coffee before I go if I want to stay up for live music

  11. Neverenough 2 years ago

    Great post, thanks so much! Only just started on my sober journey last Monday and facing huge family gathering this weekend. Very anxious about it really as these are build on alcohol consumption. I already had to disclose that I won’t be drinking and feeling … anxious. It’s not in my home town either, and to get home is almost 2 hours drive. Not great weekend ahead I fear…

  12. Anonymous 2 years ago

    4 years since your original post. Many thanks for this it’s very useful inciteful info.

    … I’ve not quite finished drinking 100% but attempting to edge closer… get fitter.. claim my weekends back.

    Last night I went to my normal drinking haunt with fellow village Dads. I went for two pints of lime and soda… 1 slow Guinness… another lime and soda. The conversation got pretty dull/repetitive as we were no longer on the same drunk wavelength… I politely left them to it and ignored the ‘fun’ comments and farewells.

    I definitely struggled under the questioning from friends and bar staff. Next time I’ll be more prepared with a good succinct answer.

  13. RP 2 years ago

    I don’t socialise with people who drink any more. Because there’s *always* that element that has a problem with me not drinking. Even though they’d be the first to get offended if I badgered them about their choice to drink, or why they made that choice.

    I just give all events involving alcohol a miss. Which is to say I give all events a miss. I’ve no interest in drinking tonic water all night just to please some idiots who need alcohol merely to tolerate a few hours in the company of other human beings. If asked why I don’t attend, I just say “people who drink aren’t much fun to be around.” They don’t like it. I don’t care.

    • Anonymous 2 years ago

      I love your comment! Exactly how I feel, but what to do when you really need to go out for networking as part of your job?

  14. Anonymous 6 years ago

    It is Lime Cordial with soda. I had one of those drinks on Saturday night and it was so yum. Enjoy.

  15. Viatoday 6 years ago

    “For a while, when you quit, you’re in that no-man’s land where you’re acting like a non-drinker and thinking like a drinker, and everything’s screwy in your mind. But it doesn’t take long to start feeling OK and normal socialising sober.” This is so true! At 4 1/2 months, and after a summer of not drinking, it definitely feels normal for me, although there are still those people I see for for the first time out socially. Thanks for the great tips in how to handle these situations when the questions still arise!

  16. AlexP 6 years ago

    Great post, @SueK. Very practical and insightful. I too have been worried about the “home ritual” of getting supper ready. We always sit outside ( all weathers – bonkers!!) with our glass of white. Now we still do that ( me not for as long) but I’m with my new ” special” rainbow tall glass tumbler full of ice, fizzy water and whatever takes my fancy as a “flavoured”.
    Haven’t socialised much outside of home but like your confident “wine list” approach. Thanks.

  17. Paulita 6 years ago

    What a great practical post – thanks. Yes, I am going to order with confidence a sparkling water with lemon or lime. I do tend to dither and say ‘Oh I don’t want anything to drink’ which puts even more focus on me.
    I’ve got a good kindof true ‘story’ for friends and colleagues who know I used to drink. I say ‘I feel so good after that candida diet of no alcohol and no sugar that I’m going to keep it up’. For those who don’t know me I say ‘No thanks’ to alcohol.

  18. jo14 6 years ago

    Great post…I actually find that it is becoming more of a normal thing not to drink when I go out (still haven’t ventured into my normal drinking haunts). I am finding more people are not drinking booze (never noticed this when I was drinking) as they are getting up early…going on a hike, going to go play golf…whatever. Very eye opening to me. I am proud to be in the non-drinking category! 🙂

    • elliott 6 years ago

      Yep. On a Saturday night I find that at about 10pm at parties people are beginning to get a little tipsy. This, as you know, is tough for a non-drinker. I am lucky that I do play golf from 7.30 am on most Sundays. Even if I am not playing the next day, I tell a little lie, and say that I am. People are now used to this and are not surprised, so readily accept my early departure .

      • Louie 11 months ago

        Thank you for all sharing your experiences. It’s my first day being sober.
        Thanks also for the great tips very helpful!

  19. KoSamui 6 years ago

    Hi Schooseslife

    Generally it is lime cordial, but you are always welcome to ask for a slice of lime as well as the cordial. Limes are expensive so mostly they will have slices of lemon. But just drink what suits you. Any goes these days. Give them a real shocker :0)

  20. Pollyonthewagon 6 years ago

    Great post So much practical wisdom I can feel some of the milestones happening like checking out the quality of the non alcoholic drinks in the same way I used to do with the wine list . So true about talking sobriety with someone who is drinking. It is up there with not trying to argue with someone who is drinking

  21. Smoggy7 6 years ago

    This is a great post but one part of it scares me a little. I’m a relatively new non-drinker (68 days) and haven’t socialised much since quitting, but the part on knowing when to back out scares me more than anything. Like many on here (I assume) I was THE life and sole of a party, when I was on one life was great for everybody. I loved the attention, I enjoyed myself and everyone loved to be around me. This isn’t arrogance by any stretch it really was like that. My worry is am never going to be like that again? will my party friends find a new party guy? and where does that leave me? has part of my identity gone?
    Now, I’m not going to start drinking again my life is so much better for me now but it does feel like I’ll never want to socialise again because whats the point?


    • Smoggy7 6 years ago

      Cheers for the comments, I think my worry comes from fear of the unknown and how to react to a different set of social norms (for myself) when everyone else is till going ahead as usual. I do sometimes question myself and think why not just go out and get drunk with your mates as I did have so much fun, but just do it way less and and don’t do the social habitual ‘daily few’ drinks. I know where this would lead though and i can’t be bothered going back to ‘that place’, but as I stated before I’m scared I won’t enjoy myself with my friends anymore or worse become boring. Should I jump back in to socializing as a non-drinker or give it a bit more time to clear my head and get used to being the non-drinker?

      As a side note a situation arose at work recently whereby a few of us will be travelling around training other staff some of these places could well be Queenstown and Wanaka etc. I have to be honest the thought of a night in Queenstown with my mates on company money………I won’t finish that sentence. I know I’m stronger than that, yes one day I will be the life and soul I once was, NO I still AM just without booze!

      Cheers again, I really do appreciate the time all you folks put into this for the benefit of us all!

    • SueK 6 years ago

      Hi @Smoggy7, Mrs D writes about this on her blog — about being the fun, party, drinking person, and worrying about losing that. She says parties and socialising are fun because of the people, the atmosphere, the music, the event itself — not because of the booze. I totally agree with her. You don’t need to be drinking to enjoy socialising, to hang out with people, to be fun to be around. Booze has no power to make a social event better. None at all. If you’re a fun social person, you’re a fun social person — what’s in your glass is totally irrelevant.

    • Jeanie 6 years ago

      Like you Smoggy I was also the life and soul of the party…. Well I thought I was. I have had three slips, and each one of those was when I thought that I was missing out. It is hard at the beginning, but after a while it all comes back as a new sober version of your true self. I am back to being naughty and funny again at parties, and am sober. I do sometimes slip home early, but that is OK! Most people by that stage don’t even realise we have left. It gets easier.

  22. Alongtimeoverdue 6 years ago

    What a fabulous post! I relate to everything Sue has said. Cannot wait for that non-drinker reference myself.

  23. Rosieoutlook 6 years ago

    Hi Lotta, not sure what I am doing wrong. I write a comment and only the first few lines get printed.

    • Author
      Mrs D 6 years ago

      Hey @Rosieoutlook sorry that is happening to you…I don’t know why that would be… it isn’t that way for others from what I can tell….? What device are you typing on? Maybe try a different one if you can and see if it works ok……

  24. Rosieoutlook 6 years ago

    Isn’t it funny that when we mature, we still feel like there is peer pressure when it comes to drinking. Go figure

  25. Alyce 6 years ago

    Great post 🙂 I think I will be using this as a quick reference resource when I am heading out next. Thank you xx

  26. Jojo12 6 years ago

    Love this – such good ideas. One that hits home is not getting into the details of why you aren’t drinking with someone who is drinking. – so true, they’re not really listening and probably don’t really care. Save it for people who you can have a real conversation with…..sober people!

  27. bombay 6 years ago

    Thank you for a great practical post. I went out to a really posh restaurant and confidently asked for a ” lime and soda, in a wine glass, with a slice of lemon and three ice cubes”. I loved the power of asking for exactly what I wanted.

    • Schooseslife 6 years ago

      Can I ask a really dumb question @bombay ? When you drink lime and soda (like so many members do), is it a slice of lime OR lime cordial that you are asking for ? It sounds like such a non conversation stopping drink (when out with drinkers) but not sure what I should expect when I order it. X

    • SueK 6 years ago

      It sure is empowering!

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