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How should you tell your friends you’re getting sober?
A guest essay from Sarah Levy
Today’s essay is by Sarah Levy, a writer and author based in Los Angeles. Sarah writes the weekly newsletter Seltzer Rocks and is the author of Drinking Games, an essay collection about the role alcohol has in our formative years, and what it means to opt out of a culture completely enmeshed in drinking. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Cut, Glamour, TIME, Vogue, and Elle.
Before I answer your question, I want to tell you a story.
When I was 24, I was living in New York City and going out with my friends every weekend. We went to dinners, bars, nightclubs, apartment parties – pretty much wherever the wind blew, you could find me there, drinking. For a while, that lifestyle worked. I was intoxicated (literally) with living and partying in a big city. Alcohol was my one-way ticket to endless adventure; I loved the ease it gave me in social settings and how it enabled me to feel more confident and charming. The problem? The morning after.
Like you, I started to feel anxious after I drank. I would wake up after a night out with a heaviness in my chest, a dry mouth, and a pounding headache. I cringed as I scrolled through texts I sent and my camera roll, embarrassed by the way I behaved after one too many vodka sodas.
There is one big difference between the two of us: I was unable to own what you have already articulated about drinking – that you don’t like it anymore – for years. Instead, I entered into a cycle of desperately trying to control and manage my alcohol use and anxiety, which only worsened both. Obsessing over my drinking made me more anxious, which ultimately led me to drink more when the opportunity arose.
I repeated this pattern for years because of one big reason. I didn’t think I was “qualified” for sobriety. I thought that sobriety first required losing everything in your life or hitting a dramatic rock bottom. As you mentioned, drinking was so enmeshed in every aspect of socializing, from my friendships to my love life. For most of my twenties, I was dead set on “figuring out” a better way to drink until, one day, I finally accepted that alcohol wasn’t working for me anymore. It was only then that I gave myself permission to stop drinking. I was 28 and terrified. Who would I be without a drink in my hand? Would people still like me at parties? On a date? Would friends still find me funny and interesting? Would my coworkers still want to hang out after work? Would I still like myself?
All of this brings me to the crux of your question: how to approach sobriety with friends without it being awkward. This is such a normal concern and one I grappled with in the months leading up to my decision to go alcohol-free. Since drinking was such a huge part of my identity, I worried that my friends would think I was boring for getting sober. Worse yet, I imagined them telling me I was being dramatic, or questioning my decision to get sober in the first place.
Listen — you don’t owe anyone a formal announcement about your sobriety. You are allowed to experiment with giving up alcohol before telling your friends about it. Many people in recovery from alcoholism maintain anonymity for years; there’s nothing wrong with protecting your own peace until you feel ready to share it with others.
Once you’ve decided that you are ready to broach the topic with friends, you can decide how much or how little you feel comfortable divulging. Similar to how “no” is a complete sentence, you are allowed to simply say, “I’m not drinking right now,” or “Drinking hasn’t been making me feel good, so I’m taking a break,” and have that be enough. If sharing about your anxiety feels right to you, then by all means, get into it! But there are no rules about how much you have to disclose, even with your best friends.
This is going to sound corny, but the friends who really care about you are just going to be happy that you’re taking care of yourself. They may ask follow-up questions; they may not. I drank with all of my friends, but none of them challenged my decision to get sober. Over time, I shared more with them about what led me to give up booze, but they were patient and didn’t press me on anything until I was ready. I’m forever grateful to them for that.
One caveat: Those “party friends” – you know, the ones who only text you on Friday or Saturday nights – may be less enthusiastic about your choice. I had my fair share of those friends, and their silence was deafening when I first got sober. It was initially scary to think of missing out or not being invited to every party, but when I was honest with myself, I realized our relationships were, ultimately, mostly superficial. The space they freed up in my life allowed me to deepen my existing friendships and form new, meaningful bonds.
There is one more piece of good news. While you may feel awkward talking about it with your friends, no one else is thinking about your sobriety as much as you are. We’re all the main characters in our own stories and I can pretty much guarantee that, while they love you, your friends are all busy thinking about their own lives, careers, and relationships. This knowledge really liberated and empowered me to stop worrying so much about what other people thought and start living more truthfully.
The initial discomfort I felt when I first started opening up about my sobriety was quickly replaced with a sense of freedom and self-confidence that I wouldn’t trade for the world today. I know this feels scary right now, but I promise, it’s worth it.
Keep me posted on how it goes!
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