“Sometimes letting things go is an act of far greater power than defending or hanging on.”― Eckhart Tolle
A few years ago, I made my first half-hearted attempt at giving up booze. I had one foot in and one foot out (or actually, maybe like a couple toes in). I was not very committed. I was an angry five-year-old throwing a tantrum. “Why can’t I drink? WHYYYYYY?” In simple terms, it sucked. I was not in the right mental headspace whatsoever to take sobriety seriously, and I was very sensitive and receptive to others’ opinions.
A week or so after I cut out drinking, during my attempt a few years back, my friend called me to hang out. We met in college and most of our time together involved alcohol, but I thought we had a pretty solid bond beyond that. The phone conversation went something like this:
Friend: “Hey, let’s go to the bars on Saturday! It’s been so long since we’ve seen each other!”
Me: “Oh, um, I actually quit drinking, but I’m down to get lunch or go for a hike or something!”
Friend: “WHAT? You quit drinking?! Wait, why?”
Me: “I just think I’m better off without it.”
Me: “It hasn’t been making me feel very well lately, physically or mentally.”
Friend: “Are you okay? What’s going on?”
Me: “Nothing, nothing, really. I just want to see how I feel without it.”
Friend: “Okay, well I’ll have to see when I’m free, but we’ll talk soon!”
Frankly, I was pretty shocked at how she responded. I didn’t expect such a dramatic response from her. You’d think I had just told her that I was going to become a nun and move to the Himalayan mountains and live in a cave.
After that phone call, we sent each other a few impersonal texts, but I haven’t seen her since.
Other friends who I used to party with have made absolutely zero effort to keep in contact with me. In all fairness, I haven’t reached out to them either because I’m not sure what would be left of our friendship with alcohol out of the picture.
I had another encounter a couple years ago (during another attempt to quit drinking) where a friend vehemently questioned my decision to not drink during a night out at a concert. “C’mon! You have to get fucked up with us! This is not the Katie I know!” she protested in an almost attacking, angry way. Unfortunately, my sober roots were not firmly planted at that point of time, and I gave in to her, throwing back shot after shot to catch up to them.
I remember one night another one of my party friends said, “I would never date a girl who doesn’t drink or do drugs. Is that bad?” I remember laughing along with the group, but internally a little warning signal went off: Alert! Alert! This is not how you want to live your life, Katie!
Here’s the thing: I get it. I get why these people reacted the way they did because I was them once too. During my problem drinking, party girl days, I sought out other heavy partiers because I could camouflage in with them, drinking to my heart’s content without receiving any judgment or sideways glances. I would try to convince other people to drink more, and I would roll my eyes behind the back’s of people that wanted to stop after a couple drinks.
It’s now very clear to me that the way someone reacts to your decision to not drink says way, way more about their relationship with alcohol than yours. I recall talking with my drinking friends back in the day about how I just didn’t understand people who don’t drink. “What do they do for fun?” was an exact quote.
Anyone that aggressively questions why you don’t do a thing is so attached to it that they don’t know who they are without it. In fact, the more aggressively they question or try to push, the more attached they are.
In the book This Naked Mind, author Annie Grace makes an excellent point in saying that alcohol is the only drug on Earth that we have to make excuses not to take. You don’t hear people saying, “Aw, c’mon! Just have one bump of cocaine! Just a little heroin!”
Our culture has become so alcohol-centric and dependent that it’s become a normal part of life, and anyone that chooses not to partake is often seen as different, weird, and abnormal.
Of course, not everyone reacts negatively. I received equal amounts of acceptance, understanding, and love. I actually didn’t “come out” as sober for a long time because letting other people know meant that I was locked in, and I wasn’t sure I was totally committed for a long time, but once I did, I was pleasantly surprised with many people’s reactions.
My boyfriend has been supportive from the beginning, and actually recently decided to stop drinking entirely too out of curiosity and a desire to not rely on a substance for stress relief or social functions. One of my best friends has been sober for almost four years, so clearly she was very supportive of my decision and has been a constant source of inspiration to me. Most of my other friends responded with a supportive, but causal phrase along the lines of “That’s great! Do what’s best for you!” or “Oh, nice!”
Deciding to be sober in a drinking world is frightening for many reasons, losing friends being one. When I quit drinking it was like I lost my image, some friends, and my crutch in one foul swoop. It felt very unnerving at first, but honestly, I’m so happy I made the decision to finally jump in with both feet. It’s a process, and it’s not like I’m some sparkling, bubbly sober person who is totally confident without a drink in my hand (yet!), but I know deep in my gut that I’ve made the right choice for myself.
Towards the end of my drinking career, I was fascinated by sober people. I’d spend hours reading sober blogs. I’d watch Intervention while drinking wine. I would stare at people who declared they didn’t drink at social gatherings like they were some majestic purple unicorn. It’s cool to be on the other side of that now. To be a person who is doing it, even if it’s not totally easy all the time and takes some getting used to. To be a purple unicorn in a world of white ones.
Your friends will adjust to your decision. You’ll learn to have fun in new ways. There is so much to do out there! You’ll form different kinds of bonds. And the people who don’t adjust, just let them go. It’s okay to grow away from people.
Trust your intuition on this one. If it’s telling you to explore a different way of life, listen.