What You Should Know About Your Sober Friend

by Amber Leventry
Originally Published: 
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Dry January, Sober October, no longer full of shame Thursday. I have been in recovery for three years and nearly three months and haven’t had a drink since that last pint of gin. Compared to some of my sober friends, I am a rookie; compared to the person trying to wrap their head around the idea of sobriety while not quite ready to admit to themselves they have a problem, I may seem like an impossibility.

Staying sober felt impossible for me too, but I found ways to string 1,171 days together as of writing this. I am the person who makes a choice every day to not drink. I don’t always love that choice, but I don’t love the power of addiction either. Sobriety means something different to each person in recovery, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way when it comes to being the sober friend.

From playdates to date nights, alcohol is usually the center of most people’s activities. Mommy wine culture and “Daddy needs a beer” sentiment starts at the baby shower and wraps its way through all aspects of parenting. I used booze as a joke and crutch to get through my early parenting days, too. And, parent or not, plenty of people imbibe to add a layer of enjoyment to an evening alone or with friends.

I, and other alcoholics and alcohol abusers, enjoyed it too until we couldn’t enjoy responsibly. We get it. I wish I could have just one or two and walk away. I am jealous I can’t have the good without evoking all of the bad when it comes with my drinking. I am grateful I can put words to this. It has taken a lot of work to trust and see the differences in my life since I stopped drinking. I am proud to be in recovery, yet I don’t always feel that pride reflected back in people around me.

Non-sober people get weird, self-conscious, and kind of bummed out around sober people, especially those of us in early recovery or simply taking a time out from booze. I won’t try to sort out your reactions to my sobriety, but please don’t let them lead to dropped invitations and awkward silence. I need support, not isolation. It’s okay to not know what to say, but don’t let your awkwardness place a wedge in our friendship.

I’d rather you make an effort to support me, even when you aren’t sure how, than to go to that place that tells you it’s easier to avoid the topic all together. Tell me you love me. Ask me what I need. And if you don’t want to support me, be honest about that too. Be very clear about your intentions, because as I form a circle of people who I can rely on, I need a dependable list. If my sobriety is your buzzkill, then we should go our separate ways.

Sobriety isn’t a cure to a disease, nor should it be seen as contagious or something to fear. Please respect the fact that this is part of a treatment plan to help me stay in control of the life I want to live. Let me set my own boundaries when it comes to my comfort around events where there will be alcohol. Don’t decide on my behalf that having me at your get together or book club will be too much for me. I’m already feeling the shame and weight of addiction; I don’t want to also feel like a burden to you. When you let your discomfort change the way you treat me because I’m drinking seltzer instead of an IPA, I feel like shit.

The possibility of relapse is always present, and only I can know what will feel like too much on any given day. I promise to be honest with you and will tell you if being around alcohol and people drinking is not something I can do. Or I may let you know I will only stay for a little bit. Please don’t take my boundaries as a personal attack on you or your choices. I would love to still be included in your plans, even if I have to decline.

And please don’t make the mistake I once made before I got sober. When someone declines a drink, don’t badger them about their reasons why. Don’t ask if we are sure we don’t want a drink. It’s not a matter of want; of course I fucking want a drink most of the time. But I can’t. I’m confident enough to say why, and I’m even more comfortable with your sad head tilt as if telling you I am an alcoholic equates to me having a terminal illness. No one needs to drink, and no one owes you an explanation as to why they are not drinking. I won’t ask you to change your drinking plans, so don’t try to change mine.

The only person I have asked to do this is my partner; she and I are very clear about my comfort level around her drinking when in my presence. We have respectfully navigated that conversation and before we walk into a place with booze, we have a plan. Please keep yourself out of it.

I will never take for granted the power of addiction, and the hold alcohol has over me and so many others. I am aware that my decisions out of necessity can feel like a threat to your relationship with alcohol. My hope is that I can still maintain a connection with you that is built on trust and love, and not on what we will be drinking when we’re together. Though when it does come to drinking together, when you ask us what non-alcoholic beverage we would like, you are giving us a really lovely gift of respect and kindness. Not that addiction or sobriety should be an elephant in any room, but addressing the thing that may make both of us uncomfortable is an act of love.

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