I once lived life thinking there were situations - like vacations, weddings, or concerts - you couldn’t possibly tolerate (or want to attempt) sober. I once believed that doing any of these things, by choice, without drinking would be nothing short of torture. However, I’m living proof that it is possible. You see, I’m a former party girl who - somewhat by accident - ended up spending an entire year sober. I didn’t hit a rock bottom or have a doctor’s order, I simply came to the realization that my life revolved - a little too much - around drinking, and that didn’t feel right. So, on a mission to find a different meaning in life, I made the decision to quit drinking for an entire year, but to go on living my life as seamlessly as possible.
My year of sobriety was, without contest, one of the most insightful, enjoyable and pivotal points in my entire life. I found that, with the right outlook, I could participate in - and even enjoy - activities I once thought would be miserable without a cocktail. Here are the five surprising things I did sober in 2017 and the lessons I learned from each.
I celebrated birthdays.
I was only about two months into sobriety when my birthday rolled around. Surprisingly, most of my friends assumed I’d make my birthday a “cheat day” (as background, I love celebrating my birthday and always try to gather friends together for dinner and a night out). Instead, I opted for an intimate weeknight dinner with my closest friends. We enjoyed great food (and drinks for them) and had great conversation. Even without a night out on the town, surrounded by a larger group, I still felt incredibly appreciated and special. Read more here.
In addition to my own birthday, I also made sure I didn’t use my sobriety as an excuse to skip friends’ birthday celebrations. While I may not have stayed out until all hours of the night, I made sure I joined in for dinner and would usually tag along for at least an hour to wherever they went.
The lesson: Celebrations are about surrounding yourself with people who share in your excitement. Happy occasions can be just as meaningful (and certainly more memorable) without the presence of alcohol.
I went to (and danced at) weddings.
I’ve always loved dancing at weddings, but have always embraced the help of an open bar to prepare me to cut loose. The wedding I attended was destination; which meant open bar and only a short walk back to your room on the property. I chose to remind myself that often, “open bar” equals cheap booze and a crazy hangover. So, I made the decision to just have fun and be fun. I kept up conversation at the dinner table and joined in on the dance floor anytime I heard a song I liked (and stubbornly fled when a song I didn’t approve of started playing). Overall, I did have to purpose to get out on the dance floor, but was still able to have a great time when all was said and done.
The lesson: Having fun is about doing things you think are FUN. For me, dressing up and dancing the night away to good music is incredibly fun. Yes, it might be easier to step out on the dance floor with strangers after a few drinks, but guess what - everyone else is still drinking and has absolutely zero interest or capacity to judge you.
Vacation is a time to escape, relax, and overindulge. Ironically, escaping, relaxing, and overindulging are also common uses for alcohol. Can you do one without the other? Of course. In total, I stayed on an all-inclusive resort, toured Havana (aka: the rum capital of the world) and spend a week in Maui...all without a drop of booze (I did bring back some Cuban rum for my friends, however, because I’m not a jerk).
What I discovered was that I was able to fully soak in the experience of the cities I visited without the haze of alcohol (or the weight of a constant hangover). Specifically, my experiences in Havana and Maui were some of the most joy-inducing and beautiful. I feel I was even able to relax more quickly and fully without booze on all of these trips. Read more about my experiences vacationing sober here.
The lesson: What makes vacation special is the rare opportunity to escape your routine, relax by living without an agenda and soaking up your surroundings...and, there are plenty of opportunities to overindulge on vacation, even without alcohol (gelato, anyone?)
I went on first dates.
Dating is tricky enough as it is. Adding sobriety into the mix as a factor doesn’t make it much easier. I actually learned a lot by dating sober as it pushed me to the edges of my comfort zone. All of the dates I went on were initiated via a dating app. So, considering I would be going out with a stranger, my first struggle was what to tell them and when. For my first few dates, I agreed to “meet for drinks” and causally ordered sparkling water or club soda. In full disclosure, this was a bad tactic. There were certain situations where dates would become uncomfortable that I wasn’t drinking (though there were also situations where my date would handle it just fine). Ultimately, I found that being upfront with the fact that I wasn’t drinking was the way to go. Sometimes, I was forced to communicate this by text message, which I found to be incredibly challenging and sometimes awkward. However, in the end, it was better that we could decide on an non-cocktail based activity if my date was uncomfortable. Or that, at the least, he understood wouldn’t be drinking if we were to meet at a bar (which I was absolutely fine with doing, by the way). More on my experiences with sober dating here.
The lesson: Dating without alcohol involved is tricky, but also helps you to cut through the noise more quickly.
I participated in social events.
Although I did step back from the social scene a bit during my sober year, I committed to not becoming a recluse. I knew that, organically, some of my friendships would fade, but was also surprised at how many of my friends didn’t care that I wasn’t drinking. My strategy for navigating the social scene sober was this: If I would have gone to this activity while drinking, I needed to at least try it sober. Also, I’d try to attend group events as often as possible, but wouldn’t let myself feel bad about making an exit when it became clear that the people around me were on another level. Before, leaving before everyone else would have made me feel like I was missing something. In sobriety, I quickly realized that friendships were not forged or strengthened by anything that happened after 11 PM. This helped me realize that I wouldn't be missing out on much if I went home and had a good night’s sleep.
This category is a bit of a catch-all, but I really challenged myself to go outside of my comfort zone socially by doing things like going for an afternoon on a party barge and attending an EDM concert (this was a bold move, but so much fun).
The lesson: If it’s not fun, why are you going anyway? If it could be fun, give it a chance...you can always leave.
Through all of this, the lesson I learned was profound: I am a badass, capable, fun, competent person. Maybe I’m also incredibly weird, because navigating social situations without drinking actually became a little exhilarating for me. Each time I returned home from an event I’d never have imagined surviving without a cocktail, I felt this tiny boost of pride because I knew I’d done something many were unwilling to try; and it felt really, really good.
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