I, obviously, can only speak for me but I have had a lot of conversations with people at different stages in their sobriety and a conversation I have had over and over is “sometimes it’s awkward”. And by awkward I mean, people kind of don’t know what to do with us. So let’s talk about it…
I still want to be invited to your Wine and Yoga night. I still want to come to your birthday party at your favorite bar. If you want to order a drink when we are out to dinner, order a drink. I don’t need to be kid-gloved or tiptoed around at all. If you forget and offer me a drink and I say, “No, thanks.” Don’t feel weird. If you feel weird, then I will feel weird and then you will feel weirder and it’s a vicious cycle.
When you are making a drastic life change whether it is sobriety or something else, there are days that you can hang. Some days you are on top of the world and want to do all the things and there are days that you just don’t have the energy to smile at all the people. But you want to choose it yourself.
The entire point of this is: As a friend, how do we support each other? (again, this is my experience, my personality, and my very basic info gathering skills i.e. talking to people I like):
1. Checking in is fantastic. If you want to talk sobriety, I can talk to you for 10 hours but we don’t have to make every coffee date or conversation a deep heart wrenching, “But are you really doing okay???” talk. My advice is to follow the lead of the person you are talking to. If you ask, “Hey, just wanted to make sure you are doing okay?” and they respond, “Amazing!” and change the subject, go with it. Part of a healthy recovery program (not just for alcohol!) is to be able to learn to ask for what you need. If I respond, “Amazing!” but my heart is saying horrible, that is for me to choose my level of vulnerability, not on you to drag it out of me.
2. If you don’t know, just ask. Should you invite recently divorced Deb to your annual NYE party? Do NOT try to figure this out by calling 20 friends and asking their opinions. Woman up, grow some ovaries and call Deb. Don’t be weird about it.
“Hey, Deb! First of all, GIRL, you are rockin’ yoga pants and a greasy bun like you own the world. You are killing it. Second of all, I love you. I am sending you an evite to my NYE party and I would love for you to come, but if the thought of watching couples kiss at midnight makes you vomit in your mouth, I get it. We can plan a girls night soon. You let me know your comfort level.”
Done. You don’t know Deb’s life! Deb might be a greasy bun head because she is working out with her hot trainer every day and recently started dating him. Don’t drag Deb down. Or maybe the mom gossipers are right and Deb is crying into her body pillow every night watching reruns of The Office and screaming, “WHY GOD?? WHY WON’T YOU BRING ME A JIM?!” But either way, Deb feels included and loved and you get cool friend points. Most of all, you gave Deb the power.
3. I love questions. It doesn’t bother me at all if you want to hear about Hip Sobriety or have questions about what I am doing and why, but please please please do not tell anyone that has made a life change they see as necessary, “I don’t really think you have a problem.” Do not tell the friend that just spilled their guts to you, “You seem fine to me.” Do not make anyone ever prove their brokenness to you. If the guy who drinks 2 beers a week decides that it’s just not enriching his life, that has nothing to do with you. Do not put your value system on other people. AND because I can’t keep my mouth shut about this, don’t forget: Alcohol is a toxin and a drug. Would you tell the friend that smokes 2 cigarettes a week and has decided to quit that they are fine and should work to keep it in their life?
P.S. I would like to make a formal apology to everyone I teased about being gluten-free. What do I care if you don’t want to eat gluten?! I’m rude and I’m sorry. Gluten Free Forever!
4. Please, I am begging you, don’t leave me out or filter your conversation because you are scared I will be uncomfortable. This pulls back to #1, let people make their own decisions about their comfort level. We are all adults and we have to learn to take care of ourselves. We have to learn to ask for what we need and to remove ourselves from places that we don’t feel are working for us. If your thing is food, a dinner and dessert night with friends might be hard right now, that’s okay. If you are trying to quit smoking a venue that still allows smoking might be out. When other people extend the invitation, you decide your yes or no or alternative plan. Other people: live your life, invite us, don’t tiptoe or stress, we have voices.
5. Be aware. Okay, I don’t want this to come across as an expectation of accommodation because it is not. I don’t expect anyone to change their own life to accommodate mine. We don’t expect people to baby proof their houses when we bring a toddler over BUT it is super helpful when they at least move the super breakable stuff to a higher level and serve something that we can pick apart and make work. Serve alcohol at your party if you want but it is nice to have an option other than a cup of water for non-drinkers. If you invited someone over that you were aware had a real gluten or dairy allergy you would still serve cheese and crackers but you would probably have an option that they could also eat. This isn’t just for people in sobriety! People don’t always want to drink for many reasons: Whole30, medication, maybe they are tired, or maybe they are driving and only want one drink but would appreciate something other than tap water.
If you are planning a conference or have influence over a work function, offer an alcohol-free cocktail or two at the bar. As a leader in your company or as a business owner you set the tone.
As a human and a friend, you might not think you are in a place of influence, but you so are. There is someone that looks up to you, someone that looks at your life and only sees the green grass. I am not saying this because we need to fake perfection in our lives because someone is watching us, quite the opposite. When you walk away from a struggle and you have the courage to give it a voice, you give another person permission to use their voice too. When you have the courage to say, “I’ll have a club soda and lime” or “I’m struggling with my jeans right now, instead of meeting for dessert, can we go on a walk?” or “I don’t feel comfortable at XYZ do you care if we go to ABC?” or even just, “No, thanks or Yes, please.” you are teaching someone else that they are allowed to set their own boundaries.
Listen, I HAVE NEVER even thought about this before 100 something days ago, so this is not me trying to call people out or make anyone feel guilty! I am learning too and cringing at some of the things I have said to people. I am not doing this perfectly and I will never do this perfectly and neither will you. Find the freedom in knowing that perfection is not an option.