When you first start changing your drinking, socialising sober may not be the most important thing on your mind. Change takes time and some steely grit and determination. Yes you need to hunker down, focus on your goal and change a few things. But it is important not to take away human connection and joy. These things give you energy and make you happy. If you take them away, you could end up resenting the change you are making, and more crucially dipping your mood and energy, making sticking to your goals more challenging.
So it is key to stay social, even if you need to change what being social is, as part of your changing drinking habits. After all. you can’t hide away for ever, and there is nothing like stress testing your new skills!
Being social also provides other key elements that help us change our drinking habits.
You learn a lot from people that have trodden the same path before you – be it a friend you know that has changed their drinking, or joining a peer group like Club Soda or Smart Recovery. Not only will you be socialising sober, you will also be talking to other people like you, which means you can learn from their experiences.
Going out to new or old social places that contain alcohol will allow you to test the skills and resilience you have learnt, and even test a few triggers. Clearly I am not suggesting you go out when you are feeling vulnerable and likely to cave in at the first prod. But there is something great about socialising sober – getting through a challenging night booze-free makes you feel like you have super powers.
We like it when others notice our efforts. So a few social occasions where people may notice the changes your new lifestyle has brought will fill you with energy to carry on. Equally, celebrating a milestone on the Club Soda group or at a social event will allow your achievement to be recognised – and that will strengthen your resolve.
There is no doubt that you may have to change some of your socialising norms; some people and pubs may be best avoided for a while. Equally, you may find that after an hour or two you have had enough of the bar. This is an opportunity to spread your wings and start looking at what else you enjoy doing. You may want to see more films, explore evening classes, or do more activity based events. Finding new things to do nearer you (especially as now driving is always possible) is a great distraction in itself – finding the new things and deciding who to invite. And it can also be a reward. There’s nothing like doing something a bit fancy when you hit a milestone with the money you saved on drinking.
Sometimes it is only when you talk through your goals and behaviours with someone else, that you begin to get a hold of what your emotional and external triggers are. They may be able to see things from a different perspective, ask you the right questions, or just be a great sounding board. Find time with old and new friends that you trust to bring the issue up in conversation. It does not have to be a whole evening of dissection, but if it can form part of the conversation then it is a win-win.
I had not realized how important it is seeing people living happy and fulfilled lives without alcohol, until our member Janet told me that joining Club Soda showed her that possibility. It had helped her believe it was possible to live a life that was focused on more not less, and moved her from being resistant to change to embracing it. It moved her from seeing the task ahead as daunting to seeing it as rewarding. Seeing people successfully modelling the behaviour you want helps you keep your motivation going. So seek out sober socials with Club Soda or other such groups, and make meeting up with those friends an important part of your journey of socialising sober.
It is all about balance. Without a doubt culling the calendar and focusing on you and your health is an important part of changing your drinking, especially at the start. But don’t leave it too long before you begin to redesign your social life.
You can use the WOOP method to start planning your more sober socialising habits.
WISH: How do you want your social life to be for the next few months? Distill it to 3-6 words.
“I wish to do social activities that deepen my friendships”
“I wish to nurture my goal”
“I wish to explore new things to do in the evening”
“I wish to reconnect with lost friends”
“I wish to connect with more people who are drinking mindfully”
OUTCOME: What do you hope to think, see or feel if you achieve this wish? Distill it to 3-6 words
“I will increase my circle of friends”
“I will discover more local events and have more social options”
“It will help me stick to my drinking goals (which will make me feel proud and give me a sense of achievement)”
“I will see how fulfilling being sober can be and get hints and tips”
“I will make new friends”
OBSTACLE: What is the thing that gets in the way? What is the IF that stops you redesigning your social life?
“I get tired and end up staying at home”
“I get anxious meeting new people”
“There is nothing on around here”
“I only know the pub”
PLAN: IF the above happens THEN what will you do?
“I will book things ahead of time and make firm arrangements that I will not want to break”
“I will make sure I do one new thing a week and get it in the diary”
“I will look further afield at things to do as I can drive”
“I will make a day of things as I will have saved money/be saving money by not drinking”
“I will put in special events as rewards for reaching my milestones”
“I will ask friends to invite me to something they would like to do”
“I will create a list of things I have always wanted to do and start exploring them”
Okay – you have got this! Now go socialising sober! You can also share your WOOP with the group, and get more advice and ideas from other Club Soda members.