When you stop drinking, it feels as if your entire world has changed. As a person in recovery from alcohol addiction, one of the biggest things I struggled with when I first gave up drinking over two years ago was my need to still have “fun” with friends but not knowing how to continue to enjoy my life without the buzz. I knew that I could no longer go to happy hour after work or indulge in boozy Sunday brunches, because I was committed to living an alcohol-free life, but I also didn’t want to become a bore with no friends.
Maintaining close friendships in recovery has been one of the most important ways that I have been able to keep my sanity and stay off the booze. But those friendships can get a little threatened when the stuff you used to do with your friends is no longer an option. It took some hard lessons to figure out where I was comfortable and what were some of the things I could do (or needed to adjust) in order to live life as a happy, sober person. And I am here to tell you: It IS indeed possible to socialize and even have a fantastic time without drinking. It just might take some work to get there. Here are eight ways to socialize without drinking, whether you are in recovery from substance abuse like me or simply taking a break from drinking.
Make sure you have a go-to mocktail.
A must when you’re partying sober is to make sure that you don’t find yourself in the awkward position of standing around without a drink in your hand. Yes, I’m sorry to say, some people might stare and wonder WTF is going on if you find yourself in this unfortunate situation. In order to combat it, it’s important to have a go-to non-alcoholic drink that you can always rely on. And if you’re still feeling a little uneasy in your sobriety and don’t want to divulge to others that you’re staying off the drink, a well-placed lime on your drink glass will fool many into thinking you’re partaking just like the rest of your buds.
Be ready to answer some questions.
At this point in my recovery, I am pretty comfortable telling people why I no longer drink alcohol. If it comes up, I say a simple “I don’t drink.” If I don’t know the person, I might excuse myself by saying that I am on medication or that I am allergic. But these days, I don’t use excuses and say something along the lines of “alcohol, anxiety, and my ambition weren’t good friends.” No matter what you choose to say, just be prepared for questions. Ultimately, it is nobody business why you do not imbibe… but it’s best to have an excuse or two in your back pocket for when you occasionally meet the pushy (but hopefully well-meaning) friend. And remember: Be firm!
Have some ideas on what to do that doesn’t involve drinking.
I have to admit: When I first got sober, I didn’t really know what I could possibly do for fun that didn’t involve drinking. I mean, seriously, what was there to do that didn’t involve dinner with wine, happy hour cocktails, or dancing at all hours of the night with a rum and coke in hand? A lot, it turns out. My after-work drink dates turned into coffee dates. Birthday parties became more about the beach, bowling, mini golf and karaoke (yes, singing sans alcohol). I also started to invite friends to do “gym dates,” museum dates, and simply to talk around and explore our city. You’ll be surprised by how much even the best partying friend might enjoy this change of pace.
Scout a “dry” bar in your area.
They may not have them in every city, but dry bars are totally a thing! This is basically a place where you can go hangout without the promise of alcohol. In fact, they don’t sell any alcohol. Instead, these places sell a fun and safe place for anyone in recovery (or who simply needs a break from drinking) to hang out. And I promise that these dry bars feature the many fun amenities and activities that you’d find in your regular neighborhood bar, such as playing darts or pool. You may need to do some extra exploring in order to find them, but they’re out there. If you’re not sure how to find them, a good place to start is by asking fellow sober friends where they go to hang out.
Embrace having an active lifestyle.
One of the things that might not seem as much fun when you go into recovery is the realization that you haven’t been taking good care of your body. For me, during my active addiction, I was getting junk food delivered daily and skipping the gym constantly. Now that I am no longer drinking, I also take this opportunity to eat healthy and exercise… but it didn’t come easy. At first, I had to basically force myself to start eating vegetables again. I’m still sometimes struggling with exercise, but I try to overcome this by making it fun. I go to the gym with my partner, I invite friends on “gym dates” to check out a new class in our neighborhood, and I dream of hiking more.
Have a buddy you can call, just in case.
This tip is more about protecting yourself and your sobriety, which is an important part of being a person in recovery. One of the best things I’ve ever learned about being in recovery but still wanting to go out and have fun is that you will occasionally be confronted with an uncomfortable situation. And how do you deal with it? Well, have a buddy, of course! Having someone that you can call (or even bring to a party where you’re expecting something awkward to possibly happen) is a good way to not put yourself in a situation that may lead to relapse. My partner does this for me, and I am forever grateful that he is there to back me up if I ever feel like I might be slipping. Before I met him, I would make sure to bring my best supportive girlfriend(s) with me whenever I went out.
Don’t be afraid to meet new (sober) people, too.
“No new friends”? No, thanks! I love making new friends, and this is an extremely important part of recovery. Although I am one of those supremely lucky people in that most of my friends took the news of my alcoholism and recovery in stride and showed more support than I ever thought I would deserve, it was still important to get myself out there and meet those with whom I had no history with. Although friends who still drink can be extremely supportive, they won’t ever truly understand what it feels like to be an addict. Having a couple standby sober friends is helpful as you transition into this new phase of your life. Plus, they can be great buddies to bring along (or call) when you’re in a tricky situation.
Be confident and PROUD of your sobriety.
Ultimately, this is YOUR journey and you should embrace it with your head held high. You’ve likely been through a lot to get here and you still somehow came out on the other side alive. That’s something that should be admired, and you don’t need to bow your head in shame just because you’ve majorly F’d up in the past. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there… and getting out of that dark place wasn’t easy. It’s still not easy on some days, but a talk with my therapist recently reminded me how much progress I have made in the past couple of years. So remember that it’s important to celebrate how far you have come since giving up drinking, no matter what your reasons for it are. Congrats!