Several years back, The Onion published an article entitled, “Recovering Alcoholic Doesn’t Need Friends to Have a Good Time.” With a picture of a man slumped on a couch, holding the remote and illuminated only by the glow of his TV companion, the satirical article quoted the fictional 35-year old – who had effectively removed alcohol from his life for two years – as saying:
“It was tough at first, but now that alcohol’s out of my life, I finally understand that I don’t need companionship to keep myself entertained. Now, I can have a perfectly enjoyable evening, by myself, watching TV, all without having so much as a single friend.”
If you’re like a lot of people who’ve chosen to remove alcohol from your life, then wondered what the hell to do with yourself at night and on the weekends, your reaction to the Onion piece is somewhere between “it’s funny because it’s true” and “holy crap, that’s me.”
To be sure, in a world where Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, HBO, and dozens of other media outlets are putting out sophisticated, gripping content constantly, it can be nice to have a night in enjoying a new TV series, while actually having the sober mental bandwidth to fully comprehend it, and then be able to wake up hangover-free the next day to go to the gym (or, perhaps, finish the last half of the season you started the night before) without having to wonder whether you should text your friends to apologize for what you may or may not have said in your drunkenness the night before.
That placid solitude in the comfort of high quality entertainment is not a bad thing, and it may even last for a few months. But it will get old. And you will want to get off the couch eventually and explore, you know, people and relationships and your future and all that. And you’ll have to do it without your security-blanket/escape-hatch/BFF alcohol to keep you company the whole time.
Scary? Sure. Not worth doing? Of course not. Here are three tips for you as you reenter the social world without alcohol.
Do Stuff You’ve Never Done Before, With the Understanding 80% of It Might Suck
No doubt you have heard people tell you about all the fun things you can do without alcohol. Whether it was your mom, your college RA, a well-meaning friend, or the dozens of articles on the web with names like “50 Fun Things You Can Do Without Alcohol,” the world is not lacking in suggestions for how you can live out your days without getting drunk.
But a lot of alcoholics have avoided those activities because, well, they don’t seem very fun, and certainly not as fun as alcohol. Some of the suggestions on the 50 Fun Things list like “make a fort” or “have a paint war” may even seem like they are designed to mock you for going sober so brutally that you go back to the bottle.
That said, there are a lot of fun things out there without alcohol, but only you will know whether they are fun or not. And how will you know? By not doing them, of course, and instead sitting on your couch wondering whether dying of boredom is worse than dying from alcohol. THAT’S A JOKE.
Give yourself the freedom to go out and try and bunch of weird or different stuff, knowing that the vast majority of them will be kind of stupid, but that you might just find your new passion that you never knew you had, because you were too tied to your bottle and hangover to give them a try. And maybe waging the mother of all paint wars from inside your new fort is exactly what that passion is.
Understand that Finding Your People Will Take Time
Just like finding your new passions, or if that’s too strong a word, your new activities that you kind of actually dig doing, will take some trial and error, finding the people that you will be hanging out with can take some time, too.
You will want people in your life who you can have fun with and who will not sabotage your commitment to self-improvement via sobriety. Those might be people already in your life but who you didn’t hang out with because their idea of a good time wasn’t sitting on a bar stool getting hammered from 5 PM until passing out time. Look them up, and see if they want to go to a movie or a game. If they say no or don’t respond, whatever. Keep trying new people.
It might be new people in your life. It doesn’t have to be the people you see in a 12-step group, but it’s not a bad place to start. Adult friendship is a bit of a lost art in our society, but there are plenty of people just like you out there who are interesting and fun and have a lot in common with and who would actually want to be your friend.
Are they going to knock on your door mid-Netflix-binge to announce themselves? Unlikely. Will you assemble this group of friends in the first week of sobriety or even the first year? Probably not. But, over time, and with effort, you will. And you won’t have to text them the next day after a blackout to “check in” to see whether they’re still your friends or not.
Realize Most People You Want to Be Around Do Stuff Without Constant Boozing
Most hard drinkers like to hang out with other hard drinkers. If your buddy next to you orders a shot and a beer one after another all night long, then you don’t have to think so much about whether you’ve, you know, maybe got a problem in the same way that you do when your companion is sipping the same slowly-warming glass of white wine over the course of four hours.
What this means is that you probably have a warped sense of what people do at night and on weekends when being social. A common realization among heavy drinkers who quit is that: 1) no one seems to give a crap that they’re not drinking; and 2) not that many people in normal society are throwing them back one after another the way they were all those years.
When you try to hang out with the binge drinkers when you’re not drinking, the social interaction is probably going to seem pretty inane, aside from any temptations you have to drink, too. It’s a lot of self-absorbed talk about the way the world should be (namely that they should be more successful and respected). But people whose social lives aren’t fueled by chain-drinking are much more likely to have grounded conversations that are thoughtful, interesting, and noticeably lacking in self-delusion and thinly-veiled self-pity.
These are the people you want to be around. And they really don’t care if you’re not drinking. They probably won’t even notice, because, unlike some people, they are not obsessed with drinking. Now go out and find them.