1 Year Sober | The Hardest Part of Quitting Alcohol
Barring anything unexpected happening this evening, tomorrow February 26, will mark 365 days of no alcohol for me. It’s a pretty big milestone, and I’m proud of myself. I’m going to say just a little bit about how it feels, after a year of not drinking, and then I’m going to talk about something really important. The scariest part of quitting alcohol. One of the things that makes it hard to do for so many people.
I’m not going to get into it here, but if you want to know more about why I stopped drinking, check out my previous post ‘6 Months of Sober: Why I quit Drinking’. Otherwise, read on for some one-year updates and insights.
So, how does a year of no alcohol feel?
I’ll briefly say how I’m feeling, and that is great. There have been some positive effects, but I do not feel like a completely different person. I just feel like a better, truer version of myself.
I’ve clear cut a whole forest of bullshit—not just the drinking but the things that come with it: headaches, apologies, excessive spending, bailing on daytime activities, on work, your family, your body, bailing on your big, lofty ideas, taking the easy route, the numbness you seek, the pain when that fades. And once the cuts were made, the trunks I’d been trying to peer through for years fell to logs and jagged stumps on the ground. They stretched on for miles and I looked past them for the first time, astonished. I could see.
I see everything more clearly now. When relationships must end. The way different foods affect my body. The way my words can cut.
Not only am I seeing, but I’m being more than ever before.
The feeling that I wasn’t living up to my potential, the dissonance of feeling the person I was on the outside didn’t match the person inside was a major source of anxiety, even despondency, for years.
Throughout this year without alcohol, I’ve been picking away, little by slow, at becoming that person I feel I was meant to be. Writing, practicing music, facing my fears. I’m working on being a better person. On living the human-centered, equity-centered values I believe in. I’m trying.
The thing you don’t realize about alcohol is what an out it will give you when you want one. How it can aide you in setting your values, your self aside. For a night, for a year, for a decade.
Having fun is important. We only get one life, the length of which is never guaranteed. But in thinking about the end of my time on this planet, the rearview regrets and things left behind, a big question started to gnaw at me.
Are you living how you’d want to have spent your life?
For me, the answer was no.
Don’t get me wrong—my life was pretty awesome before I quit drinking.
I’ve moved to Colombia and Mexico on whims to study and explore. I’ve gone to Paris on a second date and stood atop the Eiffel tower, gobsmacked that this life was really mine. I’ve climbed to the top of mountains and volcanoes. I won a trophy for a race I placed in—something I had never done in my 20s or teen years.
And still, through all this joy, I roamed feeling something was missing. Somethings maybe.
You could talk to certain people in my life who would say I’m dissatisfied as a matter of personality. That I can’t be contented, no way no how. You could talk to others in my life and they probably would tell you they knew the source of discontentment all along. I don’t know if either or both are correct, but I do know this:
Being happy is a different thing than being whole.
I’ve lived a very happy life.
And after plowing down that forest of doubt, distraction, and fear, I feel like I’m on my way to being whole.
Are you living how you’d want to have spent your life?
I’m not going to preach the gospel of all the benefits of quitting alcohol. (Though, if you’d like to hear some of the positive side effects of quitting alcohol, feel free to check out my previous post 6 Months of Sober.)
What I am going to talk about today is my biggest fear about giving up alcohol. The thing that stopped me when I thought about quitting in the past. The thing that made it scary for me to think about making this temporary life change permanent. It is a thing that stops a lot of people from considering putting the bottle down.
THIS Is the hardest part of quitting alcohol. Worrying about losing your social life.
The scariest part of quitting alcohol—and how it’s going now.
My biggest worry, when I thought about quitting alcohol, was how my social life would fare. (Sound familiar?)
I worried I’d lose friends. Either they’d think I was boring and not want to hang out with me, or I would find, in my sober state, that we had nothing in common.
People who don’t drink might not understand this. “They’re your friends.” But people who do drink certainly will. For some of us, getting together for drinks has been the central activity in our social lives for years. Many of us have never attended a party or wedding or concert without drinking. For many of us alcohol and socializing are so intertwined that it is difficult to imagine how one would survive if we got rid of the other.
I certainly had my doubts.
I’m happy to say that after a year of not drinking, this worry has been put to bed.
As it turns out, and to my complete and utter surprise, you can still have a healthy and fun social life without alcohol. I see you doubting, and I didn’t believe it either. But over the course of the year, I have had several incidents of proof that I’m going to outline for the discerning minds joining me in this post.
I quit drinking last year for Lent, at the start of the Pandemic, and found it easy. No bars to tempt me, no friends inviting me to meet up, no exciting layovers in fun cities, no work at all. I reveled in the downtime that I could devote to writing and walks and journaling and skin care.
I wonder sometimes if I would have been able to do this quitting alcohol thing were it not for the Pandemic.
I knew it would be more difficult once things reopened, temptations popped up, social gatherings returned, and FOMO once again reigned. To be honest, it made me dread the end of Corona. (And yes, I do realize how fucked up that is because people are dying and losing so much. But I’m a flawed, selfish human, and an honest one.)
The first time I agreed to see friends—for a socially distant backyard barbecue in September—I dreaded that, too. I dreaded the COVID-Conscious girls’ trip to San Juan that I took in November with a different group of friends. The hotel meetup in LA with one of my besties. A dinner and game night in Vegas to celebrate another friend’s birthday. A housewarming afternoon with two of my favorite women.
If I’m being honest, I dreaded every single social interaction this year.
But I did them. I got dressed and got in my car and boarded the plane and replied to the text and showed up with my seltzers and went through with it. Each time.
And oh my god am I glad I did.
There are four distinct friends or groups of friends that I was worried about losing after quitting alcohol. Maybe you have similar friendships you worry couldn’t survive. I’ve outlined them below: How it went, and how it’s going. Here are the 4 instances that proved you can cut alcohol and keep your friends.
A very accurate portrayal of the classmates (+ extras)
1. The Classmates
Maine, in the wood-surrounded back yard of my friend Meagaan’s house. Seven of us in total, there to celebrate Dasha’s birthday. Apple picking and a lobster bake. A piñata and drinks around a cozy evening fire after the sun set.
I met these people the first day of flight attendant training. We lived in the same hotel and attended 6-8 hours of class per day for a full month. We have stayed close and travel together every year in the Fall. We’ve donned dirndls and lederhosen at Oktoberfest in Munich, seen sex shows in Amsterdam, and run races in the morning heat of Singapore’s Marina Bay harbor. Some of my wildest drinking stories are with this group of friends, like the time I fell in a puddle and subsequently was robbed in Munich. Or the time I accompanied Julian to the gay bars in Singapore and was mistaken for a man in drag. A pretty one, apparently.
These are drinking friends. Most if not all of our gatherings over the last 7 years have involved drinking. We PARTIED. You know this group of friends. The ones you get a little wild with. Laugh a lot. Stop for welcome beers before leaving the airport when you arrive in a new city.
Because of this, I was nervous to see them for the first time after quitting alcohol. I feared it would go badly. I worried I would find it annoying to be around a group of drunk people when I was sober. I worried one or more of them would needle me with ridicule and sharp remarks. “Don’t be so boring.” “Come on, you can have just one.”
But they didn’t. And there was something else.
Sitting by the fire pit that crisp September evening, I realized something profound. I wasn’t missing anything.
We sat around drinking, laughing, and telling stories. Though the can in my hand was seltzer and not beer, that was where the differences ended. We were still sharing the same exact experience. I didn’t feel left out. I didn’t feel annoyed, defensive or like I didn’t belong. I felt the same closeness to them, the same joy in their presence, that I had in the past after a few drinks. It was a beautiful moment sifted from the ordinary.
When, two months later, Crystal’s birthday came around, and with it an invitation to dinner and games, I accepted more readily. I worried less in advance of the meetup and found, again, that I can still share experiences with people– even when they are drinking, and I am not. It wasn’t any harder than that first time. And I enjoyed it just as much.
The confirmation of these friendships and being able to keep these people in my life has meant more to me than they probably realize. But then, they may not know how scared I was of losing them. It’s not a thing you tell in advance, after all. Surviving our first hangout also gave me more confidence as I embarked on seeing other friends in my new sober state.
Being DD didn't bother me one bit on this Girls' trip!
2. The Girls
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Ocean Park beach, a luxurious private residence, and several restaurants. Four of us total, there for a relaxing girl’s getaway, a break from New England cold and election madness.
One a flight attendant friend whom I love, relatively new in friend-years, but a true soul sister. One a new acquaintance, who felt like a friend by the time the trip was over. And the other, an old friend of more than a decade. One who used to come to my tiny apartment after class every Thursday for girls’ night out. We invaded dance floors, harassed DJs to play our songs, and invented a game called “spin the bottle dance party”, which, due to the safety hazard of glass bottles on the floor, bar security did not like. That was in our early twenties, just babies. Later we would travel together, taking on Scottsdale’s nightlife, seeing Beyonce in D.C., hiking to waterfalls and invading more dancefloors in Costa Rica. We’ve had so many good times, and so much of it included alcohol.
How it went
I worried before my girls’ trip with these three women. Would I feel left out? Would their partying be too much for me? Would the Caribbean sun make me crave a Medalla?
But I went anyway. They drank and I did not. Any cravings I had to partake in a “cold one” with my friends was quenched with an icy seltzer or a fruit sorbet, purchased right there on the beach. We went out for “dinner and drinks” and despite it being just dinner for me, it felt amazing to get dressed up and have somewhere to go.
I wasn’t just “still having fun” “even though I wasn’t drinking.” I was having a lot of fun. To be honest, I liked that my friends were drinking in the evenings, for it brought with it the possibility that we’d end up in a bar, one with music and maybe a dance floor.
Dancing is one of those things. One of the things I worried about when I decided to quit drinking. For the entirety of my adult life, the dancefloor was a place entered only after reaching my 3-drink minimum. The urge to move so strong, but so too were my inhibitions. I’ve been cancelling those inhibitions out with alcohol since I can remember. And here I was, 8-months sober and craving that movement. Another revelation.
With one more group of friends safely on the keeper list, I was content, rested, and sun-soaked when I made my way back to Boston.
3. The Bestie
Hotel room, Los Angeles, on a layover. Due to Pandemic woes and living in different states, we hadn’t seen each other in months if not longer.
It is silly to me now that I doubted this friendship at all. It is deep and honest, anything but surface level. And yet, still, I was nervous before seeing my bestie for the first time after quitting alcohol. Our late-night conversations, sometimes ending in tears—or, less pleasantly for me, hugs—all started with alcohol, had they not? Our ridiculously fun trips—layovers and personal time—had always involved fun drunken stories. We’d been drinking the night we met, may not have ever become friends if we weren’t. Seriously! She was less inhibited to hang out with me, a stranger, after a couple glasses of wine, and I wouldn’t have thought of asking her to hang out sober. (I thought she was kind of a bitch. Spolier alert: I was wrong, and likely just intimidated by the fact that everyone else seemed to loved her.) We became fast friends. We were partners in crime. And though the friendship never felt “fake” or “situational”, the prospect of testing it made me nervous. I knew she wouldn’t turn her back on me, but what if we just didn’t jive anymore? Didn’t laugh as much without the liquid fuel to make a good story?
How it went
She picked me up from my hotel and drove us to the grocery store, where she got a bottle of wine and I got chips and guacamole. Back in my room, we snacked, we caught up, talked shit, and we laughed over some of the greatest hits in the archive stories of Toni & Rae. It had been so long since I’d seen her in person. It felt so good to be in the same room. To know that we could still lose track of time, fill several hours of conversation. When she left, I sighed a big sigh of relief, and I have never questioned our friendship or my ability to be my complete, unapologetic, messy, honest self with her.
Rachel turned out to be one of my most supportive friends on this topic. She’s read a book about alcohol and talked to me about the science behind how it affects our bodies. She has never made me feel weird about not drinking or encouraged me to “just have one” when we’re together. Just like I have never judged her alcohol consumption or advised “maybe just have one.”
It turned out we were real best friends who just happened to like to drink together. And now we are besties who do other things.
The Fab 4 (Including my bestie Rae) the last time we all got together-- in 2019!
4. The Fab 4
Three of us, sitting in my new, semi-furnished home, eating snacks, reminiscing about all the fun we’ve had, gossiping about work, and unwrapping sweet housewarming gifts.
The four of us are coworkers, of varying ages and backgrounds. Two of us are unmarried, in our thirties, two of us are wives and mothers of grown children, who fly as a second career. But regardless of any seeming differences, together have an absolute BLAST. We have had girls’ weekends in Vermont, where we enjoyed a boozy river float, touristing in Stowe, and things I can not speak of in a very cute Airbnb. We’ve done a birthday getaway in California that has given me some of the funniest beach memories I’ll ever have. And we have spent many a work trip shut up in one of our rooms, drinking out of paper cups and laughing so hard we couldn’t breathe.
I know we truly care about each other as people. But still, a little question concerned me. We had spent so much of our time together inebriated, or becoming so, that I wondered if there was a chance it wouldn’t be fun sober.
Beginning in July, we have had to cancel four different reunion plans due to COVID concerns. Each time a plan got cancelled or postponed, it only prolonged things, kept that gnawing little question alive.
How it Went
I am happy to report that just this week I have finally got my reunion (with three of the four of us) and it seems that my not drinking won’t be putting a damper on our friendship. I advised the two of them before they came that I had no alcohol in the house but to feel free to bring some if they wanted to. They did not. We sipped water, we ate a shit ton of food, and we laughed so hard I almost peed my pants on my hardwood floors. Not once was there a lull in the chatter. And my teetotaling was never a topic of conversation—except for when I opened a jellybean-filled champagne bottle in my housewarming box.
It felt incredible to spend the afternoon with friends sitting round the table, a thing I rarely do these days given the pandemic and the fact that live alone in a new state. I was glad to see that our friendship will withstand whatever lifestyle changes I decide to make, including quitting alcohol. I’m glad that their love and support for me is as strong and unwavering as always and that we can still rely on one another for side-splitting laughter.
What About Your Friends?
These are the groups of friends I am sorry to say I worried about when I quit drinking. And not because I think they’re judgmental or jerks, but because I have changed my lifestyle so dramatically that I wasn’t sure all the old components would still fit. After this year and these gatherings, I feel closer to each of them than I ever have.
Ain’t that something?
There are also friendships that I never worried would be affected by my quitting alcohol. My best friend from high school, who has been sober for years. A close friend and coworker who was never a big drinker, but this year became a non-drinker. It’s been lovely having these women on the same page, to talk to and bounce things off of.
To be clear, this will not be everyone’s experience.
If you’re thinking of quitting alcohol and are worried you may lose friends, the possibility is there. You may lose your party friends. The ones you would call to grab drinks with when you’re bored but wouldn’t ask to help you move. The ones you’re down to laugh with but would never cry in front of. Situational friends you know from the local pub.
But the truth is, you won’t lose real friends. Real friends are supportive. They don’t judge or call you boring or shit on your healthy choices. When you try to better yourself, they grab their pompoms and cheer you the fuck on. They celebrate when you achieve a milestone, accomplish a goal. Even if they do not understand or share those goals.
And the other ones? It may hurt to lose them. Our egos can be fragile, they bruise easily. Loneliness can be daunting. And new beginnings can be really scary. But, just as in nature, sometimes we have to shed in order to grow.
I hope if you are thinking of quitting drinking that all of your friends are like mine. But if they are not, if a shedding is required, just know that it is clearing the way for something deeper and far more fulfilling. And you deserve that. You are guacamole. You are a butterfly. You can be fun and social and maybe even a good dancer without liquid assistance.
You can be happy. And maybe even whole.
Have you worried about losing friends or family over a lifestyle change? How did you handle it? Are you thinking of taking a break from alcohol or giving it up permanently? Have you already? Let us know how it’s going! We’d would love to hear from you guys in the comments, and you are always welcome to reach out to me directly. Questions, concerns, high-fives and story-sharing are all welcome. (Disrespect is not.) You can @ me on Instagram @theawheel or Facebook.
Have a happy, healthy, whole weekend <3
All images are mine, with the exception of the great social beer toast. That would be by Free-Photos via Pixabay.
Congratulations on 1 year! Glad it’s been mostly positive and you’re going strong!
Thanks Meag!! <3
Oh man Tone. I lost track of how many times I both laughed and cried reading this.
I am so damn proud of you and happy for you!!!!
And also, if you ever second guess my being a bitch or our friendship I’ll kill you. Because I might be the occasional bitch, but I will never, EVER, let your friendship go no matter how hard you might try to escape my hugs.
Hahahaha you’re the best Rae. No second guessing, I’m stuck in hugville forever 🙂
<3 Thanks for being such a great, supportive friend!
Loved reading this Toni! I especially loved your analogy of finally seeing through the woods once the trees were all cleared.
You are living your best whole life and that is so beautiful and something you should be so proud of.
Xo Sarah Bowen
Sarah thank you so much for taking the time to read my blog and for the kind words. And definitely, of all the benefits I’ve seen this year, the clarity is by far the number one thing I’m enjoying. Thanks for the support! <3
“To be clear, this will not be everyone’s experience”
I love your blog, but, yes, I don’t think that happens for all of us. Reading your Post it felt like there was zero change. You went from drinking heavily over many years, to all of a sudden not drinking and everything was GREAT, with no negatives-how did you do that??? I’m not saying that didn’t happen for you but for me, and possibly others, it’s not so seamless. If I’m honest, yes, it’s been a bit less fun, however the tradeoff of no hangover, guilt or regret is worth it. I find myself unable to hangout as long and needing to wrap it up after a couple of hours, where as when drinking I never wanted to go home, and neither did my friends. Again, I’m not saying I don’t have fun anymore but there are definitely adjustments and new limits that friends are going to have to accept with me (or not 🙁 ). That’s just my truth, but happy that you and hopefully others can transition so effortlessly.
Thanks for reading and for taking the time out to write a comment. And congrats on sobriety in whatever form that looks like for you!
To start, I know my experience is definitely different than many people’s experience with quitting alcohol. I also quit under very special circumstances ie Pandemic lockdown. I was not being invited to parties, for drinks with friends, or even going out to dinner. It was much easier because of the lack of temptation. I was quarantining with a partner who was supportive and then went to stay with my parents for a few months– who also don’t drink. So I had the built in support of relationships & got a lot of quality time with loved ones sans alcohol. To be perfectly honest I don’t know if I would have been able to last this long had I not had that months-long jumpstart of being free of socializing and not having the option to go out. The pandemic was a huge help.
Life does feel really great. Life felt really great before too for me. I really love my life. It just felt better once I quit drinking because I have more mental clarity and I’m working toward goals and passions that I hadn’t been making the time for before. Again, a lot of this has to do with timing. Having time off from work during the Pandemic allowed me to double down on my writing and other projects. So my time was filled and with the kind of stuff I always WANTED to be doing but did not always make time to do. That felt amazing, and the positive momentum helped me to feel great about not drinking and to keep it up. Maybe I could start drinking today and still be accomplishing these goals I’m working on. I’m just a bit nervous to try it. I feel a little superstitious like if I change anything I will break my momentum and be back to square one and have nothing to show. Intense, right? But that’s how I am thinking about it. I’m just at a point where there are things so important to me that I can’t F them up for a drink. I feel like I can’t have both right now. If that makes sense?
As for socializing with friends– it was a BIG surprise to find that I could socialize without alcohol. I have come to realize I am far more introverted than I thought. Turns out that social lubrication was doing a lot for me in the past haha. My life looks different than a lot of other people’s because I’m a flight attendant. I’m gone, alone in hotels half the time. My friends all live out of state. Getting together every weekend with friends just isn’t a thing for me because of my lifestyle and location. So, the once-in-a-while hangout with friends is a special thing that I’m happy to participate in even sober. They still all drink, but I hang out with a seltzer. I certainly am not the after-party until 4 am girl I used to be. But this kind of isn’t a thing right now. We’re still in COVID times and I’m not out hitting clubs. When I do hang out with friends it’s at a restaurant or at someone’s home. It just isn’t the same.
If I am out and things are getting a little to lit for me, I might wrap it up after a couple hours too. I don’t want to be around for the sloppy hours, I’m very content to call it a night when things start going there. But I’m also 35 now and a grown woman and if I want to leave for any reason then I do whatever the hell I want. I don’t feel like I’m going to miss out on something AWESOME if I leave. I follow my own needs and wants. FOMO is not ruling my life anymore. It doesn’t sound fun to me now to greet the sun and curse the birds because I have a headache forming already. Literally a lot of components of drinking just do not sound fun to me anymore. At all.
Some things are trickier without alcohol. I have a wedding coming up, and I’ve never danced before my 3-drink minimum before. That will DEFINITELY feel a little weird at first. But once I force myself to do it (and I’m really going to try) then I think it will feel really good. Everything that is hard without alcohol feels good once you do it because it is a pushing of yourself to be more comfortable in your own skin. It is like settling into yourself. I’m good enough without a drink. I can have fun without alcohol because I am fun. Who the F cares what these people think of my dance moves? (TBH it was easier to dance drunk but I’m certain it didn’t always look pretty!;)
I’m not trying to paint a rosy picture and say “Do this, everything will be wonderful!” I don’t have any opinions about other people drinking at all. I’m just providing my own experience with honesty because I think the more people who talk about it, the more mainstream sober life can look and the easier it can be for others thinking about it. I also think it is important to have more than one narrative for the story of sobriety. I have tons of friends and family who have had great success with 12-step programs. Some of them believe it is the only way. But a lot of people don’t go that route. I know a lot of people think you have to hit rock bottom to quit drinking. And for some people it is true. For many, you have to hit bottom over and over again before you can quit. But this was not my experience. Maybe someone reading my posts is in a situation similar to mine– they are thinking often about quitting alcohol but their life is not “bad enough” to do it. “I still go to work, I don’t have a problem” or “I have a great life, I don’t have a problem.” or “I think my life would be better drinking less, but what if i never have fun again?”
For some people, quitting alcohol sounds so extreme that they think they have to be making some huge life statement to do it. When really, they can try it out in a casual way like I did. See if they feel better, if life improves. Maybe they’ll see some positive momentum and want to stick with it. Maybe they will go back to drinking but only on social occasions. Maybe they will examine their uses for alcohol (Can I have fun without it? Am I using this to make myself feel comfortable in uncomfortable situations? Am I doing it to beat boredom? Am I using it to numb pain?) And maybe they can draw their own conclusions about how best to proceed.
I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m a newbie in the scheme of things, and have not even committed to a life of sobriety. (It’s too scary for me.) But for now, this feels really good.
Please feel free to reach out to me via email if you ever want to talk sober stuff 🙂 Toni@awheelinthesky.com or via my instagram (@theAwheel) Always happy to have new friends in the game!
All the best,