8 Tricks For Navigating Social Obligations In Sobriety…from The Fix…
By Beth Leipholtz

When I’m required to be in a social situation with people who don’t know I’m sober, I use these little tricks to stay comfortable.
No matter how long you’ve been sober, there are bound to be tough days and situations.
A few weeks ago, I found myself in a somewhat awkward situation when I attended a conference for my job. At this conference, there was some drinking with meals and toward the end of the night. Since I can’t drink responsibly, I stuck to my water and still had a good enough time. But something about this circumstance grated on me, and I think it’s because I felt obligated to be present for the social aspects.

As someone who has been sober for nearly four years, I am more than okay with being around alcohol and people who consume it. But when I find myself in such situations, it’s typically because I choose to be there. The people are close friends who understand my decision not to drink.

But when I feel like I am required to be somewhere, it’s different. At this particular conference I didn’t know everyone in attendance, so obviously certain people were not aware that I was sober. I caught myself feeling like the odd one out, like it was obvious that I wasn’t drinking when most others were. So, I walked up to the bar and ordered a water. Then, I felt that this almost made it more obvious that I wasn’t drinking. And so went the night.

Since getting sober, I’ve been in very few situations that made me feel as squirmy as this one did, and it got me thinking about the best way to navigate social situations when it feels as if your attendance is a requirement rather than a choice. Here’s what I came up with:

Stick close to the people who are aware of your lifestyle. The people I work closely with each day know that I am sober and know the story behind my sobriety. They would never pressure me to drink. In fact, I don’t think they even notice that I stick to water since it’s so normal now. Because of this, I stuck to them like glue during the conference. Not in an overbearing way, but I just made sure I was always close to them so that someone was less likely to offer me a drink. Knowing that they support me and the lifestyle I’ve chosen just put me more at ease and reminded me that it was okay to be present and not be drinking.
Keep a non-alcoholic beverage in your hand. My go-to is just water, but pop or juice works too. I’ve found that if I am holding something in my hand already, then people who don’t know about my sobriety are less likely to offer to get me a drink. Personally, I like to avoid people who offer drinks because that can lead to explaining why I don’t drink, which can occasionally be uncomfortable (depending on who’s asking). I prefer to just avoid the situation altogether, and that’s normally accomplished by holding a drink.
Still, have a response prepared in case someone asks why you are not drinking. Though you owe no one an explanation, it’s good to be prepared. Before attending an event, spend some time thinking about what you may want to say if someone notices you aren’t drinking and asks about it. You can always tell the truth, which is simply that you no longer drink. But if you aren’t comfortable explaining that, there are other options. Simply say you are trying to lead a healthier lifestyle by cutting out alcohol, or that you are driving home from the event. There are plenty of creative responses out there, so have one ready in case the conversation arises.
If possible, bring a sober friend. Obviously at a work conference, I didn’t have this option. But there are other social obligations where this is possible. For example, weddings. If you have a good friend getting married and you know there will be alcohol at the wedding, it can be a little unnerving. You may feel obligated to be there, but a little uneasy about people drinking around you. So, if you have the option to bring a plus-one, invite a sober friend as your date. This way you’re not alone and you know you have someone who understands things from your side. This can go for other social obligations too, not just weddings.
Have an excuse to leave if you need to. Sometimes certain situations—especially ones you feel obligated to be present for—are just too high-stress, and it’s best to remove yourself before it all goes downhill. I find that when I am stressed or overwhelmed in such situations, it takes a physical toll on me. Because of this, I can simply remove myself by saying I don’t feel well, and people don’t question that or try to make me stay. Of course, you can always tell the whole truth and just say that being around alcohol is too much for you at that point in time, and people will usually respect that, too.
Know who you can call for support. The unfortunate reality is that we aren’t always surrounded by people who understand sobriety and the difficulties that can come with it. But the good news is that people like this are typically only a phone call or a text away. They’ve likely been where you are, and would be willing to offer advice and words of encouragement. There’s something invigorating about speaking to someone who understands what it’s like to be around normal drinkers when you’re not one yourself. They know the emotions coursing through you and the frustration boiling inside, and know how to talk you back into a good place. I find that when I simply talk to someone who has been where I am, it makes the situation seem much more manageable.
Keep reminders close. When everyone around you is drinking, it’s easy to throw yourself a pity party and wonder why you can’t drink like a normal person. I’ve been there, done that many times. And in these situations, I’ve found it’s good to have reminders of why I stopped drinking in the first place. I have photos of myself from my drinking days on my phone, and usually one glance at those is enough to make me content with sobriety. But I also keep a Pinterest board full of quotes about sobriety and recovery, and I browse through it when I need to be reminded about why sobriety is the right choice for me. I find comfort in other people’s words, and it’s a good way to remember why I began this journey.
Take deep breaths and remind yourself to take it one minute at a time. Sometimes certain events are uncomfortable and we have no choice but to just stick it out. In these circumstances, it’s all about self-awareness. Remind yourself to take deep breaths and focus on why you made the choice to be sober. Tell yourself to take it minute by minute, and eventually that will get you through to the end of the event. When you return home, you’ll be glad you maintained your sobriety.
No matter how long you’ve been sober, there are bound to be tough days and situations. This conference was one of those for me, and I know there are bound to be similar circumstances in the future. The trick to getting through it is being aware of what is going on, what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. That way you can make a conscious plan to take control of the situation and do what is best for you and your recovery.