How to Stay Sober and Still Have Fun at Social Gatherings
It’s easy to fall into the trap of equating social gatherings with alcohol consumption. It can feel as though every birthday, every holiday celebration and every single social occasion you’re invited to is built around the consumption of alcohol. But when you’re overcoming alcoholism, breaking this link is central to moving to a healthier lifestyle while still having fun with your friends and family. It isn’t always easy though, as the Fix writer Julie Elsdon-Height will attest, and she has some tips to offer those struggling in the same way she did when she first got sober.
Up until age 36, when she got sober, Julie didn’t think she’d ever be able to leave her old life. Used to being the hostess at meticulously planned social gatherings — all centering on her extensive cocktail bar — she felt like she’d become alienated from her entire world if she stopped drinking. But the reality of her situation was unavoidable: “It didn’t take a rocket scientist to work out the fact that I was on a steep slope to death and destruction. … I’d gone from enjoying the glow of alcohol to depending on it to define me and losing my self-worth within the hidden bottles.”
She attended 12-step meetings and got sober, slowly rebuilding herself and learning who she was again. But every invitation to a social gathering led to intense anxiety; Julie and her husband would attend armed with a “game plan” to arrive early, leave early and always have an excuse up their sleeve in case it got to be too much for Julie. Eventually, she told her husband that she didn’t want to go to another one; she just wasn’t having much fun standing around desperately clutching a bottle of water.
Her husband had some sage advice: she was feeling out of place because she’d allowed herself to feel that way. She wasn’t the only one attending these events who chose not to drink, and more importantly, it was still possible to have a good time without alcohol, if only she let herself try. This led her to a realization: “I’d been segregating myself in my own mind when in fact nobody else was. I felt renewed; I could in fact go out and have fun!”
Enjoying Parties While You’re Sober
After this conversation, the couple would still arrive with a “game plan” (since it makes sense to have one, just in case), but Julie comments that, “when I went into these parties with the right motivation, suddenly a cloud was lifted from over my head.” The core realization that helped her learn to enjoy herself was that people aren’t really focusing on whether you’re drinking. You’re not under scrutiny. Simply realizing this and allowing yourself to have fun is often enough to alleviate the anxiety you may feel in social situations. Open yourself up to the possibilities: you can have fun if you’re sober, and your friends and family will enjoy your company with or without alcohol. Of course, you should still remain aware of how you’re feeling and have the confidence to leave if or when you want to.
Julie has also begun making “mocktails” at parties and offering them to fellow party-goers as a way of meeting new people. This gives you a drink you enjoy (that’s not just water), helps you feel less out of place and is a good inroad to conversations. She offers up a recipe for her favorite mocktail:
Pomegranate Mojito Mocktail Drink Recipe
- 1 sprig of mint
- 1 teaspoon simple syrup (equal parts boiling water and sugar, cool before using)
- Lime wedge (add in a lemon wedge if you’d like)
- 2 ounces pomegranate juice
- 4 ounces sparkling water
- Muddle the quartered lime, sugar and mint leaves (if you prefer to, remove the lime skin first).
- Place ice cubes in a highball glass, add mixture and pour in pomegranate juice.
- Top with sparkling water and stir.
- Garnish with a mint leaf and serve.
If you’re feeling uncomfortable at social events after getting sober, Julie’s advice has a practical edge but also allows you to feel better. It’s freeing to realize that your ability to have a good time isn’t contingent on the consumption of alcohol, and all you have to do to come to that realization is to approach a sober party with the same cheerful optimism you would have if alcohol was on the menu. It might not be easy at first, but if you persist like Julie did and cultivate a positive attitude, you can easily find yourself enjoying social gatherings more than ever.