By Victoria Vanstone
Being sober gives so much. It makes the world a much nicer place to be. I feel happier, lighter, I’m a better mum and I’m no longer at risk of being arrested. But, honestly, even though sobriety can some days feel like a never-ending journey of self-love, it does have some rocky moments. That means when I’m not skipping through fields picking daisies while singing ‘Walking on Sunshine’, I pass a lot of time feeling awkward.
Awkward because I don’t know what to say, awkward because I don’t know how to relax and awkward because I’m not the person I was.
I think there is a place where we get stuck as sober people. It’s exactly the same place as when we were questioning our drinking but didn’t know what to do. It’s like the uncomfortable pause between a shit joke and its unfunny punch line – a sort of place where hope is dismantled, and humour is sucked out.
Sobriety can feel like an endless tumbleweed moment.
Choosing an alcohol-free life means we now have to do stuff sober that we would have normally done drunk and it’s very challenging. Without anything to numb out with, situations we used to enjoy can brim with anxiety.
For me, drinking meant I didn’t care; I was in the moment, on the dancefloor, letting loose with no thought of what I was doing…then the blackout where my fun night out dropped into a void. There was no awkward because I was too far gone. Anesthetised to what the people around me thought and to how my behaviour may have been perceived. I got away with acting like a loon because everyone around me was doing the same thing, drinking until we fell over, arm in arm swaying to the music and all waking up with awful hangovers.
Then you decide, for your own very important reasons, to change.
Like a salmon swimming up river, you go against the flow.
Against what everyone you know expects of you.
Just by making this one huge positive change, you stir up a cesspit full of awkward moments.
Nothing is taken too seriously when pissed, (unless you’re a fighty type) So, we go from being care-free and tipsy to being sober. And for people in recovery, this makes very normal nights out feel long and hard. We go from the life and soul of the party to standing at the bar with a glass of juice wondering why our personalities seem to have got a ride in a limo to the after party without us.
I think at times, some of the realities of being a non-drinker can be so overwhelming that we either feel like starting to drink again or like never leaving the confines of our very safe living rooms.
So, for those parents questioning their alcohol consumption and considering an alcohol-free life, here are some tips on how to feel the awkward and do it anyway.
1. The problem – Sober Dancing
This was one thing I most feared. My most classic drunken move was the swan dive. A gymnastic leap up that led to an undignified body squirm on the floor. This move required lots of alcohol, tons of the stuff. Firstly, because it took the pain away from the cut on my chin afterwards and secondly, because when pissed-up I was willing to make a tit out of myself in front of a large group of people.
The Solution – Total avoidance?
I’ve always loved a good dance and I admit, when I first stopped drinking, I probably did not dance for the first year or so. I found it far too clumsy and self-aware. The thought of someone grabbing my hand and dragging me towards a DJ box filled my sparkly going-out shoes with dread. Instead of facing my fear, I stayed at home watching Netflix until people stopped asking me to go out.
But now, 1000 days in, I love going dancing. I must say I don’t do the swan dive very often. It hurt because I was rubbish at it and, I realise now, squirming around on a grubby dancefloor and covering myself in disco dirt was not really as funny as I drunkenly thought. But that’s not to say I won’t be doing it again. Sober dancing is something that took me time to learn. I just kept on trying until I felt more confident. I think that’s the answer to a lot of things in sobriety. Just keep at it and the awkward will fade. So my advice is go, stay an hour then leave, next time stay 2 hours then leave and the third time? Do a swan dive.
2. The Problem – Taking the edge off a long day.
There is a very awkward few hours at the end of each working day. As the sun sets, old habits creep up and tap us on the shoulder and whisper sweet nothings into very interested ears. ‘It’s been a hard day.’ ‘One won’t hurt.’
These internal elbow twistings are our own newly sober brains trying to convince us that drinking is ok.
That two-hour period where we make excuses as to why we ‘deserve a drink’ dribble into our psyches. If you’re like me, it took time to move from the fridge to the kettle. There was always an awkward mental moment where I had to tell myself ‘you don’t drink anymore, now put the kettle on!’ For people that are not over-drinkers, this small move might seem like nothing, but this huge monumental change means you have to sit inside an awkward moment and gather yourself.
The Solution – Sip your tea and think about the consequences of drinking, play the tape forward and remember why you are making this life-changing, healthy choice. Call your therapist or AA buddy and talk about how you are feeling. Those voices whispering in your ear are the old you talking, not this spandangly version of you, so don’t listen. There are other ways to take the edge off (no not narcotics): walks, reading, chocolate, a crossword, a bath, or just talking with a partner or friend.
Just try something new. Something good.
3. The Problem – Sober conversations.
Telling your mates that you are no longer going to be buying the rounds can be one of the most awkward things you face as a newly sober fizzy water warrior. Their reactions could send you back into harmful old habits. The last thing you want to feel like is a party pooper, so how on earth can you tackle this without making people feel annoyed or judged? For me, this one took time. My sobriety felt very private. I had to get my head around it all before I considered telling my friends. But, inevitably, after a few social events people started to notice that I wasn’t all red and blotchy and I could walk in a straight line.
I was surprised that not many people questioned me, guessing I was pregnant again, or on antibiotics. But after a while, and once I began to feel more confident with my choice to no longer drink, I began telling people. From most there was support and warm hugs, but from some there was a look of disgust. I guess my old habit shined a light on their current one, making people feel exposed and judged. That was never my intention, yet that awkward moment of them realising you are no longer the person they want around…. can feel a little heartbreaking.