Culture

I Got Sober. Then I Realized How Bad The Sober Shaming Was

By Christi Pratte··  12 min read
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I Got Sober. Then I Realized How Bad The Sober Shaming Was

Sobriety. It’s an interesting topic that gets a lot of unwanted attention in a numbed-out culture.

Let’s face it, drinking has become the center of most social scenes and arguably the answer to almost every spectrum of emotion under the sun. Reunion? Drink. Dumped? Drink. Promoted? Drink. Date night? Drink. Fired? Drink.

The list could go on. Not to mention the push of “funny” memes and red flag marketing (like champagne flutes being the symbol of success) that highlight binge drinking without acknowledging the unfortunate reality that it could be creating silent suffering for those who practice this “socially” acceptable habit to the point of developing a serious issue.

No Thanks, I Don’t Drink

Regardless of your reason for not drinking, whether it be because you’re pregnant, you’re in recovery, or you just don’t want to, you almost always get questioned as to why you’re saying no to a drink.

If you’re older than 21, you almost always get questioned as to why you’re saying no to a drink.

As a former wine lover who is now three years sober (and going), per lifestyle preference, I’ve seen this cultural push firsthand. So much so, I was insecure about speaking out about it for over a year because of the “What will they think?” factor. It certainly showed me the real social challenges that may set well-meaning sobers back from their desired progress towards living an alcohol-free life.

The truth is, however, you should never feel ashamed for what’s important to you. While you’re seeking your own growth, a society stuck in its ways will always feel triggered. But that’s just simply not your problem.

Falling into a Long-Term Relationship with Alcohol

Alcohol by craft is a literal poison that builds upon itself, causing more harm than good. While drinking in moderation isn’t bad by any means and can add extra charm to an outing, it’s not necessary. But when we begin to view alcohol as a necessary component to socializing, that’s when we reach a problematic state. The irony being that alcohol actually promotes anti-social behaviors, such as slurred speech, unfiltered dialogue, unnecessary arguments, and embarrassing behaviors. Yet, even so, “social drinking” (a.k.a. binge drinking because who’s really going out and having just one drink? Very few.) is still the label we give it.

Surprising to most, I actually didn’t touch my first drink until I was 20. I had seen the negative effects alcohol could have and didn’t want to entertain it. In fact, I spent the first semester of my freshman year in college taking shots of water!

That was until I experienced my first real heartbreak. Drastically overwhelmed with feelings of sadness, confusion, and disorientation, I was desperate to feel happy again. When I looked around outside myself (red flag alert!), I saw all my college peers partying and having the time of their lives. I wanted that too. So I entered into my next long-term relationship: alcohol.

Drinking was the perfect scapegoat for avoiding uncomfortable emotions.

Drinking was the perfect scapegoat for avoiding uncomfortable emotions, and drinking culture fully supported that agenda with the perfectly mapped out schedule: Margarita Monday, Tipsy Tuesday, Wine Wednesday, Thirsty Thursday, then the typical Friday-Saturday weekend outings, and don’t forget that mimosa with Sunday brunch.

While it seems harmless, engaging consistently with this kind of schedule begins to normalize alcohol consumption and builds tolerance. Paired with emotional shielding, the slippery slope you can find yourself in is drinking alone or resorting to alcohol for other emotions, like stress, boredom, or anxiety (all of which alcohol contributes heavily to, by the way). However, the marketing industry doesn’t tell us that, and even when we overindulge, we pass it off because “everyone else drinks like that too.”

Even as a straight-A, high-achieving, ambitious, hard-working, always striving for the next level kind of girl, I found myself in a circumstance that I never thought could happen to me. A fair warning that it can happen to you – alcohol sure doesn’t discriminate! In an instant, my whole life came to a screeching halt, and I was left picking up the pieces of a life I was barely even living. The scare of the reality I was creating sobered me up enough to break up with alcohol for good.

Bambi Learns To Walk...Away from Alcohol

I’ve always been a personal development junkie, obsessed with self-help books, podcasts, and anything that would inspire me to become a better version of myself. This has supported me with a highly developed threshold of self-awareness that many don’t have readily accessible.

Even so, in the early days of my sober journey, I was learning how to function emotionally and socially again. Without my BFF wine by my side, I was like Bambi learning how to walk. I was rather appalled by the impact of my 7-year drinking habit, as my self-esteem and confidence had taken a complete hit.

As I was adjusting to my new life, I realized socializing just wasn’t the same. Without alcohol to overpower bland interactions, I became super conscientious of the company I was keeping. Yes, some “friends” backed away when I stopped drinking (talk about triggering for an emotional drinker!).

My 7-year drinking habit had destroyed my self-esteem and confidence.

It took me about six months after quitting to start going out regularly again where I felt composed enough to refuse a drink and wasn’t irritated by others drinking. Even that felt premature. On that note, I definitely didn’t touch dating for about a year after I quit because I’m a firm believer in taking personal responsibility for your internal state and becoming solid in who you are so as not to displace ownership of needed healing onto a partner. Plus, what triggers emotion more than dating?

Actually, seeing the reaction I was receiving in social settings made me fear more and more what dating would look like. People were just so bothered by the fact that I wasn’t drinking. From the passing side glance to the backhanded “supportive” comments to the straight-up ghosting, it was a force.

When you’re older than 21 and ordering a lemonade, people definitely give you looks. So I started ordering soda water with cranberry because it looked like a vodka cran (hot tip for your early stages when you don’t want people constantly asking you questions!).

Dating – Drinking = Disaster

I finally mastered socializing as a sober after a couple of years in practice. Today, not drinking doesn’t even phase me. Bring me all the ice teas and lemonades, it’s not even a thought anymore (something I thought I would never be able to say). I found fantastic people who support my decision and don’t judge me for it. More importantly, I found myself again. Not needing to mask my personality or who I am with a drink. And even more so, I get to remember all the good times, not wake up hungover in a state of regret.

When I got to this level of comfort and confidence in my life choice, I figured it was time to try the dating scene. As someone who has always had high standards and went on dates few and far between, I knew this was going to be the ultimate challenge for me, but I felt ready for it.

My First Date Sober

Working from home and not going out to bars frequently left little opportunity to meet people organically, so I signed up for the infamous dating app, Bumble. If you’re not familiar with the platform, Bumble allows you to mark your preferences when you set up a profile, in which drinking is one of them. I selected “no,” but didn’t feel it was necessary to elaborate on it further, as the information was there for any potential match to see.

I ended up connecting with this cute guy who was very successful and carried an engaging conversation. We really hit it off! So we decided to meet up for coffee.

We ended up talking for about two hours over the course of our coffee date to the point he stated he was having such a great time and asked if I wanted to move things to a local bar. Again, with my sober journey, I’m comfortable going to bars. In fact, I went to this bar in particular often with my friends, so the bartenders knew me and my mocktail of choice (gotta love the perks of being a regular!).

I’m comfortable going to bars, so the bartenders knew me and my mocktail of choice.

As we sat down at the bar, the bartender warmly greeted us and already had my mocktail made without me having to order (it was my club soda with cranberry, the one that looks like a vodka cran). 

My date then ordered his drink. We were talking, laughing, and having a lovely time over a couple of rounds. He mentioned that he had to get going to a family dinner he had planned and suggested doing brunch the next day. Sounded good to me! So he asked for the bar tab to cash out. When the bartender brought over the book, I could see my date looking at it puzzled.

I explained that my drinks were probably not included, as the bartenders tend to not charge me unless I ask them to so I can tip. Since this bill was consolidated, I concluded they most likely didn’t charge. As I explained this, my date just stared at me for more explanation. At which point, I said, “Yeah, I don’t drink.”

“Never?” he asked. “Correct,” I said. 

“Mind if I ask why?”

“Not at all. It just doesn’t serve me, and I’ve found a lot more peace and success without it,” I said.

“Do you care if I drink?”

“No, I wouldn’t be here if I did.”

“Well then…” He tossed the book on the counter with an air of frustration. 

Instantly the mood of the date shifted drastically. So I asked, “Does that make you uncomfortable?” He laughed, then said, “Um yeah, it’s different!”

Taking the responsibility that he may have felt a little blindsided, I let him sit with the information for a minute. As it really wasn’t a big deal, I pointed out it wasn’t that different at all, seeing as he had just spent over three hours with me without even noticing the difference.

It shouldn’t have been a big deal, as he had just spent three hours with me without even noticing the difference.

But he went on to make more jokes at my expense. “Cheers to that...oh wait, that’s not a real drink.” “Want another Cape Codder, minus the Cod?” with more laughing and snarking.

I realized this was clearly an issue, so I excused myself to the restroom, at which he said, “Not to push you for time, but I’m probably going to head out while you’re in there.” So I replied, “By all means, don’t let me hold you up!”

Surprisingly, and unfortunately, he was still there upon my return. We left immediately, saying little to no words. And in my five-minute drive home, I received a text reading, “Yeah, I didn’t feel any sparks, see ya around.”

And my heart broke, but not because of him or the rejection (believe me, I’m all set!). But rather because of the massive misunderstanding of sobers.

Sober Shaming Is Real

I wish I could tell you this was just this one-time occurrence, this one guy, this one date.  Sadly, that has not been my experience. Actually, I developed my own little social study after this situation to prove to myself that maybe it was just this one time. I matched with and struck up conversations on Bumble with men who were highly responsive. Then I mentioned I didn’t drink. The result? Four out of every five men stopped responding immediately after I shared that information.

Mind you, I had taken a vast amount of time to emotionally heal any fragile pieces of myself before I attempted dating so situations like this wouldn’t trigger me to feel like I needed to drink.

Four out of every five men stopped responding immediately after I told them I didn’t drink.

Having never identified as an addict, simply an emotionally dependent “social drinker,” I felt deeply for those who do struggle with addiction or don’t have the self-awareness to take the time to heal themselves because I could definitely see how these reactions could provoke a relapse.

Sober shaming, in any form, is just simply not okay. It will leave many who want to live better lives ashamed to do so. Feeling pressured to fit in. Feeling like they have to isolate themselves because they won’t be accepted in social settings. It manipulates people into thinking they need it. And it causes problems, a lot of silent suffering for those not strong enough to withstand the judgment. Making a rather difficult decision even more difficult.

Closing Thoughts

While significant strides are being made to promote sobriety, such as dry bars and more establishments centered around entities other than booze, there’s still a lot of acceptance to be made. 

In my early days of not drinking, I used to pity myself for everything I thought I would miss. Now, I pity those rejecting sobers for all THEY will miss.

I still stand by not drinking being the best decision I’ve ever made for myself. It set me up for a more successful career, thriving relationships, secure finances, exceptional health, and a true deep love for me, and unbreakable confidence to match.

The truth is, many people don’t know who they are and certainly don’t feel comfortable with themselves, so it’s easier to drink that insecurity away. Being sober in their presence is like holding up a mirror to that internal darkness, which is why it’s rejected so often.

My advice? Empowered decision making – get great at it, and don’t ever apologize for it! It’s a real lifesaver. People will only be as confident in your choice as you are, that’s a fact. So give yourself adequate time to acclimate and to heal. Whatever values you have, honor and protect them. And at the very least, remember you deserve to be heard and respected.

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