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[ Opinion ] [ Personal Narratives ]

How To Enjoy Social Events Yet Stay Sober

Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut. —Ernest Hemingway

If sulking was an Olympic sport, I would have a spot on the podium. When I was finally getting sober, and giving up the drugs and alcohol that I relied on to make me feel prettier, smarter, more fun, less isolated, I sulked a lot. I pouted. I was surly. I was a gold medal-worthy stick in the mud. Unsurprisingly, I was zero fun at parties.

However, I still got invited to things—the occasional birthday, a movie screening, and holiday gatherings. I watched other people drink and resented them for being able to do what I couldn’t. I always left early, alone, feeling like a loser.

I wasn’t a loser, but I was definitely being a jerk. After some time and some much-needed self-examination, I learned that sobriety didn’t have to feel like a life sentence. I didn’t have to be a martyr to my recovery. I could have as much fun in recovery as I’d ever had while I was loaded, and best of all, I would still remember it the next morning. How did I change my perspective?

Quit Being a Chicken

Sober, I had to come to terms with the fact that my social skills were limited. Drinking and getting loaded took up a lot of time—all my time, in fact—which meant I wasn’t exactly keeping up with politics, culture, movies, or anything else that people talk about when they’re hanging out. 2007, the year I got sober, gave me plenty of conversation starters: Britney shaved her head, Anna Nicole Smith died, Knocked Up hit the big screen, and the Writers Guild of America went on strike. Keeping up with the news, even the really fluffy stuff, made me feel less nervous about talking to people. That broke the ice, and I realized that other people were just as awkward and weird as I was.

As I lost my fear, I pushed my limits. My brain protested I’m an introvert! That didn’t stop me from playing my ukulele at an open mic, singing karaoke with friends, reading my short fiction in public, and dancing as often as I could. I did everything I’d enjoyed before I got sober, and I found that once I was ready to quit being a chicken, I liked it even more.

Think About Other People

What’s worse: being the only sober person at a party, and hating every minute of it, or being the person who invited them? When I was drinking, and even in early sobriety, I didn’t think about anyone else. Stoking my bad mood was my main activity, and I did it whether I was alone at home or at someone’s birthday party. I didn’t stop to think that maybe my sulking affected the people around me. Who wants to hang out with a grouch? Nobody. I never went to a party or gathering thinking of how I could contribute, or what I could do to help out the host. I showed up wearing a chip on my shoulder and then sulked in the corner, wondering why everyone else was having more fun than me.

They say that other people show us—other people are our mirrors. I didn’t realize how obnoxious my behavior was until I encountered someone who was even newer, sulkier, and crabbier than I was. In AA, they say, “If you can spot it, you’ve got it.” I spotted it, and I didn’t like what I saw. Like me, they were self-absorbed and freaked out by other people. Not once did they show kindness or interest in anyone around them. I didn’t enjoy talking to that person, and after I’d slowly backed away, I realized that I’d just seen my own behavior.

From then on, I made an effort to be cheerful and try to contribute instead of showing up just to help myself. It made it easier to not only enjoy myself but also leave feeling good about how I’d behaved.

Have An Exit Plan

The last time I went dancing, I drank three Diet Cokes and shook my rump for hours. It was great until it wasn’t. I looked around me, and in the dark, strobe-studded club, noticed that the people around me were behaving strangely. They were chewing gum, and their movements were sloppy, uncoordinated. I’m surrounded by strangers on Molly, I thought. That was my cue to leave. I grabbed my friend—I never go dancing or to events alone—and we headed out.

Learning to judge the right moment to say goodbye is a critical one for me. Sometimes, it’s the moment when everything gets too loud, too drunk, too whatever. Sometimes, it’s the moment when I get tired and realize I should head for bed if I want to feel good the next day. By listening to my instincts, I know when I’ve had enough. Leaving when I want to, instead of being 86’d, is one of the gifts of my recovery, and I try to use it often. I don’t feel like I need to make excuses, either. Simply saying, “This was great! I’ll text tomorrow,” is usually enough.

Thanks to my sobriety, I have more fun at events and parties. Since I’m being honest with myself about my limits—too many people? Too late at night?—I know I’m not risking my recovery. I woke up sober with my dignity intact. What could be more fun?

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