Humans are social creatures by design; we crave interaction with others. Hell, it’s even been attributed to longer life expectancy! So the ability to socialise, whether it be with a few people or many, is so important for our wellbeing. Unfortunately, in our society, socialising is overwhelmingly tied-up with drinking alcohol. We come together to connect, to celebrate and to commiserate with a drink in our hand. The bar is our church where we worship the bottle – after work, at weekends, or even over a boozy lunch.
More and more social activities are being (not so) complemented with alcohol – ‘booze and book club’, ‘yoga and wine’, ‘cork and canvas’ paint classes – so ingrained is our drinking culture. It’s no wonder that a big fear people have when exploring the alcohol-free life is the prospect of socialising sans booze. It was certainly way up there on my list of ‘scaries’ when I first started on my sober journey.
After several attempts at kicking the booze I really committed to my sobriety seven months ago – on the 13th January 2019. I’d spent years stringing together a month here, two months there, but I never made it past the 3-month mark. I now see that the key thing missing from my sober toolkit was community and connection with other non-drinkers. Nothing beats the support and encouragement of the sober community.
Looking back, my drinking had always been erring on the side of problematic. I wouldn’t consider myself an alcoholic, but I was someone that always wanted more. On the outside I was outgoing and comfortable in social situations. But inside I was constantly worrying where the next drink was coming from. Social situations were never about the company, and all about the booze. So I cut out the middle man and resigned myself to night after night alone on the sofa, drinking my weight in red wine. Drinking had morphed from a social activity to something that kept me isolated.
After giving up alcohol I experienced a different kind of isolation. I was well versed in the virtues of being alcohol free; a clear mind, more energy, less anxiety – but I hadn’t accounted for this feeling of loneliness. I was an outsider looking in on a world that revolved around alcohol.
For the first few months I hid away from social situations involving alcohol for fear of relapse. Unfortunately that left little else to do (or so I thought)! Friends and family were incredibly supportive of my journey but, try as they might, they could never fully understand what I was going through. Invitations to nights out disappeared and I found myself wondering if giving up alcohol meant waving goodbye to my social life too. I’m a 33-year-old woman with no children, living and working in the city. My friendship group fall into the same demographic, so we’re still very much in the luxurious position of being able to bar hop our way across the city at the drop of a hat. By choosing not to drink I felt like I was constantly swimming upstream. I started wondering – am I the only one going through this in Melbourne? Determined to seek out like-minded sober- and sober-curious folk, I threw myself into the search, and because of this I’m beginning to build up a social life that’s richer and more full of genuine connection than I could have hoped for.
Here’s what I actively did to kick-start my social life:
I found my voice on social media:
Social media was invaluable to me in those first few months. When I wasn’t quite ready to go public about my problem drinking, I set up an anonymous account on Instagram, followed as many sober accounts as possible and discovered a rich and diverse online community. What started out as a source of inspiration quickly became a place of support and encouragement as I found my voice and started interacting with others. I also joined various closed groups on Facebook and found a safe space to air my thoughts and receive messages of support from others.
Social media gets a bad rap, but used in the right way it’s an incredible resource to socialise with like-minded people when you’re not quite ready for a bit of IRL.
I set up my own events:
Social media kickstarted my foray into a sober social life but as my confidence grew, I began to crave human interaction. I searched high and low for alcohol-free events and meet-ups in Melbourne but couldn’t find any at that time. So I thought, what the hell – I’ll start my own! That led me to setting up Rise Revolution, a meet-up group for sober events in Melbourne. So far we’ve had a ‘Boozeless Brunch’, ‘Hangover-free Hike’, ‘Brunch Book Club’ and ‘Smashing Sobriety Break Room’ event. I’m also in the process of organising Melbourne’s first ‘Sober Supper Club’ complete with paired non-alcoholic drinks.
Meetup.com is an excellent platform to explore and it’s worth searching for alcohol-free groups in your nearest city or town. And if there aren’t any nearby then why not start one of your own!
I tried something new:
It’s surprising how much more time you have when you take alcohol out of the equation. Always one to ‘have a go’, I put myself out there and tried on a few new activities for size. I signed up to a meditation course, joined a women’s hiking group, went to a cookery class and started indoor bouldering. You’re not going to necessarily meet other sober people but you are going to get the chance to have fun and socialise in a setting that doesn’t revolve around alcohol. Not all of my new-found hobbies stuck but I did manage to meet some awesome people along the way.
Want to get out there and have a go? Sign up to local online magazines to keep up to date with upcoming events near you. Search for activity groups on Facebook. If you’re in Australia, Work-shop.com.au or Weteachme.com are excellent sites to find local arts and craft classes.
I demanded a mocktail:
For the first few months after I stopped drinking, I avoided bars like the plague. I was working hard on throwing myself into the sober life and drinking establishments didn’t align with that. As the days went on though I got the odd invitation here and there from friends to join them for drinks – after all this is the standard way people tend to socialise! I was starting to feel more comfortable in a bar situation, but what I didn’t enjoy was the lack of non-alcoholic options on the menu. Warm OJ or sugar-laden soda anyone? I started asking the bar staff if they could create me a drink sans booze – taking the standard cocktail list as inspiration. Some just looked at me blankly; I’ve had a few laugh in my face (rude!) but there’s that odd gem who takes delight in concocting a delicious mocktail.
It’s so much more enjoyable when I do meet friends in a bar and I’m able to have a more ‘grown up’ drink in my hand. And really, it tastes just as good as (if not better) than the real thing, with none of the bad side effects. I live in hope that one day all bars will stock as extensive a collection of non-alcoholic drinks as those with alcohol. With new drinks brands popping up such as the alcohol-free spirit Seedlip and zero percent beer Sobah, the non-alcoholic drinks industry is definitely on the rise! So, if you do feel comfortable stepping out into the bar scene (and I understand it’s not for everyone) – go forth and demand a mocktail!
It can be really daunting when you’re trying to navigate an alcohol-free life in a culture that lubricates every social event with alcohol. Whether you are teetotal, sober curious or just trying to moderate, it is totally possible to carve out your own alcohol-free social life. I’m grateful I stuck with it and found my own. I now get to hang out with amazing people, constantly try new things and the best bit about it? I remember it all the next day.
Written by Leanne Franks, the founder of Rise Revolution. You can find out more about it here