A common topic that arises for our Daybreak members who are interested in making changes with their drinking, is that of managing friendships or relationships that have a lot to do with alcohol. For some people, it can be that their relationship revolves around drinking, and there is a real fear that, with the alcohol gone, there might not be enough to sustain the relationship. For others, it can be that their friendship has involved drinking for such a long time, that to move away from this might seem like a betrayal.
We know that it is our relationships and our connections with those around us that give our life most of its meaning and purpose – so it is understandable that we would be hesitant to potentially disrupt the balance of an otherwise positive friendship or relationship. In fact, some members describe ‘not wanting to upset the apple cart’ as the major reason they haven’t sought help until now – knowing their drinking was becoming harmful, but also at the same time knowing it was in some ways maintaining a valuable relationship.
This can get even more complicated when we consider that people can often be at different stages of change to their friend or partner – so, even if they are drinking similar amounts or at similar frequency, one person might be more impacted by the alcohol, in terms of health, mood, energy or sleep. It is likely that the person feeling more of an impact would be more likely to change, while the less-affected partner might not be as motivated to cut back or stop altogether. Again, this can be the source of a hard conflict – how that individual can change their relationship with alcohol and still keep peace in the relationship.
In response to questions from our members, we have some tips for people who are going through this very difficult conflict. First of all, it is a really common issue and one that can be daunting, to say the least. These are people we care deeply about and we don’t want to feel that we are jeopardising those relationships, but at the same time it is feeling like change is necessary. It might help to acknowledge that, in making any change when you are in a situation like this, there will be some degree of discomfort and uncertainty and that is totally normal.
1. Be Direct – first of all, especially in relationships, it is a good idea to make a time to have a calm conversation about your plans to change your alcohol use. Just like with any big decision, it is a good idea to explain the reasoning behind it (pros and cons), and the changes that you might be planning (e.g. I’m going to have three alcohol-free days a week, and the rest of the time drink no more than two standard drinks at a time). For relationships, it can also be useful to outline how you’d like your partner to support you (e.g. please don’t offer me a drink or bring home wine).
With friends, it might be useful to explain a bit more of the background if they aren’t aware (e.g. for some time I’ve been worried about my drinking, and recently I’ve decided to do something about it). Remember, these are people who you care about deeply, and you want to be as honest and direct as possible – allow them to understand the reasons for the change you are making, and that it is not about their relationship with you, but rather your own relationship with alcohol.
2. Brainstorm alternative activities – one major concern when a partner changes their drinking habits is that ‘quality time’ can go out the window. Those evenings spent talking over a bottle of wine, or date nights at the pub, might not be possible anymore, or might not fit into the changes that have been suggested. If this is the case, a bit of creativity might be required – for friends, some possible alternatives to nights out clubbing or trivia night at the pub, might be a walk and breakfast on the weekend, or coffee and a fitness class. In a relationship, attending cooking classes or dance classes might be a new way of enjoying quality time, or even having date nights that are specifically alcohol free. It is likely that most of the enjoyment from these events in the past was due to the company, rather than the alcohol – it was just there as a signal to relax and unwind – but we know that this is possible to do without alcohol.
3. Check in – finally, it is useful to ask your partner or friend how they feel about this. Often those close to us are terrified of us changing – they like us as we are, and are worried that if we change too much then the relationship or friendship might not survive. Maybe you feel this way about the people in your life too – after all, we choose people for a reason, and generally that is because we enjoy being around them and like them as people. Being able to explore this and reassure them that the changes you are considering are positive and, if anything, will result in self-improvement and growth, will be useful. We all want those around us to be happier, healthier and more fulfilled and often when people change their relationship with alcohol, this is the outcome. Framing this decision as something that will make your life better will help them to get on board and look for ways that they can support you (e.g. by not offering you a drink, by not keeping alcohol around or in the house, or by stocking up on AF drinks when you are coming by).
As noted, this concern is one that comes up again and again for our Daybreak members – nobody wants to have to choose between their relationships and their health, and it can feel awful to be in that position. If you are struggling with this, our Care Navigators at Daybreak can help. They can offer confidential and professional advice and support for those wanting to change their relationship with alcohol.