If you’ve been working on making some changes to your relationship with alcohol, you may have noticed that things may have shifted somewhat in your close relationships. Depending on how closely alcohol is linked with your personal and social identity, there can be some real challenges in moving away from regular drinking with friends and loved ones. Reactions can range from supportive to critical – and a lot of this depends on where our loved ones are, in terms of their own relationship with alcohol.
For some Daybreak members there can also be some tension between what they believe to be their social identity – fun, carefree and adventurous – and their new identity when not drinking, or taking a break from alcohol. There can be a belief that, without alcohol, they won’t be as accepted or have as much fun at these events – and they may have to deal with the loss of valued relationships and experiences. This can even be echoed by friends or family members, who are anxious that, if their loved one stops drinking, or starts drinking in moderation, they might lose their connection with them – that there will be less that they have in common, and that they may grow apart.
These are all completely normal reactions – after all, why would we want to change dynamics and relationships that we value and cherish? Often this can be the major reason for people to continue to drink in a way that is unhelpful to them – the belief that change, any change, is bad.
In response to this, there is some good news, and some bad news. The bad news is that, yes, often relationships and friendships change when drinking takes a back seat. Parties and nights out might not be the main event anymore; catch-ups might turn into breakfasts or long walks. Traditions such as champagne at sunset might be replaced by something different; long chats over bottles of wine will also fall by the wayside, and weekends of drinking and heading out on the town will likely be no more.
The good news is that, with these losses come new types of connection and interactions. For some Daybreak members, catching up with friends in the absence of alcohol has led to deeper and more memorable conversations. Far from seeing their friends less, many people actually see them more, but for shorter stretches of time – rather than a big night out once a month, perhaps a coffee every fortnight, or a quick run together on the weekend. Moving away from alcohol in a friendship can be tough, since it forces us to be vulnerable and interact as just ourselves, but the payoff is often significant.
Some Daybreak members have described similar results with their partners – that it can feel strange to celebrate or date without alcohol, but once that discomfort passes, feelings are more intense and connections are somehow deeper and longer lasting. For those in long-term relationships, the benefits of having conversations about difficult topics when sober is also significant – rather than alcohol-fuelled disagreements and arguments, being able to calmly talk about an issue and figure out what is going wrong. Often we can rely on alcohol to do the ‘heavy lifting’ for difficult parts of our lives, and we can be surprised when, in its absence, those things are actually a lot easier than we’d thought.
If you’re contemplating making some changes to your relationship with alcohol, it might be useful to think about this possibility of loss, and reflect on whether fears of change might be holding you back from doing things differently. If your loved ones are supportive, it might also be useful to talk to them about this – about how they think things might be different if you were to cut back or take a break from drinking – and some ways that you might be able to keep up your connection and friendships.
One thing that we do find with our relationships is that they are more resilient than we give them credit for. After all, relationships are living, breathing things that are constantly re-made and reshaped. In any friendship or relationship there are times of adjustment and change, and being aware of this and trusting that the other person has your best interests at heart, can be useful. Considering that your relationships might even improve with this change is an exciting possibility – that, in changing your relationship with alcohol, you are stepping towards a more present and authentic version of yourself.
If this sounds like something that will be useful to you, it is worth reaching out to our Care Navigator service in Daybreak and discuss what these changes might be like for you. Being able to discuss your plans and explore next steps with a supportive person, such as one of our care navigators, could potentially make a big difference, and you can receive valuable advice about where to start.