By Alex McRobert
Someone messaged me this week who is newly on their AF journey asking… “I’m currently keeping it to myself that I quit alcohol because I don’t know how to talk about it. When you quit alcohol, how did you tell your family and friends?” And the truth is...it feels so long ago now that when asked, on the spot, I could barely even remember. At this stage in my journey...basically everyone knows that I no longer drink.
"In the beginning, it was hard."
I’ve been alcohol free for four years. Now, I barely ever have to break the news to people, and forgot how hard it was in the beginning. But in the beginning it was hard!
If you come from a culture like I do, where drinking is common and almost socially expected, telling people you don’t drink anymore can be very difficult. People will be surprised by your new sobriety and pressure you to drink. They will probably ask you if you’re pregnant (if you’re female.) Saying you’re on antibiotics might only work for so long. And sharing the news with people that have been your drinking buddies for years and years can be daunting.
So I thought a lot about it and typed this out. I figured if one person asked then maybe others were wondering too. How do you tell your friends and family you’re AF? Everyone does it differently and everyone has a different experience with it. For anyone who’s sober-curious and worried about the conversations...here’s how I navigated it.
During the first week, I kept it completely to myself that I was going alcohol-free. I didn’t share it with anyone. I also decided to cancel social events that I had planned where I was supposed to be drinking, so I didn’t have to explain myself.
On the Thursday afternoon of this first week (which is like the Friday of the Middle East - our weekends are Friday/Saturday) there was a work social in which the first round of alcoholic drinks were free. The usual topic of conversation at work was, “Are you going to the bar on Thursday?” I was 3-4 days AF at this point and told a few friends when the subject came up that I wasn’t sure if I’d come because I was trying to cut back my drinking, and a friend said:
“Can’t you just come and have one? It’s free!” That’s when I realized that it would be best if I avoided the bar altogether. How do you rationalize and justify not drinking that free drink?? It’s free! There’s no reason not to. So instead, I spent the night at the gym. I think I went to three exercise classes in one night instead, (which was excessive....lol... but also necessary to keep me busy.) Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself busy and away from those that know you as a drinker.
I also had a birthday party planned for myself on the Friday evening of that first weekend. Before I quit alcohol, I loved throwing parties and was typically the host that had a fridge full of beers, a cupboard full of wine, and was constantly pressuring people to just stay and have one more drink. So I altogether cancelled my birthday party because a) I wasn’t up for entertaining and b) I didn’t want people to show up and for it and expect all the drinks, in my usual party hosting style.
I pride myself on being the friend that never cancels plans or backs out on something I said I was going to do, so this was hard. It sucks to cancel a party and it sucks to be that friend who backs out. But what also would have sucked more would have been putting myself in a situation where I felt pressured or tempted to break my sobriety. I am so glad I did. When I later explained to friends why I cancelled this party without explanation, the important friends understood.
"The early days are the hardest ones. Be selfish. Don’t go to the bar. Don’t go to the party. When you’re only four days alcohol free it can be tempting to just have one. So get away from anyone and anything that might trigger you. And don’t worry about telling anyone right now! You do you. Focus on you. "
During this time period, I started by telling the people that are closest to me. I remember calling my mom on day 9, who was completely surprised since nine days earlier, it had been my 27th birthday and we were together in Morocco. I was completely fixated and focused on whether or not I’d be able to have a glass of wine that night. We had plans to go to a home stay in a village on the high Atlas Mountains and I literally hiked up the mountain with a bottle of red wine on my back. I remember telling my mom, “Don’t offer a glass of this wine to anyone else at the homestay or it will run out...”
When I called her a week later saying I’d quit, she was totally surprised, but completely supportive. She asked me questions about my choice. I spoke honestly, I said I was drinking too much and I didn’t want to anymore. She said she was proud of me.
With this momentum I told others. Most of the people I told during this time were also extremely supportive. But I was selective and continued to only call and approach the people that I knew, 100%, would have my back. The others could wait until I was ready.
I called my sister, my Nana and my family. I messaged a few very close friends from childhood and high school. I chose some yoga and gym related people to tell next. I continued to keep myself away from social (drinking!) situations as often as possible.
It honestly felt good to tell the truth. Once you’ve shared your habit change, reasons and intentions with others, you might find you’re also more accountable to your goals.
By week three I felt ready to renter the party scene. I was really worried during this time about arriving at parties and social situations and being pressured to drink. So when RSVPing to social events, I made sure to make it clear I wasn’t drinking.
The first thing I went to was an event called “Thirty on Thursday.” Since I wasn’t drinking I didn’t really read the event description before saying yes. All I did was send a quick message. “I am not going to be drinking. Is there a separate ticket price for no alcohol?” I sent this to the whole WhatsApp group so everyone knew I would be sober. The point of that message was less about getting a discounted ticket and more about indirectly telling everyone I wasn’t drinking, so that they didn’t expect me to.
When I showed up at the event...it ended up being really scary! “Thirty on Thursday” meant it was an open bar with your choice to sample thirty different kinds of alcohol. I had to have a ticket including alcohol with it. It would have been so easy and so tempting to drink, since I’d paid for it. But because I’d sent a message to everyone ahead of time indicating I was sober, it made it easier.
My friends that night were supportive but also curious about why I’d gone sober all of a sudden. At this stage I kept it brief and to the point. “I was drinking too much, so now I don’t want to do it anymore altogether.”
I also remember that I’d already started speaking in past tense about it. “I no longer drink anymore.” Which was a cool thing notice.
Thirty on Thursday was a hard event to go to sober, but I did it! The next major thing that terrified me during this time period was my first sober date. I was so worried that being sober was going to narrow my dating pool and I’d never find someone. So my first sober first date was scary.
I wrote about this date in my blog post a couple months ago. On week three, I got set up on a blind date. We set our date for the Friday night of weekend 3. I was so terrified about telling him I was sober that I thought about it all week. How am I going to break this news? I was so worried he’d show up on the date, find out I didn’t drink, and then not want to date me anymore.
I decided to use the same strategy that I’d used with my friends. I texted him ahead of time letting him know I was “taking a break from the booze.” This didn’t eliminate his pressuring me when I showed up for the date, but it did make it easier to say no. It was a really hard night for me, because he was clearly very uncomfortable with the fact that I was sober. I understand it - I think I’d have felt the same way if I was on a date when I was a drinker with someone who was a non drinker. He said at the end of the date, “I’m worried it’s a red flag that you don’t drink.”
What came from this night was a few things:
1. This incredible strength. I realized if I could sit through a date with a guy one-on-one trying to pressure me to drink, I could basically do anything.
2. A realization that yes, being sober was going to narrow my dating pool - but in the best way possible. I don’t need my future partner to be a non-drinker...but I do need to date someone who will have my back and cheer on my sobriety. And someone who isn’t going to cheer you on in whatever you are doing, is not the right person. Telling a date I don’t drink is now my favorite test. If they aren’t nice about it then I can immediately move on and don’t have to waste anymore time figuring out that they’re not a nice person.
During this time I got very comfortable going to parties and being the designated driver. It didn’t bother me anymore. When asked about why I didn't drink, I started to toss in humour about my sobriety. When we were out at the bar, I’d tell a story like...”The last time I was at this bar, this is
"Believe it or not, the best thing I ever did was post on social media that I no longer drank alcohol."
what happened....and that’s why I no longer drink anymore.” Drinkers love those stories because it makes you relatable. You’re not this “holier-than-thou” character that thinks their body is their temple. You’re human. Just like them.
Day 90 onwards:
Believe it or not, the best thing I EVER did was post on social media when I was 90 days alcohol free. It was terrifying, I was scared people would judge me, and it felt like it was something very personal to post so openly. But after I made that post, and the subsequent posts, pretty much no one ever pressures me or asks me why I am not drinking anymore. It was like one big public announcement that solved everything! Since then, when people make plans with me or invite me out, they often preface it with: “I know you’re not drinking anymore (that’s awesome!) but let’s meet up for a meal without drinks.” Some friends from high school bought alcohol free sparkling wine and made us nonalcoholic mimosas this summer. And my mom stocks the fridge when I’m home with alcohol free beer. If you do ever feel ready, I highly encourage making a post like this. My sobriety being public knowledge has made social situations SO much easier.
The other amazing thing it’s done, is connect me to SO many people all over the world, friends or acquaintances or strangers, who are embarking on an alcohol-free journey as well. People have messaged me saying my stories have helped them, people have messaged me saying that they too quit after reading them, and people have messaged asking me for questions and advice. I no longer feel like the only person on Earth going through this. There is a sober revolution happening. You just need to find it.
After the first sober summer holidays when I got back to Abu Dhabi, someone joked to me, “I’m so impressed with you, you’re like mother Theresa!” And I quickly said back, “10 years of wild nights just flashed through my head.....I am definitely not a mother Theresa!" While she was kidding.....my point is, that when talking with friends about my sobriety, I still try to use humour and I still try to not act holier-than-thou. Because I’m not. I drank a lot for ten years. I ate bacon and steak for 27 years. I still am the kind of person who opens a bag of chocolate chips and eats the whole thing in one sitting.
So no matter how much I want my friends and family to experience the “Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” too, I try not to preach to them. I just tell my story as it pertains to me. And the listener will hear and take from it whatever they need to. “The human soul doesn’t want to be advised, or fixed, or saved." - Parker J Palmer
I am six months alcohol-free. I have never wondered if I made the right decision going sober. I know I did. But there are times when I wonder if I made the right decision by starting a blog about it. Not everyone gets it. Not everyone will respond well to it.
And then I remind myself..
"Our story is what we have to offer the world.
I wish I had a different story than the one I just lived through, but I am so grateful for the story that has made me who I am today.
...It's my story. It's who I am. It's how I'm becoming."
-Erwin Raphael McManus