When You Quit Drinking, Expect to be Miserable

On Friday evening I went to an event hosted by Thrive Alcohol Free to celebrate the anniversary of Dupe’s book, A Cocktail of Clarity. I was invited to be on the panel at the event.

When it started I was asked to introduce myself briefly. I did this and gave a very short summary of when I stopped drinking. I explained that it was over 10 years ago now, off the back of 5 days of constant drinking. I explained that when I crawled out the other side of this, my mindset was simply that I had to quit, that I couldn’t go on like this, but that I fully expected that my life would change for the worse in some ways. I thought (at the time) that I would never again fully enjoy social events, or vacations / holidays, or even just evenings at home relaxing, but despite this I still had to stop because my drinking had become too destructive.

Later in the evening I got talking to a serving RAF officer, who described how difficult it was to go to military social events and not drink. The toasts, the wine, the port going around after the meal; the events are so soaked in alcohol that it is incredibly difficult to go and not drink. The pressure to drink is immense.

I was mulling this over as I do, particularly during my Saturday morning run which is a common theme in my life.

It is great that there are so many sober influencers out there extolling the virtues of an alcohol free life, a big part of which is how you can still enjoy social occasions without alcohol. In fact I find that I enjoy them far more without drinking. But this wasn’t how I quit; I didn’t (at the start) go to social event thinking I was going to enjoy them, I went to them thinking that they would be dreadful affairs, but there were some that I couldn’t wriggle out of, so I’d just have to go to them and suffer them. Literally just go, stand feeling awkward and miserable until I could go home. My mindset wasn’t ‘I’ll go and enjoy myself without alcohol’, it was ‘I’ll go and suffer for a few hours until it ends’.

I’d go and feel awkward and miserable, but at some point I’d start chatting to someone, or have something to eat, or start to enjoy the music.  There were odd parts that I didn’t enjoy so much, but at least I was not acutely uncomfortable.

Looking back this was probably the best mindset for me. If I’d gone expecting or trying to really enjoy myself, I think I would have been disappointed. I hadn’t socialised without alcohol for decades and I am not a particularly sociable person (I’ve always been happier in my own company, or with a small number of people I know well). It took me time to get back to settling into social events and enjoying myself without alcohol, as I had done as a child before I started drinking.

If I had gone to that first event with the expectation of having a great time, I would have been disappointed and demoralised. As it was I went in full expectation that it would be awful, and any part wasn’t awful was a bonus for me; it was a surprise and it gave me hope that maybe life without alcohol might not be all doom and gloom.

Some people can undoubtably quit and go straight into enjoying social events, but I wasn’t one of them.

If you are struggling with the thought of quitting because you can’t imagine going to those alcohol soaked occasions and actually enjoying yourself, then don’t. Don’t expect to enjoy yourself. Go, expecting (as I did) that they will be awful. You don’t need to worry about enjoying yourself, all you need to do is go and not drink. You just have to suffer for 5 or 6 hours (hopefully less). Just 5 or 6 hours feeling awkward and uncomfortable, knowing at least that it won’t last forever.

You may find what I found, which was that it wasn’t quite as bad as I feared, that there were odd parts which were ok, but most importantly, at the end, I would leave and would have not drunk. I’d done it. And I could do it again.

As my confidence built and I started to realise that I could get through them not drinking, I started to relax slightly more at subsequent events, and so started to feel less and less uncomfortable. I found that asking for alcohol free drinks became less and less intimidating, talking to people became easier as I relaxed, and I started to settle into my new alcohol-free persona.

There is a saying that you should ‘hope for the best but prepare for the worst’. Sometimes it’s best to expect and prepare for the worst, and look at anything that isn’t the ‘worst’ as a benefit.

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9 Responses

  1. Totally agree. I’m over 2 years sober now, but I pick and choose my social events now, and make sure there is something else there to focus on other than just alcohol, where it’s football or a meal etc. 2 hours is usually enough by the time people have had 3-4 drinks it’s enough for me to leave!

  2. You are absolutely right but after 4 years of sobriety I find it easier to avoid situations that I used to associate enjoyment with drink.
    Eating out at night is a good example for me [lunch is much easier without alcohol than evening events], so changing times when we socialise can help.

    When you’re not a natural socialiser, we need to learn to trust who we are when we are sober in company. Sounds like an oxymoron, as most of us like to believe we’re much more ‘fun’ and interesting after a couple of drinks. We’re not. We are who we are, and those who truly care, encourage us in our quest to stay off alcohol.

  3. Thanks William
    Your straightforward writing about what alcohol does to the mind and body was my mainstay through the giving up period. Thankyou
    900 odd days now and I never think about it now. I’ll be 75 in may and it’s never too late. Life got so much better ❤️

  4. I think you hit on a very important wider point here, which is that you can’t expect to always feel good.

    The expectation to always feel good is now part of our culture and certainly one that alcoholics carry with them.

    When I was drinking, I just wanted to feel good all the time. Obviously, I failed in this but, for years, couldn’t accept that.

    When I gave up drinking, I also gave up on the expectation to feel good. I realised that feelings weren’t the best barometer of well-being anyway; it’s knowledge that matters.

    For example, you might feel uncomfortable at a social event, but you KNOW nothing bad is likely to happen. Training myself to use knowledge as a guage of how things are going, rather than feelings, is one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done.

    “But I feel x!” Yeah? So what? How is that a problem?

    I think many, many people could do with training themselves in this; paradoxically, it’s the only path to true contentment.

  5. I stopped drinking and had no problems at all. No withdrawals, nothing. I just know I needed to stop and yes I dreaded social occasions. It was a total surprise to me that I enjoyed them more and got a kick out of watching my friends gradually get tipsy and laugh more. I laughed too. I the difference was that I was sharp and remembered the event the next day! Zero zero beer helped me as it felt festive and I loathe coke, water or anything sweet. As I had never had a beer in my life before, just white wine, I was not aware if they were bad or not. To me they seemed nice and not sweet. The big plus was driving. I live in the mountains and I no longer had to turn down events as I didn’t alcohol and drive! You can not imagine what a liberator that was. I can drink and drive anywhere. Yes, and the weight loss. BTW I do drink 2.5 litres of water at home as I know it’s important , but never out. Just too boring. 😂

  6. Every once in a while, being sober while socializing is difficult, but it feels less so these days. With the proliferation of mocktails, some of which are really, really good, I can concentrate less on the mind altering effects I am missing, and more on the enjoyment of a well crafted, delicious non-alcoholic drink. Also, so many more people are abstaining these days, which gives me a tribe to hang with. Believe me, I am totally introverted and find socializing almost physically painful but I realized now that I am older, that I made a fool of myself due to alcohol in the past, and I am a much better communicator with it out of my life.

  7. Thanks you so much for this. I am an extrovert so I love to socialize. Sober 15 months now and it still pulls at me sometimes but I never ant to drink. I love how I remember events and I feel gain respect where before I looked like. Fool so many times !! Never again

  8. Howdy William. Been a while. Hope you well mate. I must say… I’m a bit of an outlier here. After about two years of being a shrinking violet post my last of 5 rehabs something tripped in my head. I’ll be buggered if I don’t enjoy even booze filled occasions more than before!

    I get along so much better with people now and they with me. No more hell raising and banging their wives in the bathrooms which is a bit of downside but I generally have a top time and only pee off when it’s gets really silly. Takes a lot of silly though to expunge me. I’m often the life of the party and make a shit ton of new business and other social contacts that I remember to follow up with. They generally heap respect on my happy sobriety and often ask for the master key to freedom themselves. I do help where I can.

    I feel lucky. Booze is a total non event in my life. After 45 years of being thoroughly pissed and pernicious I consider it all a bit of a miracle and am mighty grateful.

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William Porter

William wrote Alcohol Explained to share his approach on recovering from alcohol dependency.

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