I loved tipsy me. She was outgoing and vivacious and adventurous, and sometimes even funny.
In high school, I would drink “socially,” i.e. have enough beer to make me feel social, but never so much that it interfered with day-to-day life. In college, I realized I could bypass that first awkward hour of social sobriety by knocking back a shot or two of Bacardi 151 in my dorm room. By the time I moved to Miami, I’d also learned that wine was a respectable way to de-stress after a long day of teaching even if that meant drinking an entire bottle on a Tuesday.
Through all of this, I’d never seen drinking as a problem. Over the years, I’d meet people who didn’t drink at all, or who had and had given it up – including my husband, Mark, who often drank socially, but never to de-stress or to have a drink with dinner. It was something I’d respected, but never understood.
During one of our very first GLY Women’s Circles, someone suggested the book This Naked Mind. I thought it was being recommended as a way to understand our brains without the influence of sugar, alcohol, or caffeine. When I realized my mistake, I read the book out of a feeling of distant obligation, passive curiosity, and completion-itis. I read it while drinking a beer by myself at a bar – the irony was not lost on me – and found myself underlining idea after idea, noting things that I’d thought to be the “truth” my whole life.
- Alcohol helps you sleep better.
- Alcohol makes you more confident.
- Alcohol boosts your mood and relieves stress.
- Alcohol is self-medication for anxiety.
- Alcohol is the best way to celebrate.
Several social experiments later, I realized how little I actually enjoyed most alcohol, and how rarely it positively contributed to my life.
Sure, it helped me fall asleep, but the sleep was always lower quality. It lowered my inhibitions, which I misconstrued as confidence, and regularly left me with vulnerability hangovers the next day. It helped me forget about some problems, but it was really only numbing them for a while. They were still there when I sobered up - and sometimes they were worse.
The part about anxiety was the most eye-opening. I’d heard about the connection, but nothing was as powerful as testing it out for myself. At my first sober event, at a brewery, no less, I struggled to figure out what to do with my hands until I found a glass of water. And not a single person noticed – they were all too drunk themselves. I observed the environment from a distance, in a way anxiety-riddled me who would’ve felt desperate to get a few drinks in and look engaged, never could have.
I was able to be far more curious about other people, and far less worried about myself and how I was showing up. When I was no longer reliant on alcohol to serve as my crutch, begging for the magical elixir to kick in and make me who I wanted me to be, I found the presence to show up as myself, grounded on my own two feet, as I already am.
I left feeling clear-headed, awake, ready to meal prep for the week, and easily able to find my way home – in a word: sober. As I stood at the bus stop, I witnessed at least a dozen people stumble out into the daylight disoriented and disheveled, cementing my disenchantment.
I’ve had a handful of drinks in the year since, at an open bar with friends, to celebrate when I didn’t otherwise know how to, etc., and the effects were even more pronounced as my tolerance to the – let’s call it what it is: poison – has all but disappeared. It’s made me acutely aware of the headaches, the shoulder aches, and the nausea. I’ve gotten sick on just one pumpkin beer. I’m also much more easily able to just how badly alcohol affected my anxiety.
Luckily for me, the sober-curious movement has grown and evolved along with the wellness world and commitments to self-care. Mocktails are readily available in most bars and restaurants, and sober bars are popping up all over the place. Bloggers and influencers and books and social networks are giving the momentum "social proof" and taking the "anonymous" out of Alcoholics Anonymous.
The WHO notes that the number of drinkers has been steadily decreasing. People, especially millennials, are questioning the status quo more often, especially with regards to stigmas around mental health and addiction, and questioning what we’ve internalized to be true thanks to billions of dollars in marketing from corporations.
From sober, to sober-sometimes, to sober-curious, to events and movements like Dry January, there are a number of ways to experiment with cutting out or reducing alcohol. And if you’re worried you might be one of the 17 million adults in the US who are alcohol dependent, and alcohol is causing you stress or harm, seek medical advice. While AA is well-known, there are a variety of support options available including counseling, medication, and support groups.
As for me, I’m committed to being mostly-sober. I’ll raise a glass of champagne at a wedding, have a sip, and hand it to someone else. I’ll try a port in Portugal and a pisco sour in Peru, because I want to do the thing in the place. But in general, this is another step towards clarity and my personal evolution.
Are you sober-curious? Have you tried a dry January? Tell me in the comments below!
Sharon Podobnik Peterson challenges the way women think, live, and lead through speaking, leadership coaching, teaching, and serial entrepreneurship. Her self-help and self-care subscription box, blog, and magazine, Go Love Yourself. was named one of the top book subscriptions by Good Morning America, Book Riot, Buzzfeed, and Thrive Global. When she’s not teaching or coaching, she’s exploring the world with her husband, Mark, or reading with her spunky kitty, Annie, in Seattle, Washington.