One of the things that kept me drinking was the fear of losing my social life if I stopped. I was 22, and every weekend looked more or less the same: spend most of Friday feeling anxious about what I’d do and who I’d see that night; final decisions made around 5pm, approximately five hours later than I would have liked; and then, some combination of getting dinner, “going out,” getting drunk, getting bored, and going home.
What a life! Understandably, I was terrified to give that up.
Here’s what I was chasing: meeting someone new; getting attention; taking a flattering picture for Instagram; bonding with girlfriends; and feeling normal.
If even one of those things happened – which was approximately one in three times, I’d say – it was a good (enough) night.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results." The quote is cliché, but no less true.
Unfortunately, my degree in psychology taught me that an “intermittent reinforcement schedule” – when you get what you want maybe every three times you try for it – is the most effective for keeping you hooked. That's how you get rats to go to the same cocktail bar every Saturday. And that’s how I became hooked on a drinking routine that was actually pretty dull.
When I first quit, I had no idea what I’d do. I didn’t think I’d stop drinking forever, so I figured I could piece together some low-key girls’ nights and some lower-key early bedtimes. That would carry me for at least a week or two.
The invitations to “go out” started to wain as I continued to decline them. I’d make up an excuse, or I’d simply ignore the text. To my closest friends, I explained that I couldn’t come because I wasn’t drinking. This was inevitably followed by the protest: “You can still come out and just not drink!”
(Eventually, that was true. Two weeks in, it was not.)
Luckily, the diminishing social life was immediately replaced with a brand-new relationship. And I found it in the most unexpected of places: at home, early in the morning, in bed. Yep, you guessed it: In the style of self-help books everywhere, I found myself – and we were fast friends.
When I was drinking, she and I just couldn't connect. A friend who hates herself isn’t much of a friend at all. We know when she isn’t sharing the secret that is just below the surface, and we know when her body is present but her mind is somewhere else.
In contrast, a friend who is engaged in the fascinating process of changing her life and liking herself for the first time is really, really fun. That’s the girl I woke up to every morning. Even on bad days, her tears had momentum. We were moving forward.
In time, other friends entered the picture. And the old ones that formerly accompanied me to the bar instead accompanied me to the coffee shop, movies, or even just the living room.
In sobriety, I became more creative about the time I'd spend with friends. My closest friend and I began a grand Airbnb tour, where we drove all over Wisconsin (and beyond) to see what it had to offer. Occasionally I thought, This would be better with a drink. More often, I thought: This wouldn't be happening with a drink. While drinking, it's simply too easy to wear out the same, boring activities over and over again.
Three sober years later, you couldn't pay me to take back the drinking-centric social life. I wouldn’t trade in my present state for the world. What would be the point? Only in sobriety do I really get to see what the world has to offer.