The other day, I attended a lecture about alcohol abuse in Wisconsin. As is so often the case, the speaker lead with a long list of “jarring facts” about the pervasiveness of drinking.
I was not impressed, nor was I surprised. There’s a cheap drug sold at Target which helps temporarily erase psychic pain and also tastes delicious. And people are using it. Why wouldn’t they?
This drug can also (temporarily) help out with: calming the nerves, relaxing in social situations, forgetting a loss, fitting in with others, erasing boredom, dissolving depression, and improving self confidence.
And you’re dismayed that people are using it in high numbers? It’s more surprising to me that anyone is not using alcohol. It's like when someone bravely declines an ibuprofen, saying "I just don't do meds." (I mean, good for you, Super Man.)
Part of the reason I drank was to be comfortable in my skin around other people. I was not particularly worried about being sober alone - indeed, I tended to like myself alone, and the only thing I found glaringly wrong was the fact that I was still drinking - but, around others, I felt I needed alcohol to be completely acceptable. I felt that my normal, uninebriated self was too awkward, nerdy, uncool, quiet, easily bored, easily boring.
Since getting sober, I've developed strategies for liking myself - and even enjoying myself - a bit more in social situations.
For example, I found that when others are drinking - on dates, cocktail hours, weddings, bars - it helps to ask them questions I actually want to know the answers to. I get to be myself by being interrogative (in my brother's words: "demanding"), and I don't have to feign interest in their answers. I actually want to know.
This is a strategy I employed a lot with one of my ex’s friends when we were out at bars. His friends were actually pretty interesting, but without redirection they would talk about sports. I made sure always to ask about their relationships with their mothers, or how they expected to find a wife and open a small business at the same time. Most people are just glad that you’re asking the questions, even if those questions are slightly psychotic.
Here's another tip: Maybe you’re sitting down for dinner with your partner’s family for the first time. Chances are someone will offer you alcohol, and you’ll say something like “Just water is great.” (Just water is never great.)
Prior to sitting down, think about why it is your partner likes you. Get a list of four or five adjectives - maybe kind, funny, curious, honest - and be that person at dinner. People aren’t that original: your partner inherited his values from his family. Whatever he likes, chances are they’ll like it, too. Plus, it’ll give you an excuse to probe him for compliments ahead of time. And if that exercise goes poorly, it’ll give you an excuse to bail on dinner. Win win. (For relationship coaching, see the link in my bio.)
(Just kidding. There is no link.)
Liking yourself when newly sober can be hard. Liking yourself when you’re three years sober can be hard, too. I’ve told you I’m moody, but here’s how that looks in practice:
On certain days, I like myself and my life very much. I’m completely charmed by my neat little job and apartment and my progress in the gym and my progress on my blog. I’m a thoughtful and contributing friend, partner, sister, and daughter, and I have bullshitty thoughts like “It’s all about balance.”
Other days, it’s really hard to get out of bed. When I wake up in the morning, I wait for yesterday’s bad mood to strike again. It’s like a hangover, but rather than waiting for the pounding headache, I’m waiting for the inner critic to kick back in. You're selfish, ordinary, pathetic, undisciplined. Don't even bother with today. In these moments, I wonder if I should skip work, skip friendships, skip getting out of bed, skip life. I get up anyway.
Three years ago, drinking on those days would have felt particularly warranted. I would have told myself I needed to go to Target for Spinach, and I'd come back with champagne. (And spinach.)
It used to amaze me that I could buy a bottle of champagne at target for $6. What a steal! To this day, it bugs the crap out of me that a 10 oz box of organic spinach costs $6. Thievery! This is what is wrong with America.
All that to say: I haven't totally figured out how to like myself in sobriety. But more days than not, I put in a noble effort. On the best days sober - and there are many of them - my biggest problem is the cost of organic spinach.