For a decade, I had a really cushy job with a great salary, company car, and a company credit card, marketing a very hipster brand of beer. But as I’ve written about before, I was not happy with this version of my life or with a career in professionally boozing it up. Yes, it was lucrative and won me lots of “cool points,” but eventually, I started wondering if I would be happier with a career making less money—but which would afford me more creativity, more independence, and absolutely zero mandatory drinks.
When I told my friends about my plans to quit, some weren’t thrilled for me. Overall, they seemed doubtful and distant, avoiding the topic altogether. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised: These were the same friends whose tabs—every tab—I’d been covering for years. Many of these were friends with their own drinking problems. When I finally quit the job and, about a year later, the lifestyle, they weren’t there for me in a real way.
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I guess, in the end, change isn’t just hard for the person changing, but for other people who have come to depend on a particular dynamic—including, but not limited to, regular free bar tabs. It’s now been two years since I had a drink, and my social life has changed in some pretty major ways. But I don’t miss anything about what came before. I didn’t like who I was under the influence, insincere and falsely brave, and I didn’t like who I was hungover: sick, tired, and anxious all the time. And I wasn’t into some of the behaviors the friends I had at the time exhibited, either.
It turns out that “Well, I was drunk,” is actually a really awful excuse.
When I quit drinking, I began to realize that I didn’t like some of the people I’d long considered my closest friends. It’s not that I disliked them only when they were drinking or because they drank. The problems were bigger than that—but drinking only made them worse.
Here’s an example: A very close friend set me up with her roommate but didn’t tell me that she and he had been intimate shortly before. Then she told him not to tell me about their relationship. A couple of months in, he came clean, but she didn’t. The truth is, I didn’t care about what happened between them before we dated, but I did care that she didn’t respect me enough to be honest.
When I finally called her on it, she was defensive and didn’t want to talk about why she had gone behind my back. Eventually, her excuse was that she had been blackout drunk and that it was none of my business, anyway. She wanted to pretend that nothing had happened.
In the end, this was a problem with this whole group. I didn’t like swallowing behavior that was unkind at best and dangerous at worst, hearing, “Well, I was drunk,” as a blanket excuse, one that implies the person who was offended or hurt should just drop it. I didn’t like that excuse much when we were drinking together, but I simply couldn’t stand it when I stopped.
Some of my friends didn’t like the new me—and that’s OK.
Another friend called me the “Moral Police” when I started to stand up for what I believed in more often than I had when I was drinking. Maybe she was right to feel this way—I’d stopped letting things slide. She would often name-call our mutual friend, someone who had given her a room in his house to live in. She called him a “pussy” and would tell him to “man up” when he didn’t keep his house to her standards. I don’t even know if he cared that she talked to him this way, but it got to the point where I had to ask her to stop.
When our friendship ended over this, and a dozen things like it, the group who was friends with that friend went dark too. It was kind of heartbreaking, to be honest. We had been friends, as a group, for 15 years, but their clique had been set since childhood. I understood that “breaking up” with one put the group in a tough spot, but it hurt when not one person reached out after.
And maybe there was more to it. I had always been game to go out, I was always up late with the latest, I always said yes to one more. And then I didn’t. I tried keeping in touch with individuals, but the message felt clear: I was out.
I’ve learned so much more about myself and my needs.
I’ve found I don’t want to go out as much as I once did. By not drinking, it’s become clear to me, for the first time in my life, that I actually kind of prefer to stay in—I really love alone time. The idea of home wasn’t something I really understood until recently. Now that I get it, I want it. It turns out I’m not a hostess or a social butterfly, and that’s just fine.
Not drinking has also helped me address some long hidden and real feelings. I’ve found that one of the reasons I stopped wanting to go out, for instance, is because I had a bunch of emotional stuff to sort through.
When my estranged father died, I visited his small home in New Jersey. I brought a beer with me to toast to his ghost—I had heard that he was a big drinker and thought the beer was something kind of meaningful we could share. But when I got to know him post-life by going through his belongings, I saw the AA books scattered throughout his bedroom and ten years of coins on his dresser. I realized what a mistake I had made.
My relationship with alcohol immediately changed, and although I didn’t stop drinking for another year, I did quit my brewery job that month. Losing my father brought up every other close loss I had experienced: my brother, who was gone when I was just nine, and my best friend, who passed away in our early 20s. These losses and others came bubbling up when I got sober and refused to leave until I sat with them, heard them out, and cried a lot.
Quitting drinking—or any kind of self-medicating—doesn’t flash on a burst of instant enlightenment, but it’s a start. I don’t know that grief goes away so much as it changes, but I’m a thousand miles closer to healthy and adjusted now that I can see what I’m working with. And I’m ready for it.
I’ve learned which kinds of relationships make me genuinely happy…
When you’re not drinking, you get a pretty good idea of who you’re dealing with, quickly. For the first six months of sobriety, I worked hard to date the same kind of men I was used to—it felt strangely comforting. Not shockingly, none of those relationships panned out. As a friend of mine put it, it was like I was a bird crashing into a window over and over again.
But eventually, I realized this was another pattern that could change. I’ve been dating my guy, who rarely drinks and is super handsome and honest and creative, for about a year and a half. In the fall, I moved out of the city to live with him and his two pre-teen boys. We have an eclectic home and family dinners. We camp a lot, hike even more, antique, explore, work out regularly, and basically just do super-normal life stuff. And I love it.
Over the last couple of years, I’ve continued working as a wedding singer and taken contract jobs as a long-term substitute teacher in a public elementary school, work-trade with a local kombucha maker, and performed live with different storytelling podcasts. I’ve been pitching a book I wrote and started writing another. I’m constantly figuring out who I am and what fulfills me, and having a solid, experienced therapist throughout has also helped tremendously. In addition to professional help, I made new friends—while also holding tight to some healthy friendships from before.
…and what kinds of activities actually bring me joy too.
As for going out, initially, it can feel weird. But if the thing you’re going out to do is something you actually enjoy doing, then whether or not you have a drink in your hand should have little impact on your experience.
For example, I have no issue going to a bar for an event I’m interested in—like eating, dancing, attending a reading, or seeing live music. But I’m not interested in going to a bar just to go to a bar. I’d rather a coffee shop for conversation or a tarot reading. Or better yet, a walk or some thrift shopping.
If you’ve recently quit drinking and worry about social anxiety while you’re out, maybe take a look at your reasoning. If you don’t want to be social, why be? If you do, but you have to do some hard exposure therapy, do it.
Here’s my pep talk to myself lately, in case it helps you too: I will keep trying to whittle my approach to my very small and short existence for no one but myself. I will sleep well tonight and wake up tomorrow with a clear memory of what has happened and what is still left for me to do. There is a great big world out there, and we are quickly running out of time to do our very best. I want to do what I can as best I can.