What I Wish More People Understood About Living Sober

empty glasses

I grew up with stories about life under my grandfather’s roof: the parties and drinking, the rage and fights. Grandpa would abuse amphetamines during the day and alcohol in the evenings and through the night. One night when things were particularly bad, my grandpa broke my Nana’s nose. My mom, a young girl then, called 911. Nana was taken to the hospital, but Grandpa was never put in jail or prosecuted.

I was eighteen years old and had just graduated summa cum laude from my all-girls Catholic school. Dozens of close friends and relatives gathered in my family’s home to celebrate the close of a chapter and the dawning of a new one. I was surrounded by people who loved and knew me, but all I wanted was to disappear. Anxiety enveloped me, panic crept in. I ran upstairs and grabbed a leftover beer I was hiding in my brother’s closet from one of our secret parties. I chugged as much as I could as quickly as I could, hoping it would make me loosen up.

Three years later I found myself in Las Vegas celebrating my twenty-first birthday. Once again, I was battling severe depression. To celebrate my first legal drink, my friend ordered me a glass of red wine. With my index finger, I skimmed the circumference of the wine glass, inhaling the rich aroma. It was in that moment I made a commitment – I would no longer flirt with alcohol for the sake of my mental health, yet alone touch it. I would live sober.

Living sober has not been easy. I have missed invites to best friends’ bachelorette parties and social gatherings, as well as been asked all kinds of intrusive questions, but what I have gained has amounted to so much: peace of mind, extra money in my savings account, greater mental health and freedom from what, for me, could have easily been an alcohol addiction.

Knowing alcoholism runs deep in my blood, while also having a mental health challenge, I have come to wholeheartedly treasure my sobriety.

Here are a few things I wish more people knew about those living with and fighting for sobriety:

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Sobriety should be celebrated, not looked down upon.

People who are choosing to live sober are brave and courageous. Alcohol addiction is no easy feat. There aren’t enough safe spaces in our culture today for people who choose not to drink alcohol, so be encouraging of those you meet who have made the commitment not to. Tell them you are proud of them and are in their court should they ever need support.

Think twice before you ask someone why they’re not drinking.

Please know that it is a deeply personal question to ask someone why they aren’t drinking. There are many reasons why someone may be abstaining from alcohol. Instead of interrogating someone on why they aren’t drinking, take a moment to encourage them or instead ask a different question, such as, “What are you passionate about?”

Create safe places for people who are living sober.

If you’re throwing a party where alcohol will be present, it is kind and considerate to extend an invitation to your sober friend who may want to come. Rather than not inviting them, have a straightforward conversation stating how proud you are of their sobriety and share that you have gone out of your way to buy their favorite non-alcoholic beverage.

In short, be a cheerleader for your sober friend and support their brave decision to live sober and free.

The reality is alcohol can be lethal. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 15.1 million adults ages 18 and over had AUD or Alcohol Use Disorder. The effects of alcohol abuse can be devastating. An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

In my personal life, I have gained so much more than I have lost from not using alcohol. I whole-heartedly treasure my sobriety and consider it one of the best gifts I’ve been able to give myself mentally and physically.

How can you encourage a sober friend?

Images via Makayla Wagner

Allie is a writer, dreamer, and kooky surfer-girl/wannabe cowgirl who lives in North Santa Barbara County. She serves as the Founder and Director of Wonderfully Made, a non-profit dedicated to helping young women know their value and worth.

25 COMMENTS
  • Peri Hall April 28, 2017

    Wow! It is so refreshing to see a variety of people choosing this lifestyle. I often feel very alone! I have never questioned my decision to not drink, and I know it is the right one for me. I grew up enjoying the many blessings of an alcohol-free environment and hope that more people see this as a viable option for their lives. It shouldn’t make you an outcast. It SHOULD be celebrated!

  • Colleen Sims April 18, 2017

    I don’t know if this makes sense to anyone else but I never use the word sober. I feel like it immediately puts a specific picture in people’s heads. It’s a label. I’m not sober but I don’t drink alcohol just like I don’t eat bread. Lol

  • Michelle April 17, 2017

    As someone who chose to be straight edge in my teens, I find it amazing that people still think that not drinking is something bad. Now in my mid-thirties, people still question me for not drinking, and I’ve had dates where it offended the guy that I wouldn’t drink. It’s also amazing how many bars or parties I go to and have the bartender give me a dirty look for ordering a soda. Consuming alcohol should not be an assumed part of being an adult woman.

  • Alyssa J Freitas April 6, 2017

    I’m also living a sober life for a variety of reasons, and have actually never had a sip of alcohol in my life. People are often curious or look at me in disbelief, but I am confident in my choice and for me it is a subject I am comfortable talking about, to a point. It surprised me to learn that you and others from the comments are excluded from social events on the basis of being sober…luckily I have never experienced that and have had many fun times with my friends while they are drinking and I am not.
    Best of luck to everyone choosing to live sober and know that if this is the right choice for you at this time you can do it!

    • Allie Marie Smith April 7, 2017

      Thanks Alyssa for sharing and for reading! I am glad living sober has been such a positive experience for you!

  • Courtney April 3, 2017

    Wow thank you sooo much for sharing this! I actually just made the decision to live sober a couple of days ago and I’ve been feeling really nervous knowing that I’m taking on such a big challenge. But once I came to the realization that this is the best path for me, I felt such a sense of contentment and peace that has helped me understand that this really is the best way forward for me.

    I think my biggest fear is exactly what you have expressed in this article, people’s lack of understanding. I hate that sobriety is still seen as a sign of weakness, instead of one full of courage. I think I just need to find the best way to politely tell people that I don’t want to discuss the reasons as to why I’m sober and hopefully with time everyone will just accept it because I don’t want it to be the only aspect of my life that people focus on.

    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you again for this article. It really feels like I was meant to see this right now and I’m very grateful that I have. It’s a good reminder that I’m not alone on this journey.

    • Allie Marie Smith April 5, 2017

      Courtney, I am so excited for and proud of you. That is an amazing decision you’ve made and one you can be so proud of. Thanks for reading and sharing a bit of your journey.

  • Anonymous April 1, 2017

    Thank you so much for posting this! I quite drinking about 12 years ago and haven’t looked back until yesterday. Our company had a ‘voluntary retirement offering’ for about 2,000 people and one of my dear friends who was leaving had a party in the field across from our office at the end of the work day. By the time I arrived, the 10 people who were there were into their third bottle of Woodford Reserve and my friend was insistent that I join the ‘fun.’ I grew weary and let them give me a tablespoon in a shot glass so my friend would let it go. I could completely understand if this was a group of 20-somethings, but seriously, these people were 45+. I’m not afraid of falling off the wagon over this, but it has been bothering me today. Not that I gave in, but that my co-workers were so damned put off by my wanting to stay sober. I think people do this because it makes them uncomfortable…

    • Allie Marie Smith April 5, 2017

      That must have been so frustrating and disappointing. I’m so sorry. You are brave and courageous for living sober!

  • lynn perrault April 1, 2017

    Thank you for this article, living sober is not for sissies. I started my journey almost 20 years ago, and having depression and anxiety made my commitment fall apart a number of times. It wasn’t only the mental issues I was battling, I found not drinking to be somewhat unacceptable to many people. I so wanted to be “normal”. I now have four years of sobriety, and this is an awesome ride. I love myself and my life. To anyone trying to live life alcohol free, kudos to you. It is truly a battle worth winning.

  • Ella April 1, 2017

    This is so beautiful! Thank you so much for sharing. I am currently working towards cutting out alcohol from my life, as I realized that it was causing me to make decisions that were slowly wearing down my happiness. It’s so encouraging to hear other people’s journeys and how their life is sober. It’s a beautiful moment to realize that by cutting something so simple, but so addictive, can bring so much peace to your life. I am an artist, and contrary to what some artists claim, I see so much more from life when I am sober. I can really understand the world for what it really is, and not through a blurred lens. THANK YOU! <3

    • Allie Marie Smith April 5, 2017

      Wow, Ella, thank you for sharing. I am so glad my article was an encouragement to you. Likewise, it is inspiring to hear your sotry as well.

  • Marcela March 31, 2017

    Wow. I acknowledge you for making this self-honoring choice and for sharing your experience, it is inspiring! I loved your article.

  • Amy March 31, 2017

    Thank you so much for sharing! I have a sober friend and wondered how to be supportive without being intrusive, and took away from your article that like other life challenges, a little encouragement, inclusion, and respect for privacy goes a long way. Thank you for helping me be courageous in reaching out to my friend without letting my fear of not “knowing how to act” get in the way.

    • Allie Marie Smith April 5, 2017

      Thanks Amy for reading, means a lot and your desire to be en encouragement to your sober friend is admirable.

  • Rachel March 31, 2017

    Thank you for showing up and telling your story. You are not alone in that.

    Cheers to wellness!

  • Anonymous March 31, 2017

    My family has a past with drinking problems, and for a long time I totally abstained. Once I turned 21 I started drinking more, and while I’m not terrible to handle when I drink, I’ve had my fair share of nights where I was throwing up from alcohol poisoning. I would even drink heavily on the weeknights and go into work hungover or call in sick. A couple months ago I had a night where I was hanging with some friends at my place and I had a whole bottle of wine to myself (which sounds like a lot, but I pace it so I get buzzed and not hammered) and a beer. My friends left (sober enough to leave of course) and I was just going to stay at my house and let the mild drunkenness wear off before I went to bed, but then my friend text me to go out with her and some other friends. I told her I was too drunk to drive, so one of our other friends (who was sober of course) came and picked me up. We went to one bar and I had one more drink, then we went to another and I figured “What’s two more beers?” When I got home that night (dropped off by a sober friend, I want to stress that I would never drink and drive) I remember I got incredibly sick in my bathroom, and next thing I knew I was on my bed and it was 8 o clock in the morning. That was the first time I had ever blacked out from drinking. From that point I promised myself I would never get that drunk again. I still drink, but I practice self control and tell myself I’m not allowed to get so drunk that I will go to bed drunk.

    • Allie Marie Smith March 31, 2017

      Wow, thank you for sharing your story. Keep fighting for personal wellness. Blessings!

    • Allie Marie Smith April 5, 2017

      Thank you so much for so vulnerably sharing your story. I wish you the best on your journey towards greater sobriety.

  • I don’t understand how sobriety is looked down upon. Are there still people who do that? Like, seriously, are we back to high school? I personally don’t drink alcohol – I never had a problem, I just never liked the taste of it. I don’t care if I look strange when I go to bars. I still order my hot peppermint teas. 🙂

    Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
    http://charmainenyw.com

    • Allie Marie Smith March 31, 2017

      Thanks Charmaine for sharing your perspective and for reading.

    • Ida Duplechin April 3, 2017

      I grew up in an alcohol-free environment. It was just the way we lived. My grandfather’s example was/is so strong that at least 2 family reunions I attended(after his death) twenty years apart were alcohol-free in the building. If someone wanted a beer from a cousin-in-law, they had to walk out to the country road to fish one out of a hidden cooler. It was and still remains a shock to me that people find being drunk socially required.

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