Last night I helped celebrate another friend's 40th birthday at a courtyard party in town. It was the first big social occasion since I shared my post New Year's blog on my Facebook page - revealing my new sober lifestyle for the first time to my wider circle.
Amplifying my discomfort was having to attend solo - my wife kept home with a sore throat. I ordered a cranberry and lime soda and lingered awkwardly at the edge of a couple of groups' conversations till more people arrived. I soon mixed in and began to relax.
The questions I asked myself in the hours before the party were:
1. Would having revealed my sober stance/lifestyle to the masses make me feel self conscious and awkward?
2. Would it become the object of lengthy and tiring conversation - having to justify/explain throughout the night why I had to take such a drastic step?
3. Would my drinking friends feel like I was criticising them?
The hardest thing about answering questions about my sobriety is the fine line I have to walk between describing the benefits without coming across as criticising the other person, or their choice to drink. It's hard having to walk this line when what I really want to shout to as many people as possible is:
"I've never been so happy, healthy, fulfilled, productive, settled, confident, socially at ease, and self assured as I have been since I quit this evil poison. Giving up alcohol is, hands down, the best decision of my life and I feel like I've saved myself a considerable amount of future misery and anguish. I can't recommend the sober life enough!"
To aid the mental shifts you make when giving up a vice such as alcohol, I've found it necessary to adopt a fairly negative attitude towards every aspect of alcohol. But I've consciously not adopted the same negative attitude towards people who drink. That is their personal decision. It's none of my business. My wife still enjoys drinking wine, as do most of the people I know. I can hate the game but still love the players right?
Did I get asked about my sober life last night? Absolutely, but it was fine. I actually enjoyed talking about it, and it didn't dominate the night. The theme of the night was great conversation with lovely friends, standing for a good deal of it beside a toasty outdoor gas fire. Our discussions about drinking alcohol, quitting alcohol, and the role of booze in all of our lives were funny, serious, and mature. What I am finding is that many of my friends are changing the way they drink as they move towards their 40s, totally independantly of my decisions around it.
Since I shared the New Year's post several friends sent messages that they too had quit alcohol (one friend has been three years' sober) and had enjoyed similar improvements in their lives.
So, it seems I have company!
I also know that my friends remain my friends regardless of our respective stances on alcohol. We often build these things up into major issues in our mind when most people care little about it, other than the odd passing observance. Many don't even notice.
Last night, I chatted to the stragglers outside as the party venue was locked around us then drove a car-load of the happy revellers home towards the dark outskirts of Christchurch.
Being defined by my sobriety is no longer something that bothers me.