This article is not meant to diagnose or provide medical advice—that responsibility lies with physicians. The author is not a licensed medical professional.
Addiction is an issue that impacts almost everyone in some way. I’ve been in recovery from alcoholism/addiction since January 2008. During that time, I’ve gone through ups and downs but have fortunately managed to stay sober. I’ll be answering a reader-submitted question about recovery every other week (information on how to submit below). I’m not an expert or mental health professional, just a sober person offering advice based on my experience and the research that’s available. This week, I’m talking about getting comfortable with the social changes that happen after getting sober. Sure, you can have fun in sobriety, but what happens when your concept of fun changes?
Two weeks ago, I completed a 28-day inpatient treatment program. I’ve accepted that I am an alcoholic and I’ve found a meeting that I enjoy attending. My friends and family are very supportive of my getting sober and have been great about inviting me out to do non-drinking related things. I used to be very social, but I’m just not feeling that excited about going out anymore (and when I do go out, I feel weirdly on edge). Is this something I am going to get over or is it just part of being sober?
Congratulations on your sobriety. Nothing is easy when you first get out of treatment and it’s great that you’ve found a recovery group that you feel comfortable in. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this, so well done on setting up this foundation for yourself.
The whole “being social in sobriety” thing can be complicated but before we get into that, I want to say something that might sound condescending but is also true: early sobriety is bananas. Engaging with the world as a newly sober person is exciting, confusing, terrifying and any other adverb you can think of, all at the same time. You won’t always feel as though you’ve wandered through the looking glass, but if you are feeling that way, it’s to be expected. It’s also why it’s so good that you have a recovery support group with whom you can commiserate about this process. Studies show that having social support in recovery increases the likelihood of a person staying sober. The key word, however, is support. Social connection is primarily valuable when the social group is supportive of your recovery.
There are myriad things people mean when they say “going out” or being social, but for folks in recovery, there are kind of two main categories: heavy drinking (or using) events and … everything else. The heavy drinking events are a good idea to avoid while you’re newly sober (think months, not weeks). Think of it like eating a bunch of day old fast food and then going on a massive rollercoaster: there’s a chance you’ll feel OK but you’re fairly likely to get sick. The longer you wait after the food before the roller-coaster, the better you’re going to handle swirling upside down. How long to wait is different for everyone but the longer you’re sober, the better sense you’ll have of if and when you’re ready for that.
It sounds like you’re asking about the “everything else” category (and it’s awesome that your friends have been suggesting activities in that category; not all friends do), and that’s a different issue than feeling triggered or tempted to drink/use. That is more about figuring out who you are as a sober person.
When I was drinking, pretty much the only thing that interested me was drinking. The more my alcoholism escalated, the more the things I was passionate about or interested in fell away. They got pushed further and further to the side until I forgot about them completely. Still, pre-sobriety, I considered myself an extrovert. (At least, until the very end when I just went full hermit). I got sober fairly young-at 23-and I wanted to prove to myself that not-drinking wouldn’t change everything about my life; I could still be a “normal” 20-something and do normal 20-something things (as long as they didn’t involve drinking). Some of my sober friends loved going to clubs in big groups of sober people, or having big house parties with sober friends. I tagged along a few times but it didn’t take long to realize that I just wasn’t that interested in what they were up to. I preferred hanging out with them in smaller groups. I didn’t really care where the biggest party was or which DJ was doing what where. I wasn’t sure what my social life in sobriety would look like, but it seemed clear that regular weekend late nights in a crowd of sweaty dancing people wasn’t going to be a big part of it.
A few months after I got sober, I started working at a public library. I’ve always been an avid reader but I had slowed in the last year of my addiction; my busy schedule of drinking alone in the closet simply didn’t allow time for reading. I was given the grand tour of the library, including the basement where old, weird, cool books are stored. As I browsed the shelves of books that were so uninteresting to most patrons they were relegated to the basement, I realized how nice it felt to have something non-drinking related that truly interested me. I wasn’t surprised by my book-nerdiness but I relished in how authentic it felt—this was something that I knew I truly enjoyed. It was one piece of the puzzle of figuring out who I really was as a sober person.
So my advice to you, Hermit, is simple: start figuring out the activities that interest you and explore them. Don’t worry about if these are solo activities or social ones, just find out what you enjoy. I know people who took up surfing, joined bands, went back to school, started podcasts and created intramural sports teams, all in sobriety. You got sober because you wanted a life different from the one you were living. You’ve taken the first step by getting sober, now you get to add a bunch of new elements into your life. Is there something you always wanted to try? Actually, let me rephrase: is there a non drug or alcohol related thing you’ve always wanted to try? Try it!
It’s very likely that when you do go out, you’ll start to feel less on edge the longer you’ve been sober. I’m nine years in and there are still some social things that make me uncomfortable. At the same time, I know people who are more social in sobriety than they ever were before. They’re no longer restricted by having to have a continuous stream of booze flowing down their throat, or worry about doing something they’ll regret in a blackout. Maybe you’ll be that super social sober person, maybe you’ll be more of a homebody a la yours truly. Most likely, you’ll oscillate somewhere on the spectrum between the two. Getting sober is an opportunity to reset your life, to go in new directions you never would have considered. Have fun—whatever sober fun looks like for you. Don’t worry about what it means for your social life—if you’re having a good time, the rest of the social stuff will fall into place.
Paste contributor Katie MacBride is a freelance writer and the associate editor of Anxy Magazine. Her work has appeared in Rolling Stone, New York Magazine and The Establishment. Every other week she will answer one recovery/addiction related question posed by our readers, based on her experience. Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org with Ask Katie in the subject. By emailing, you are agreeing to let Paste publish your email. Emails may be edited for length.