As someone who leans more toward introversion, I’ve always relied on alcohol to get me through awkward social situations, which means basically all situations.
Now that I’ve stopped drinking, it feels like a whole new world out there. Giving up alcohol reminds me of when I stopped smoking many years ago. Suddenly I had no idea what to do with my hands since they were no longer occupied by a cigarette. Giving up drinking is a little different though— rather than just my hands, I don’t know what to do with all of me.
For introverts, socializing is always tricky. And socializing after getting sober can be even more difficult since you are wading into new territory of having to possibly make things awkward with your non-drinking status. Plus, let’s face it, the pandemic lockdown has been a lot less stressful for those of us who consider ourselves introverts. But as the world reopens and we actually want to venture outside, we may not know how to approach reconnecting with the loved ones we haven’t seen in over a year.
And so, I reached out to some experts for advice on how to manage social situations and maintain sobriety as an introvert. Here are their tips.
Do you need support to make friends after getting sober?
Not just a newsletter. Join a community of 100,000+ building a life without alcohol. Plus, get a special discount towards membership.
1. Assess the situation.
Certain situations carry more inherent risk, said Dr. Jenepher Lennox Terrion, vice dean at the University of Ottawa and a professor of communication who specializes in substance use and treatment.
“Is drinking going to be the focus of the situation or is it going to be in the background? A bar is going to be different from a barbecue,” she said. “You have to think through where you are in your recovery and determine if this is going to be a good place for you.”
Lennox Terrion recommends asking yourself how risky the situation will be for your sobriety, examining the setting or context, and thinking about who you will be with. Then determine how safe it is for you to be there—in some cases, you might not want to go at all.
2. Make a plan.
Having a plan is essential, said Lennox Terrion. That includes planning in advance what you’re going to drink—maybe you’ll want to bring your own non-alcoholic alternative—or thinking about what you’ll order.
Basically, you want to avoid any surprises. As a person who has been known to order something I didn’t really want, simply because I was caught off guard at a restaurant, this very much resonates.
“If you haven’t made a plan, it’s harder to hold your resolve,” she said.
3. Words matter.
The fact that you’re not drinking doesn’t have to be anyone’s business but your own.
If you decide you do want to talk about it though, the way you approach the topic might organically lead to more conversation about it. It’s up to you to determine your comfort level with these discussions and whether or not you want to have them.
Something like "No thanks, I’m driving" will probably stop there, while "I’m re-evaluating my relationship with alcohol" will likely lead to more probing questions.
“There are so many ways to say you’re not drinking—you’re making healthier choices, you’re sober curious,” said Lennox Terrion. “But each of these does open a door, and you need to think ahead of time if it’s a door you’re willing to go through. Sometimes you might open up a conversation that you didn’t want to have.”
4. Evaluate your social group.
Your friendships are valuable, and you want to surround yourself with people who are going to support your sobriety in vulnerable times, not people who will endanger it. Be very honest with yourself about the people you’re hanging around.
“A lot of introverts use alcohol to socialize and loosen up, and their friends know that,” said Dr. Tarra Bates-Duford, a licensed family and marriage counselor and the founder of Family Matters Counseling Group in Raleigh, N.C., and Orlando, Fla. “So if you have friends who drink to have fun, and they know drinking is part of your socialization process, is it a good idea to be spending time with them right now?”
5. Find a buddy.
Once you’ve assessed your friendships, find a trusted buddy who will act as your wing person as you navigate these spaces. Kind of like an accountability buddy for exercise, but someone who is going to keep you on the sobriety path you want to be on.
“Pair up with another introvert or someone who might be an extrovert that you trust,” said Bates-Duford. “Be honest with them and say, ‘I’m working toward my sobriety. I know I’m going to be tempted, and I want you to hold me accountable. If someone offers me something, I want you to be that support for me.’”
6. Trust your feelings.
Introverts excel at evaluating their own emotions, said Bates-Duford. When you’re in social situations and feel tempted or tested, examine your feelings.
“Try to tease out why you’re contemplating that drink,” she said. “Are you trying to connect with others? Or are you doing this for yourself? What makes you think you can’t connect any other way? Is there any other road to that destination?”
More than just examining your feelings, be willing to honor them as well. If you’re seeking connection, figure out how you can find it without the crutch of alcohol (which won’t actually give you that real connection anyway). If you’re feeling completely off in a social situation, do you need to leave?
When a situation becomes too much of a threat to your sobriety, leave.
“If you can’t remove the alcohol, then remove yourself,” said Bates-Duford.
When you honor your feelings you learn to trust yourself, which strengthens your resolve to remain alcohol-free.
* * *
All of this sounds a bit daunting at first. But the goal—especially for the newly sober and the sober-curious—is to assess the situation, acknowledge your triggers, and do whatever it takes to preserve your wellbeing. Ultimately, these strategies will make going out easier and more fun and far less stressful. It just takes practice.
- How to Stop Drinking Wine in the Evening
- I Quit Drinking During the Pandemic. Now What?
- How to Build a Support System in Addiction Recovery
About the Author: Maggie Downs is an award-winning writer based in Palm Springs, California. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Palm Springs Life, and McSweeney's, and has been anthologized in Lonely Planet's True Stories From the World's Best Writers and Best Women's Travel Writing.