How to Find Sober Joy in a Post-Pandemic World

By: Tracy Brown Hamilton, Contributor

I stopped drinking during lockdown for several reasons. I’d wanted to change my drinking habits for a while, but facing a global pandemic and an indefinite stretch of time in my home with my husband and three children was the catalyst I needed to stop.

Not drinking was easy to do since I was tucked away with no triggers or temptations. I had intended to make this change only for the duration of the pandemic, but to my surprise, I’ve really enjoyed not drinking. Now it’s time to test the strength of this shift in a newly reopened society. 

If you’ve quit drinking during the pandemic or are thinking about quitting drinking as the world reopens, the end of lockdown means anticipating new challenges and possibly learning some new behaviors as far as how you celebrate, unwind, or have fun. You may find new routines regarding who you spend time with and where.

I talked with Michelle Hominick Anderson, a clinical social worker based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, for tips on forging new paths to happiness while sober in a post-pandemic world.

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I’m not sure how my friends will react when they know I’m not drinking. What if they can’t support me? 

“We feel happy when we are contributing to our social group, or being social. I think the isolation of lockdown has been a real test for all of us. 

Without using substances, you can still be fun at a party. You can still have a conversation. But, one of the main reasons people don’t stop using their drug of choice is that most of their social network revolves around the use of that drug. 

And so even if you’re afraid of being lonely, you have to take a really good, long look at who it is you are choosing to socialize with. Who are the people who are down for your change? If you decide to stop using a substance, who’s going to still be there for you?”

How can I expand my social circle and meet new friends—particularly post-lockdown and newly sober? I’m feeling unsure. 

“We were all pretty good at making friends when we were kids, but as we get older it can become really challenging. Look for people who are close by or have similar ideas and attitudes. Who do you work with, what groups are you a part of? Meet people that have also struggled with addiction and are on the road to recovery. You can support each other. 

Brush up on your conversation skills. Don’t underestimate the impact of small talk when trying to make friends. Google conversation starters. But be really careful about boundaries. Not everybody deserves to know your story. Don’t be vulnerable before you know somebody is safe.” 

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How should I handle others pressuring me about my choice not to drink?

“Honor what is going on in your experience. Honor it if you need to leave a situation if you need to say no. You’re not doing yourself any favors by turning yourself inside out to please another person. If this person doesn’t understand that you can’t do this, right now or ever again, that’s not a person who deserves a space close to your heart. 

Be proud of your changes. Feel happy about them. There’s this stigma that creates shame when it comes to substance use, but stopping is something you should be screaming from the rooftops that you were able to accomplish. You shouldn’t have to make excuses and you should be able to say no without a soliloquy. Avoid the urge to defend your position. You don’t need to. You don’t owe anybody any rationale for what you are or are not doing.” 

I still get urges to drink. How can I keep from caving? 

“That’s actually our brain trying to save us. It senses something to fear, and we get an urge to do something. But those impulsive urges are usually short-term, so that’s when you can step back and say, my brain is telling me to do this, but does that make sense? 

Do a lot of checking in with yourself when you’re in a situation where you feel an urge to drink, and always keep a long-term perspective—to do what serves you best long-term. Exercise is a great skill to employ here. Exercise restores balance and, done regularly, is actually an antidepressant. 

If your brain is giving you an urge to drink, it’s because there’s some soothing that needs to happen. Do you need a hug? A nap? A snack? Your brain is saying you need something. Learn to take that urge as a sign you are in deficit in some way.” 

I used to drink to improve my mood. What are some other strategies I can use instead?

“Substances are a very creative, albeit harmful, way to cope with dysregulated emotions. Try replacing that with self-compassion. Try a loving-kindness meditation, or keep a self-gratitude journal

Every time you do something nice for yourself, you communicate to your brain that you are worth it. And when we think we are worth it, we are more likely to make good choices. So, when tempted to have a drink, you’ll be able to step back and understand that’s a bad idea long-term, and that’s easier to do when you like yourself.

Be kind to yourself. We want to do our best every day, and we put pressure on ourselves to do so. But ‘best’ is a moving target. It’s different every day. Honor your experience and your emotions and tell yourself, ‘this is what I can do today, and this is going to have to be good enough.” 

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The pandemic gave us all a rare chance to sit uninterrupted and get in touch with ourselves. This can be harder as life reboots and gets more hectic. But remember to stay committed to your goal and keep thinking long-term—you’ve got this. 

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About the author: Tracy Brown Hamilton is an Irish/American editor, writer, and journalist living in the Netherlands. She has written about such topics as parenting, education, health, politics, and women's issues for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Bitch Magazine, HuffPost, and Salon, among other outlets.

Tempest is a digital recovery program that empowers you to quit drinking and live alcohol-free.