Friday, May 02, 2008

The Stigma of Being Sober.

The following are actual snippets over the last six years from people reacting to the fact that I don't drink:

"Are you boring?"

"When are you due?" (I'm not)

"I can't BELIEVE you don't drink, what's wrong with you?"

"I'm sorry"

"So, when do you think you'll drink again?"

"That sucks....." (said person ignoring me for the rest of the evening)

"Come on, you don't have a problem"

"Wow, you must hate your life"

In the last six and a half years, because of my decision to be sober...and publicly sober, I have had the interesting experience of mentally collecting people's reactions to my recovery. And in doing so, I have become too aware of how people react when I tell them I don't drink.

When I first became sober, I was twenty seven. In the world today, particularly in our society, there are not many twenty seven year old women who can manage sobriety and being social without feeling the wrath of discrimination. Even twenty something starlets have a difficult time in the celebrity obsessed media realm handling their own recovery. At that age, it was difficult. I was newly single after my divorce. I wanted to maintain my social life, but being sober was my first priority. To do this successfully, I cut out many of the old haunts and the majority of my toxic friends. Even still, I found there to be a great stigma suddenly attached to who I was.

People wanted to know what made me like this. What possibly could have happened to me to cause such a drastic change in my life. Had I gotten a disease? There were times I flat out lied....."I'm training for something" or "I am taking a break". It was as if there needed to be a horrible, melodramatic explanation to cause me to cease a life of total irresponsibility.

There were some people, and still are, that would look at me sideways. I have gotten high fives to looks of disgust. I have had to answer questions, tell my life story, dodge out of places and look to other people for conversation. "Oh, you must have had a difficult childhood" or "You graduated from college and are an alcoholic?" I cannot tell you some of the crazy questions and perceptions that I have gathered over the years. It blows my mind.

Six years later, aside from battling the fact that every day of my life I would like to drink, I battle my own insecurities about being sober with the perception that others have of my choice. It's no longer as easy as early sobriety because I am fully integrated back into my life. I work in the advertising industry, with all its bells and whistles. I travel to hotels with mini-bars (I call and have it restocked with Diet Coke). I allow myself to go out where alcohol is served. I date men that drink normally. These are all choices that I have made to allow myself the freedom of living responsibly in the life that I want.

And with this, I live with discrimination every day. There are still parties that I am not invited to for fear that I may relapse (I don't plan on it, but telling that to some bigwig throwing a high end party doesn't work). I find that it has become my task to ensure that other people are comfortable with my decision at times.

In all of this turmoil, however, there is a drive that being sober has instilled within my core being. I am public about being sober and this works for me. I am convinced that I can change the perceptions of the people I meet. And I am determined to exist in this very hyped drinking world and remain a pillar in my own recovery beliefs.

It's not a stigma. If something doesn't work in life, one generally tries to fix it. Same with being an alcoholic. I was a broken, shattered twenty seven year old woman that would have either lost all my marbles or died if I didn't change the variables. So, I became the proverbial tool girl and gave myself the resources and strength I needed to stop.

While I live with all the conversations, perceptions and stigmas, I knowthat I am the only one who is responsible for my happiness. And to be happy, I cannot drink. I believe that being sober is a great existence. The self awareness and love for my life overcome most of the difficulties associated with being sober. The people I've met on my recovery journey are some of the most creative, articulate, passionate and successful people in the world.

And the resources and publicity that surround recovery, if it keeps gaining more respect to be sober, will overcome the negativity that people associate with the choice to be sober. At some point, I am hopeful and optimistic, being sober will be viewed by those people who still drink, as simply a good, healthy choice.

If not, I will personally continue to crusade the fact that recovery is amazing and very very cool. And I will continue to listen to the ridiculous reactions from people in hopes of compiling one of the funniest anecdotal books ever. And when I make my first million off of it, I will laugh.


Anonymous said...

I really liked this. I'm drunk right now and as a person looking towards recovery found this to be a very helpful statement towards the positivity of sobriety. Thanks a lot! I hope everything goes well for you, that you can recover from your divorce and move on with your life in the velocity you seem to have acquired in past years. I hope you stay sober and keep those negative social climbers out of your consciousness and continue to focus on the positivity and maturity of a life dictated by sobriety.

Addie Ludwig

Jane said...

You know what my favorite is? "You don't drink? GOD that must be so boring! C'mon. You know THAT sucks."

I don't have any idea why people feel the need to tell me their opinions about MY LIFE.

Doc's Girl said...

I hear a lot of weird comments from people, too... The ones I find really interesting are when people respond with, "wow, that must have been very difficult." I have a tendency to get the "good girl" response in that people think that I've never touched a drop of alocohol. Ah, well, whatever works for THEM.

I remember one of the chemical dependency technicians telling me 2 years ago, "Avi, remember that you are an alcoholic and as long as you stay sober, that will be an abnormal thing to do since we are programmed to drink." He told me this to make me comfortable in my new skin...which, every now and then, seems a bit weird, but in a good way. :-P

The Sober Alcoholic Soldier said...

Hello, I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading your blog. am new to sobriety, 30 days on thurs, and I am still adjusting to it. And I have been wondering what it is going to be like the first time that I see my two best friends, and what thier reaction is going to be. But by reading your blog it has given me some insight, and I think that if thier reaction's are negative, maybe I will have to revaluate the strength of our friendship. Anyway, have a great day and take care.

Rich Schmidt said...

Fabulous post. Someone linked to this post in particular, so it's the first I've read. Congratulations on 6+ years of sobriety! And thanks for helping all of us think twice before opening our big mouths and saying the kind of thing you might post about here! :)

Anonymous said...

I just stumbled onto this. I laughed, I cried.

I stand in awe of you.

I pray for God to continue to daily give you strength on your journey.

Grace & Peace


c said...

Great post. Your writing is very real and insightful.
I can relate to your experiences. I also work in advertising/sales and spend a great deal of time travelling and entertaining and get many funny looks from colleagues and customers when i order a Diet Coke or Peligrino (especially because i had spent the past 9 years drinking with these people).
The fact is you can manage a career and sobriety and I too do not try to hide my sobriety most of the time...I also try not to judge those who find my sobriety odd or threatening because I know I was the same way when I was drinking and encountered someone who didn't drink.

I thank you for your blog and it has imspired me to start writing in mine again (



Anonymous said...

What a terrible indictment of our society that someone who chooses to stay healthy and sober is effectively persecuted.

I'm a 47 year old alcoholic, struggling towards recovery. I wish to God I'd never touched the stuff. I wouldn't have liver, kidney and blood pressure problems. I wouldn't be so overweight. I was top of my class all through school and university. I could really have done something with my life. Instead I'm burdened with unbearable depression at the golden opportunities that I've squandered in the dirt.

Ignore the fools who ignore the lesson of people like me. You will live a longer, healthier and more fulfilling life than I ever did. If hearing something like this gives you just one more day of courage, then maybe it won't all have been in vain after all.

Shay said...

"It was as if there needed to be a horrible, melodramatic explanation to cause me to cease a life of total irresponsibility."
I can very much relate to that statement, and I had to chuckle at some of the things people have said to you -- I have my own list as well. Thanks for an excellent read. It's nice to hear from another alcoholic who got sober at the same age that I did. :)

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an insightful post, I loved reading it. I've been sober myself for close to 6 months and have encountered some of the same comments which you have received yourself. Luckily, my close friends either hate drinking or rarely, rarely drink, so I'm very fortunate in that regard. Its still hard for me to go out with people who drink though. I throw back like 15 Diet Cokes and smoke countless cigarettes to compensate for the lack of alcohol and it feels like I'm the odd man standing out, like a sideshow attraction or something. However, I have HUGE respect for everyone who chooses to live their lives sans alcohol. Alcohol may satisfy a moment of stress, relieve some tension, or be a quick escape, but its consequences are twice as vicious as the pseudo-positiveness that comes from it.

Anonymous said...

Your blog made my day, I have been down in the dumps about my choice to be sober. I often forget this is something I want and enjoy because I have dealt with a lot of pressure from friends, and in addition to that have had trouble being in social situations where there's a lot of drinking. It makes me angry to see friends that have as much (or worse) of a problem as I had with alcohol. I am going to visit your site for encouragement in lieu of the immediate support I wish I had from friends. Thank you for giving me hope!

Anonymous said...

Good for you to give voice to this. I have been sober for three years and still people are asking me when I am going to be ready to go out and have a beer again!! Or else I am boring now, or "oh you are so pious". Like I am someone different because I choose to be sober and the best person I can be. I have found a lot of people are extremely uncomfortable with it. Their issues, not ours. THanks again

Anonymous said...

4 years sober... And happy for the most part... My wife still drinks and we've moved into a new neighborhood... Beuatiful house etc, etc, etc... One of the many benifits of sobriety... However, all the neighbors drink like it was a college party and my wife sometimes gets swept up in the frey... I get so wraped up and contracted with all of this... Afraid she'll do something stupid, or find one of the 'normal' guys more attractive, fun and easy going... I know I'm torturing myself... But I find I'm tight as a drum anytime she mentions a neighborhood get-together, birthday party or whatever... Anyone else feel this way??

Anonymous said...

The stigma of being sober....a nice place to be in my opinion. Better than the stigma of addiction that's for sure.

I enjoyed reading this, and the comments as well. It must be challenging being in social environments where alcohol is present for someone who is in recovery. Hopefully, it gets easier over time as each person develops better ways to cope with other people's reactions. It is a shame that people don't keep more of their thoughts to themselves though. Especially, when common sense should tell them their comment isn't helpful.

In situations where you are not obligated to be present, I would think it would just be better to not be there. Making choices for your own comfort just may involve avoiding some situations/social events. Not always possible I know, but probably a good way to choose what's best for you personally.

Best wishes everyone in your work to be sober from alcohol and other drugs. For those in recovery...many blessing await you. Kudos.

Lynda Halliger Otvos (Lynda M O) said...

I was nearly 27 when I got sober too. I am so proud of you for this decision and the strength to keep it in front of you for six years. Just found your blog-will subscribe.

Donnie Benson said...

If people are criticizing you for being sober and staying away from the bottle, that just means you're doing the right thing. After all, only dead fish swim with the current, right? I take my hat off to you. It's difficult to face criticism like that and not react negatively, or come back with a snappy reply. But if you are sure with yourself and your decision, that inner peace and contentment of knowing that you're doing what makes you happy is sufficient in itself.

Donnie Benson @ Midwest Institute for Addiction