Being An Alcoholic In The Age of “New Sobriety”

I recently read the somewhat controversial New York Times piece called “The New Sobriety” and my head started to spin a little. On the one hand, I love seeing people grab onto the idea that you don’t have to get shit-faced to have a good time.

That feels like progress.

I’m also a firm believer that for many people (hopefully), cutting WAY back on drinking is not only good, but a realistic way to take their life in a healthier direction.

HOWEVER.

I worry.

I worry about the impact this “trend” is having on people who cannot cut back. The folks for whom abstinence from alcohol is the only solution.

I worry because I was EXACTLY the kind of person who would’ve seen this article and said, “hell yah!”

When I was an alcohol addicted mess, I hopped onto every moving health trend with comical consistency.

Green juice? You got it. Affirmations? For sure. Purchased A Course in Miracles and actually attempted to work through it? Definitely!

None of it made me better because it didn’t address the actual problem: I drank too much and didn’t know how to stop.

But I didn’t want to admit that. And in not wanting to admit that, I would’ve seen ‘The New Sobriety” where you could call yourself “sober” and still drink a little as right up my alley.

I get to be on trend AND still drink a little? SCORE!

When addiction collides with the sober curious…

Here’s how it would’ve gone.

I would vibe off the adrenaline of the latest bandwagon thing to do in NYC and go to one of these booze-free bars and graciously hand over $20 for an overly complicated fruit drink.

I’d probably join some online groups or follow whatever blogger was spear-heading the “sober curious” trend at the time. And I’d MAYBE do well for a week or two.

But then, on one of my “mindful drinking” expeditions, I’d get the bright idea to keep going. Because in my mind, I now had the problem solved.

I mean, look!

There are all these bright, shiny people out there who decided they didn’t want to get drunk anymore so they were magically going to only drink here or there. And they were cool. In control. Everything I wanted to be.

So why not me too?

Well, my dear (talking to myself here), because you’re not.

See that “mindful drinking” experiment would fail every time. I know this because I tried it long before this whole “new sobriety’ thing became, well, a thing.

And you know what happened? I binged. Hard. For months.

Then I’d get trapped in a shame spiral so deep that the only way to manage (in my mind at least) was to drink it away. Same as I’d always done.

And I carried on this way for years until I finally gave up the fight and admitted that I had a problem that could only be solved by not drinking alcohol (and therapy).

I love the buzz around sobriety, don’t get me wrong…

I see the advantages of a so-called “sober curious” movement. In theory, anyways.

They’re important because they help normalize sobriety. They start to reframe the discussion around alcohol and what it means to have fun. The stigma crumbles just a little.

But, while the New Age, free-wheeling, no rules approach to kind-of-sort-of-mostly sober living might work for some, it can be a recipe for disaster for others.

To the credit of the majority of programs/websites listed in the Times piece, I think the creator’s of these spaces are fully aware of that.

They all openly admit that they are supplemental to traditional programs. And the vast majority promote sobriety in its most understood form — no drinking.

Had they existed 6 or 7 years ago, I might’ve given them a shot because it appealed to my holistic tendencies at the time. Even if they didn’t “work” I want to believe they would’ve helped.

But there’s another part of me that knows I gravitated towards the more holistic, life coachy side of wellness because the world of therapy and AA and medication felt too real. It placed me in a bucket I didn’t want to be in.

And also, AA scared the shit out of me.

Nobody wants to be an alcoholic or even use the word, frankly. But sometimes you gotta call a spade a spade. Or don’t, but continue to get help anyway.

Here’s the but…

Resisting reality and seeking alternative solutions vis a vis the holistic world is what got me into so much trouble in the first place.

That’s my responsibility, by the way. I’m not blaming the industry.

But I can’t be the only one who would be susceptible to seeing “the new sobriety” trend and use it as a way to avoid the darker, uglier roots of their drinking. Or downplay its severity.

Here’s where things get weird for me.

How are we framing the discussion in ways that ensures “gray area” drinkers find the support they need while alcoholics (for lack of a better word) are not getting pushed out of their own neighborhood?

Because for many of us, seeing the word “sober” attached to mythical moderate drinking and all this disruption into sober spaces is kind of jarring. It’s definitely disorienting.

And for those who are struggling with alcohol abuse? Potentially harmful.

The Curious World Of Sober Facebook Groups

You’ve got people flooding online sober spaces and shouting down one another over new school vs old school recovery arguments that feel very, very stupid.

Then there are the hangers-on. The people for whom sobriety is the cause-du-jour.

These are the folks who hear the message “There’s no such thing as an alcoholic” and ignore the context in which it was said. They join online sobriety groups but continue to drink. And they will NOT shut up about it.

They start fights with people in Facebook group threads about who gets to define sobriety.

I left a group because an administrator jumped down a woman’s throat for saying that she had been sober for seven years and joined this group for support to maintain her sobriety. So when folks post comments to brag about only having two drinks at such and such event, it was triggering to her. This was meant to be a sobriety group, after all.

The fireworks that ensued on that thread!

Full-blown diatribe by the group admin about how the recovery community doesn’t get to lay claim to the word “sobriety” and people are free to define sobriety in whatever terms they want.

In poured the comments of support, railing against the “recovery” folks or the “AA crowd.”

I watched this unfold and thought, wow, really?

You can’t sit with us! Or something…

As the “sobriety as health trend” movement continues, I notice more of these intrusions into traditionally sober spaces and it makes my head spin.

It’s like those viral videos you see of vegans walking into restaurants and awkwardly taking a stand against consuming animal products while people eat their dinner.

Why are you here?

Stop trying to sprinkle fairy dust in online sobriety groups because you read a blog post somewhere and think you’ve unlocked the great mystery of moderate drinking.

You think we haven’t already tried EVERY trick in the book?

Darling, we are experts.

Rest assured that conversation will loop around to the debates over inclusivity and exclusivity. With that, I take issue.

I’m not being exclusive by thinking people who still drink shouldn’t post about it in online sober groups. Be in the group! Please, you are most welcomed.

But don’t promote drinking in it.

Why is this controversial?

Navigating this new sober landscape

And that is the unfortunate, unintended consequence of “new sobriety.”

It somehow becomes diluted. In changing the way we talk about alcohol abuse, addiction, and recovery, we’ve unleashed an obnoxious army of know-it-alls who are having very pointless fights about what it means to be sober and who gets to use the word

Don’t get me wrong. It can go the other way as well.

There are the old heads in these groups who think The Big Book is actually Bible truth and aren’t very open to hearing people out who don’t have luck with AA.

Some folks are stubborn that way.

It’s also why I don’t promote any one method of recovery on my own site.

The newer approaches to recovery — SMART Recovery, Refuge Recovery, She Recovers — they’re brilliant. There’s no right way to get sober. If it works for you, do it!

I also fully embrace the initiatives of super smart women tackling the much larger swath of the population who would be classified as gray area drinkers — not moderate but maybe not full blown alcoholics either.

All of these groups in tandem with the more traditional channels are having a net positive impact on the world right now.

Sobriety to an alcoholic…

We need to approach the offshoots and emerging conversation around alcohol abuse and sobriety with healthy skepticism.

I’m of the belief that sobriety means not drinking. Period.

I have nothing against those who do drink or the unicorns who managed to go from binge drinking to one glass of wine every week or two. Good on you!

But this disease/problem/addiction is serious. It takes people out. It’s not something to be trifled with. I’m glad I learned that before it destroyed my life completely.

I fully support whatever works for the individual.

For many of us, however, sobriety is not a trend. It’s not celery juice. It’s like insulin to a diabetic. We need it to survive.

And that’s what I hope everyone keeps in mind as this movement continues to evolve and grow. Say alcoholic or don’t. The vocabulary doesn’t matter. There are no hard and fast rules, besides don’t drink.

When something becomes “trendy,” it tends to lose its teeth. I don’t want to see that happen with sobriety. Yes, it’s a fun, sexy, healthy, fantastic way to live. I invite all of you into our beautiful, sober universe.

But take it seriously. It is life or death for thousands (millions?) of people.

Let’s maintain that perspective.

And if you’re sober curious but still drink (please invent a new word), stop shitting rainbows in sober spaces. You are guests here.

Alicia is a full-time writer and blogger. Her website, Soberish, focuses on recovery, mental health, and wellness. Read more at https://soberish.co

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