Being sober or having sober friends in 2022 is no longer uncommon or surprising. There are lots of reasons why people choose to be sober. While addiction is the big one, pregnancy, fitness, taking medication, mental health, or simply being the designated driver are other reasons.
But just because you’re sober doesn’t mean you automatically stop having a life or spending time with friends. Still, telling friends and being sober with friends can be challenging. It doesn’t have to be, though.
I spoke with several sober people to find out the best ways to have these conversations as well as what to do if you think a friend ought to consider sobriety.
Advice from a sober person
Recovery speaker Tara Kowalke has achieved nearly six years of sobriety. She tells me, “I had a very low bottom and was facing several personal consequences, so I needed everyone I was close to in my life to be dialed in for support and understanding.”
While it wasn’t easy, Kowalke found that being honest with her friends allowed them to be more supportive of her journey. “What took me out was not being honest with everyone across the board so I still had pockets of people I could drink with who didn’t know I was trying to get sober,” she says.
Kowalke explains that it’s important to keep in mind that not everyone will be supportive — and you don’t owe anyone anything.
“I also don’t believe someone has to identify as an alcoholic in order to stop drinking,” she says. “It does carry a lot of weight and it could prevent someone from admitting they have a problem because they don’t want to go as far as saying they’re an alcoholic.”
A different approach entirely
While alcohol is a socially acceptable drug, hard drugs are a different story. Dave Manheim used drugs (all the drugs) for approximately two decades. He ultimately decided to get sober a few years after his first daughter was born. “Finally something clicked and I knew it was time and try to make a change,” he tells me.
While Manheim admits it was hard to socialize at first, he took his own unique approach and it worked for him. “It was a watershed moment,” he says. “I told everyone. Even strangers! For me, I loved to brag that I stopped doing drugs.”
He also started a podcast called Dopey, which gave him accountability. He revealed all his secrets on the show, sharing his dark, wild, and often hilarious drug stories. A roster of celebrity guests and millions of downloads later — Manheim has been sober for more than seven years.
“I always say be as honest as possible,” he says. “It brings people close to you. It lets people know who you are. We are only as sick and as isolated as our secrets. Disconnection is the perfect climate to keep addiction thriving — connection is the best way to destroy addiction. It keeps you honest, which is the easiest way to get and stay sober.”
Sobriety for moms
It’s not easy to be a mom, especially today. Between “Mommy Needs Wine” T-shirts and alcoholic beverages marketed specifically to moms, it’s become part of the culture. But alcohol doesn’t make it easier to be a parent.
“The mental, physical, and emotional load on mothers is too high, and the marketers and alcohol producers offer booze as a solution,” says Emily Lynn Paulson, speaker, author, and founder of Sober Mom Squad. “Social media has also increased the reach of this messaging, telling moms that they need wine to survive, and it’s done in a way that makes it funny, cute, and benign. That leads to merchandise, memes, and more jokes that are bought, sold, and shared widely to co-opt this messaging.”
From PTA fundraisers to children’s birthday parties, moms are constantly offered alcohol by parents they may or may not know too well outside of their children. If that’s the case, Paulson’s policy is that “no” is a complete sentence.
“Would you like a beer? No. Just the word no. Or, if someone asks if you’d like something to drink, just tell them, Yes I’d love a sparkling water!” she says. “Or bring your own drinks. Saying that you aren’t drinking right now doesn’t say anything about you or anyone else. And you shouldn’t have to defend why you aren’t ingesting a dangerous substance.”
If you’re hosting an event and want to be supportive of non-drinkers, while offering non-alcoholic beverages like sparkling flavored water is helpful, Paulson suggests being more aware.
“Not everything needs to be a drinking event,” she says. “Not everyone who doesn’t drink has a problem. And the amount many Americans drink is well above the amount considered excessive.”
But what if you think a friend should be sober?
While being that person who gets drunk and acts inappropriately (and maybe throws up) every few years isn’t always out of the ordinary, being that person more often than not is likely indicative of a problem.
Conversations about this kind of behavior can be very challenging for everyone involved. But Adam Banks, interventionist, Suntra Modern Recovery, tells me they can be very important and worth having.
“I decided to get sober at 31, and when I look back, I can’t remember anyone addressing me about my drinking,” he says. “Today I wonder if someone could have helped me earlier. I encourage friends to put the conversation on the table. Wait for the quiet and reflective moments where you can take the conversation deeper and never address this with someone that is actively under the influence — that just turns into an argument.”
Banks recommends asking for permission to have a serious conversation because the person you’re confronting is less likely to get angry about it.
“You could open the conversation with, I have some concerns, could we talk about them? Talk about actual situations that you have observed — those are non-refutable — and don’t prescribe treatments,” he says.
Timing is also crucial. Banks suggests going deep when someone is dealing with the consequences of a hangover and having the conversation more than once if need be.
“If they got angry the first time, they will likely be less angry the next time — during the second conversation, you can probably get farther,” he says. “Leave the conversation without prescribing treatment or recovery: I don’t know much about addiction, but I am here for you if you want to talk about it. Be the friend that keeps the conversation open.”