We’ve all been in this situation. Having to explain to someone else that you’re sober and working a program of recovery. Typically, it becomes easier to do the longer we are in the program, as naturally with time we not only become stronger in our sobriety, and more grounded in our recovery, but the stigma of our old behaviors begin to drift away, opening up space to show others our fresh, refined selves.
But whether you’re newly sober, or have several years in recovery, there will always be new people, or unique circumstances that warrant the need to explain your sobriety. For those moments, here are some tips on how to field the inquiries.
Telling Your Old Friends
These are the people who knew you during the wild times – the high-highs and the low-lows – who have seen you at your best and probably at your worst. There are perhaps several you may choose not to associate with after you’ve given up drinking or using because, truthfully, the friendship was determinant on your party habits. But for those who you wish to keep in touch with, and wish to enjoy good times in the future with, it’s important to let them know about your life choice to seek sobriety. Illustrating some war stories may actually help to alleviate the conversation, as you each recollect on your experiences together and what brought you to seek recovery. As long as you’re comfortable in talking about it, taking a trip down memory lane may help them to understand your choice. This may not be something you’re okay with doing early in recovery, as old friends can provide peer pressure and make you feel uncomfortable. If you want to make amends or explain yourself to “old friends”, don’t feel obligated to do it too soon. If they care for your friendship, they will understand your need to disconnect for some time until you’re in a safe space to address your sobriety with them.
Telling Your Boss
What should you do if your boss asks you out for a drink? This will almost absolutely come up at some point during your employment, especially if you share a good working relationship together, as many of us in recovery now do. In this moment, don’t worry about explaining that you’re in recovery. It is much easier to simply join him or her for a drink and order a non-alcoholic beverage. At that point, it’s a great opportunity to mention that you don’t drink. In this way, you don’t have to tell them “no” when they offer the invitation. It is perfectly normal not to drink. Rather, while you both enjoy an after-work social engagement, you may feel much more comfortable in telling them that you no longer drink and to explain all of the ways in which your life has been markedly better since. If you’re feeling uncomfortable about meeting for a drink, or going to a bar, maneuver the invitation to another venue. Ask them to join you for lunch or a round of golf. Being able to spend time in non-threatening arena where you can both socialize in a casual environment is really the key. And after your boss understands your life choice, they will undoubtedly respect your commitment to being not only a better person but also being a more responsible, reliable employee.
Telling New Friends
Whether we meet new people at work, through other friends or by serendipity, you will find yourself engaging with new people who are not in recovery. While it may be easy to “tell” them that you don’t drink, these tend to be the most inquisitive people of all, since they are getting to know you and are typically very curious about your sobriety. And since they don’t know your past or your tendencies, they may seem less sympathetic as their curious questions seem to flood out. Instead of explaining your life story, you can simply explain that you haven’t felt the desire to drink, and confidently insert how many years it’s been since your last drink so they understand your commitment. Many people find that at a certain age, they either want to or are forced to change habits. It’s healthy to explain that you did formerly drink, but that in recent years, you’ve chosen not to and it’s opened doors you would have otherwise passed up. New friends will often continue the relationship by presenting invitations to do non-threatening activities that don’t include drinking. Remember, though, not all new friends will buy into your lifestyle, and it’s important to make the distinction between whether they are fit for your friendship or not. Now sober, we have the opportunity to choose who we want to be around and the worthwhile people will embrace your choices, making healthy compromises so the friendship grows.
Telling Close Family
Your immediate family most likely will not be the ones you have to explain yourself to. Although, if they did not know about your drinking or using habits, this may be a very difficult discussion. Often times, one-on-one conversations with the people we are closest with, or love the most, is the most comfortable environment to share the news. Invite your parent or family member on a walk, or out to coffee and be as transparent as you can. It may not feel comfortable at first, but your family member will undoubtedly feel your authenticity and will typically be very supportive. This may also be one of the first opportunities you have to release the burden of your secrets, if that is a part of your story. Use this as an opportunity to lift the anxiety as you venture into a life in recovery. The support and love of close family is extraordinarily helpful in your journey.
Telling Extended Family
Many families share gossip and secrets. And for those who don’t, we may paint a picture of perfection in front of one another. So explaining to family members that you are now sober can be a very daunting proposition, as their judgements of us do matter. Like new friends, they may be very inquisitive. However, it is not necessary to explain your war story. Discussing the positive growth that you have experiences since you got sober will help them to see your recovery as simply a positive movement toward a better life. Often times, we are the ones directing the emotional atmosphere of the conversation. If you enter into the discussion with confidence and positivity, it will predicate the best possible reaction from all, helping to turn what could be a very judgmental dialogue into an achievement-driven discussion. It is absolutely an opportunity to add an asset to your artillery. If you come from a family of drinkers, or those who are judgmental, understand that it is your right to take a step aside and find a safe space to collect yourself, or leave the situation altogether. Just because they are family doesn’t mean they have to be included in your new life. Often times we have to take only small doses of those who do not understand our choices, which will ultimately help us to remain grounded.
While you may feel insecure about explaining your sobriety, you can feel empowered in knowing that it makes you a strong and stable person of integrity. Most people won’t find this to be a weak trait, and most will typically commend you for your choice. You may even experience those who in turn seek advice from you, helping spread the good word of recovery. For anyone who criticizes your life choice, it’s important to understand that typically it is a defense mechanism, and an opportunity for them to ingratiate their own self-esteem. Use the principles of your program to remind yourself that they are compensating for their own feelings of inadequacy. Prepare yourself for the potential that this may happen. Being able to field their negativity and diffuse the situation will help strengthen your program. Also recognize that this is not someone you should keep in your life, as we learn that sometimes there are people we need to disassociate from in order to continue on a healthy path of recovery.
Ultimately, there is a necessary and freeing result to being able to explain your sobriety. Holding in, or being reluctant to explain your choice is crippling, and may lead to another drink. Being able to comfortably explain yourself to those who are not in the program is a substantial step in helping to strengthen your sobriety.