DEAR CAROLYN: I'm a late-40s professional woman with a drinking problem. I keep a job and have a successful career and happy family, but I drink too much and have for some time. Corona lockdown really made things worse. I struggled with quitting and with shame, and I'm now 23 days sober. I haven't told any of my friends or family — except my husband — because of shame, the worry that it will alter all of my relationships, and that certain folks won't choose to spend time with me anymore. At this point, my plan is to just tell them think I'm doing a Sober [October] and kick the talk down the road a bit. How do I deal with this? I don't want to be an object of pity and I don't want to be a killjoy.
SOCIAL SOBRIETY: You want to be sober, so just be sober.
It's a two-part process and you're 23 days into the harder of the two. Good for you.
Now let yourself off all the various hooks you think you're on with the second part.
First, urgently, the shame. You have a problem, and all people have one or many. No shame there. This feels unique to you, but it's not unique.
In fact, with substance abuse as your specific problem, your struggle is among the least exotic out there, especially now with so many people stressed out and hemmed in. So no shame there, either.
You are working on your problem, certainly no shame in that. On the contrary, what you're doing takes courage and discipline.
That's why any pity would be misplaced, by the way; don't be shy about responding that way.
As for what sobriety does to your friendships: My circle includes some who don't drink at all, don't drink anymore, don't drink to excess, don't know when to stop drinking — doesn't yours? Or, at least, isn't this range common enough that most of us take it for granted? People deeply invested in their friends' relationships with alcohol strike me as the outliers here — unless they're partnered with them or watching them fish for their car keys. Or they're in alcohol trouble themselves and looking for excuses in numbers.
Please consider it safe to assume you are, by a long shot, the only one who gets to care what you don't have in your glass. Bring yourself back to that thought as needed, like a mantra, especially when people take "friendly" jabs at your seltzer orders. Get used to the idea that people just say stupid things when they're adjusting to something new (and maybe projecting and getting defensive). Nobody's comments confer an obligation on you to change what you're doing or why. And truly, nobody cares to the negative. Nobody healthy.
That said, you are making changes to your social behavior, so you're right to expect those changes to ripple out into your friendships. And for that inevitability I urge this response: So what. It's not as if any of these social side effects would justify reversing your sobriety, right? Any goodbyes you're forced to say will be hard, of course, but also necessary. Real friends rally, not just at their convenience.
So own this. Expect changes, be flexible and trust that you'll need new friends only if the oldies weren't good.