Sobriety vs Sober Curiousity

2019 has been a sober curious year for me. In case you missed the memo, “sober curious” is a newly minted term that means you are mindful about alcohol consumption, on the sparing side, and reject the all or nothing label of “sober”. I want to tell you what I’ve learned so far.

Behavior change has become a big piece of my business. I love helping others make difficult changes in their lifestyle, for example getting a handle on their drinking habit. Early in the year I noticed a pressure (self-imposed) to rid myself of all my vices, depend on no external substance, in order to be the perfect role model for my students, patients, and followers.

That didn’t work out so great, shocker.

My inner critic turned into a real bitch. Shaming me for failing to meet my high expectations of myself. With the bar set so high and so far from where I was, there were plenty of opportunities to flop. I caught myself living my life as if tip-toeing around, afraid of what might happen to me if I over-indulged in anything. Ugh! How miserable. No thank you.

The anxiety I imagine this woman feels is akin to what I felt trying to hyper-control my behaviors, healthaholic style.

The anxiety I imagine this woman feels is akin to what I felt trying to hyper-control my behaviors, healthaholic style.

This behavior of mine reminds me of the behavior seen in orthorexia. You heard of that? It’s a condition where you are so obsessed with healthy eating that it’s bad for you. Hello anxiety, social isolation, and a disordered relationship with food! Orthorexia is hypervigilance and perfectionism applied to food. I was starting to apply it to my go-to substances, alcohol being the prime example. No bueno.

Here’s the thing though, it’s not about the alcohol. The alcohol is not the problem. OK OK it can totally be a problem, but it’s never the problem. The root problem lies in the reason we drink the alcohol in the first place. The consumption of alcohol and its consequences are just after effects.

You see NOW it starts to get interesting. This is the juicy area where I want to work. What can we learn about ourselves from our relationships to alcohol and other external things we depend on for okayness? How can we heal and grow through these relationships?

What’s your relationship with alcohol?

First things first, make sure this really sinks in – you are the boss in this relationship with booze. You’re the one in charge of physically swallowing the alcohol, so you’re the only one that can make this right for you. You define the relationship. What do you want it to be?

Here’s a few questions I’ve found useful in defining my relationship with alcohol. Answer them honestly then decide whether or not you like your answer.

In general:

1. If my life were a play, what kind of role does alcohol have? Is it a main character, a regular guest, an occasional cameo, a long-gone uncle you still tell stories about?

2. Does this character enhance the play of my life? Or is it detrimental?

In a particular situation:

3. Am I having it or is it having me? (back to first point – YOU are the boss in this relationship)

4. What purpose does alcohol serve in this situation? Is there another option that would be more aligned with who I am?

This last one’s a very useful one, because this is where the nuance of you comes into play. Imagine you’re at a wedding and it’s time for the toast. Everyone raises a glass to cheers the bride and groom. What purpose does the alcohol serve in that situation? Depends!

Samantha uses her champagne flute as a symbol of celebration. Sally drinks because she loves the taste of champagne, that’s all. Andy doesn’t even really want a drink, but he does it because everyone else is doing it. Jim drinks because he’s been stressed out helping all day and wants to finally relax. Heather feels insecure in her fancy dress, and drinks to lower her inhibitions so she can tear it up on the dance floor. Matt thinks he’s funnier when he’s drunk, so drinks so he can better hit on the maid of honor. Turns out Jane is in love with the groom, so she drinks to numb her despair. Frank hasn’t had a drink since last night and has the shakes, he’s been waiting for this drink so that he can feel normal again.

Next time you raise a glass, take a moment to reflect - what purpose is this alcohol serving right now?  PC: Alasdair Elmes

Next time you raise a glass, take a moment to reflect - what purpose is this alcohol serving right now? PC: Alasdair Elmes

Be honest with yourself. A true awareness of where you are is a great start to getting where you want to go. Don’t like the answer you have for yourself? OK now you’ve got a project. Dive in and learn more about what restrictions, conditions, and expectations you’ve put on yourself. Is there another option that is more in alignment with who you are / who you want to be? You can choose that one. May as well because no one else is gonna choose it for you.

These days I feel clearer and more empowered than ever in my relationship with alcohol. I want the same for you, no matter what the relationship looks like. None of it is shameful. All of it is part of your healing, all of it is OK. Relationships change over time, so the best we can do is empower ourselves with the skills and tools to direct the relationship where we want it to go. Stick around for more of that.

This is a subject close to many hearts I’m sure. Thank you so much for reading, please share your precious thoughts and questions in the comments!

Erin Moore1 Comment