The process of figuring out how to be in the world can be a never-ending tug-of-war between standing out and fitting in. We spend so much of our time scanning the horizon and then analyzing how we measure up to what we see Out There.
We wonder: in this group, or space, or time, what’s normal? And if that’s normal, what am I? Do I even want to be part of this normal?
For sober people, this can mean sometimes surrounding yourself with like-minded non-drinking individuals, or spending every minute of every day (evenings and weekends in particular) being smacked in the face with the notion that You Are Not Normal.
Drinking culture is everywhere – it’s assumed that everyone drinks or wants to drink, and fun is scheduled around that. The act of working around a non-drinking event is also normalized: pre-gaming, purse beers, flasks, after work drinks.
Avoiding drinking culture is kind of like playing Whack-A-Mole, and unless you exclusively hang out with sober folks, it’s not hard to feel like a pariah.
Just because we find it everywhere doesn’t mean that drinking culture has to feel like the norm, and sobriety has to be the exception. Before I quit drinking entirely, I did a trial month. During this time I devoured sobriety essays, and sought out other bits and pieces of sober culture.
Now I follow other sober writers and essayists on social media, and through being more public about sober life, I’ve slowly discovered how many of my friends – online buds I’ve never met in person as well as those in the same city as me – are also sober.
Even if overall, sobriety doesn’t fit the larger societal narrative of what’s good, acceptable, cool, fun and normal, I’ve started to carve out little spaces for it.
In these spaces, I know that if I say I’m spending a Saturday night reading and then going to bed by 10 p.m. so I can catch an early yoga class, a carefully curated group of friends will echo my sentiments back to me. We agree that this is an awesome way to spend a weekend, and in our context, it’s totally normal.
Alongside my drinking peers, I’ve also noticed a shift. A few weeks ago I sat down to a table cluttered with wine glasses to enjoy a meal with family and friends. This time, far from being hyper-conscious of my lack of participation in the liquor-decision ritual, I just watched it unfold in the same way I’d subtly step back as conversation drifts into the language of the Old Country or a discussion of chemical engineering.
Drinking was not something I was missing out on, rather, it was A Thing Other People Seem To Busy Themselves With while I wait for the kettle to boil. And once that bustling was over, we got back to enjoying food and company. To each their own normal, sitting side by side.
Perhaps in the larger world, in comparison to other’s real or idealized lifestyles, my sober life is pretty boring. But if I compare my sober self to who I was all the years I spent drinking, I can see that I have more energy and less anxiety, I’m healthier, I’m more creative. I’m far more skilled at handling the lemons life throws at me, and enjoy the good times with crisp clarity.
This boring life is far more dynamic than I could have imagined, and if this is my new normal, I’ll gladly take it.
Anastasia Chipelski is the Managing Editor at The Uniter. She’ll often choose books over bars and is starting to wear “boring” as a badge of honour.
Published in Volume 70, Number 16 of The Uniter (January 21, 2016)