My friend turned to me and casually asked, “Have you ever dated someone before who is sober?” I shook my head with a negative response. “Is that ok with you?” I momentarily considered her question. Thoughts of clinking glasses to cheers a special occasion, opening a bottle of wine over a picnic, social outings with friends or a margarita on Taco Tuesday flitted through my mind. Then, I thought about Andrew and what I knew of his journey to sobriety. The decision was easy, I liked him enough to find out. I realized that while I may enjoy those things, sharing alcohol with a partner was not high on my priority list. I was curious to see what the lack of alcohol in a relationship would be like, especially when I reflected on the role alcohol has played in my own life and in my relationships in the past.
Fast forward: It’s been five months since I had my last drink. 147 days. I have spent those days living in a van, on the open road, exploring beautiful places across the American West. Andrew and I have been together for over a year and prior to this trip, I had a drink or two on occasion, either with a girlfriend or at celebrations. At first, not drinking on this trip wasn’t intentional and Andrew never pushed sobriety on me. The more time that passed on our vanlife adventure, the less having a drink meant anything to me. In fact, the opposite became true: the absence of alcohol for the first extended period in my adult life became an opportunity to consciously reflect on its impact. I had journeyed into the world of sober curious. Being sober curious means, “to choose to question, or get curious about, every impulse, invitation and expectation to drink, versus mindlessly going along with the dominant drink culture.” * To be clear, sober curious is not the same as sobriety, they are differentiated by having the option to choose, limit or consciously explore one’s relationship to alcohol. Andrew, a self-identifying recovered alcoholic, would fit the later category and has been completely sober for over ten years.
For much of my life, I have been both a mindless contributor to, and a participant in, a dominant drinking culture. Gatherings with friends, social outings, celebrations, events, holidays and more are usually accompanied with beer, wine or a cocktail, if not many. Alcohol is glorified in the media through films, tv shows and advertisements. In the coastal town where I live, it seems bars and micro-breweries outnumber all other businesses. I grew up with parents who did not drink, alcohol was never in the house but from 16 onwards there were plenty of opportunities to consume it at parties, clubs or with friends. Early on, I struggled with finding a healthy limit and often drank too much under the guise of a good time. For the last several years, I began to observe how hangovers felt like a reaction to a toxic poison in my body. When I began drinking, it frequently warranted the need to do damage control after speaking and behaving in ways that, if sober, would not have occurred. I had to reconcile with previous partners and even friends after alcohol fueled conversations that escalated into harmful and hurtful arguments. I’ve put myself in dangerous situations in my alcohol-fueled carelessness. Worse was the “emotional hangover”, the feelings that would arise the next morning when I reflected on events that transpired when I drank too much the night before. The bottom line was that drinking too much took me away from my authentic self. It was like temporarily blurring out the woman I know myself to be, the one I’ve worked so incredibly hard to become. This heightened consciousness led me to question my own relationship with alcohol consumption, even before dating a recovered alcoholic.
In my relationships in the past, alcohol played a significant role and not always a positive one. The worst fights I ever experienced with a partner were ones in which we had both drank too much. They were also incredibly difficult to recover from. It seemed the lack of consciousness that came with inebriation showcased the most negative and destructive behaviors in each other: jealousy, insecurity, manipulation, meanness, and even abuse. When Andrew shared his journey to sobriety with me, a deep respect for the work he has done and the man he is now because of it formed an early bond that centers around vulnerability and authenticity. It was cemented even more as I witnessed him supporting others in their sobriety, the way his humility allows him to be compassionate yet strong with his boundaries and the way he doesn’t need alcohol to party. He loves dancing just as much, if not more, than I do. His hobby as a DJ and his passion for house music can keep him up to the early hours of the morning, in clubs or at music festivals. This was also new to me. Since I was sixteen and went to my first club in Croatia, a drink was readily at hand. When he invited me to an ecstatic dance event he was DJ’ing, I discovered that dancing sober was wildly uncomfortable for me (read more on ecstatic dance here). Overtime, without alcohol, I began to grow increasingly comfortable in and with my body. I had never realized just how much I had relied on alcohol as a crutch to be comfortable at bars, clubs or in certain social situations. With the absence of alcohol in our relationship came the absence of opportunity for either of us to blurr-out the people we have both worked so hard to become.
While I am still new on the journey, the growing movement of “sober curious” signals an invitation. Through this invitation I’ve been on a conscious exploration that has been both incredibly rewarding and if I am honest, humbling. I love that I feel comfortable and familiar with my body in a whole new way on the dance floor. I love that I don’t need a drink in hand to feel comfortable in social situations. I love that I don’t wake up, mouth dry and head pounding, ashamed by events that may have transpired the night before. I love that my relationship is not a space where either of us blurr-out our authentic selves or allow alcohol to have an impact on the things we say or do. I love the physical benefits: improved sleep, clearer skin, loss of weight, less bloating and a healthier immune system. As I reflect on this journey, I am humbled by the way I treated my body, by the decisions I made when intoxicated, by the way I treated people I love and by the way I didn’t bring the best of me, the woman I know myself to be. For me, this exploration into sober curious does not necessarily mean never drinking again, but to be conscious and intentional when and how I choose to consume alcohol in the future. On the other side of the question my friend asked me, I have come to profoundly appreciate the lack of alcohol in my relationship and now, in my life.
I am so grateful for the gift of choice.
I love who Andrew is because of the work he has done.
I love the woman I am and aspire to be because the work I have done.
I love that there is room for grace.
I love that there is room for growth.
I love the evolution of becoming.
And I love where this experiment has brought me.
*For more on sober curious please see the work of Ruby Warrington.