When my friends and I were preteens, we had what we called “deep conversations” at sleepovers. We’d gather our pillows and blankets and go around the circle sharing our secrets. This is where we’d bring our issues with our families or talk about our insecurities — the parts of ourselves we felt we couldn’t discuss in the hallways at school or while walking around the mall.
Over the years, I traded the dark of our slumber parties for the dim lighting of bars to have my “deep conversations.” I thought drinking was the only way I could unlock the deeper parts of myself and share openly. Without a drink in my hand, I felt like I was stuck behind an impermeable barrier of small talk.
To me, alcohol was a connection, or at least my key to it. And then I discovered the truth about connection.
British journalist Johann Hari went viral in 2015 with his TED Talk titled, “Everything You Know About Addiction is Wrong.” In the talk, Hari states that “the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. The opposite of addiction is connection.”
I listened to Hari’s TED Talk when I was newly sober and I latched onto this statement because it was one of the first ideas I heard in this weird alcohol-free world that made sense to me. I didn’t just want to know how to quit drinking; I wanted to excavate why I felt drawn to alcohol in the first place so I could sever the attachment to it. Through this idea, I realized I wasn’t actually afraid to give up alcohol, I was afraid to give up my ability to connect with others.
I realized I wasn’t actually afraid to give up alcohol, I was afraid to give up my ability to connect with others.
Holly Whittaker (Editor’s Note: The Temper’s co-founder) explains the importance of connection for humanity in her new book, Quit Like a Woman. She writes: “Hear me on this. You. Need. People. We humans are biologically designed to connect with one another, and from the moment we are born into this world, our development as humans — emotionally, intellectually, physically, spiritually — is contingent on how we connect.”
I believe we all want a witness in this life. Someone that loves us with x-ray vision and can say, “I see all of you and I understand you; I love you as you are.” When we struggle with connection for whatever reason — be it trauma in our past, social anxiety, lack of purpose, mental illness, etc.— we feel separate from others and often bond with something that will give us a quick sense of instant gratification like our phones, food, or booze.
Once I stopped drinking, I realized most of the relationships I built with alcohol as their glue were flimsy, filled with holes, and didn’t stand up against the test of time. Maybe the bonds formed in the dark corners of bars felt real at the moment but the sentiment rarely remained the same in the light of day.
I’ve learned in sobriety that real, authentic relationships require work; there is no fast pass to connection like I thought alcohol had been providing me all along.
So how do I build connections now that I’ve stopped looking for them in bars?
I follow the advice my mom gave me every day before I left for school, which is: “You have to be a friend to make a friend.” I apply this simple adage by reaching out to my people and checking in. I ask questions and genuinely listen to the responses. As cliché as it sounds, I treat people the way I’d like to be treated. As an introvert, making friends without the security blanket of a drink does often feel challenging but I’ve found ways that work for me to get to know people, like asking someone out for coffee rather than trying to meet friends at a crowded networking event.
I follow the advice my mom gave me every day before I left for school, which is: “You have to be a friend to make a friend.”
If I feel like I’m missing community, I seek it out and, if that community doesn’t exist, I build it.
For example, I wanted a support system of others who don’t drink in my city so I reached out to Tempest (Editor’s Note: The Temper’s parent company) and started a Bridge Club. I built an Instagram account solely to share my sobriety journey and to connect with others on the same path. As a result, I’ve developed some amazing friendships and even took a trip to meet one of my sober Instagram friends in real life. Through sobriety, I’ve built stronger, deeper relationships with the people who were already in my life and created new relationships with people I never would’ve met had I kept alcohol around.
Lastly, to feel connected to others, I stay connected to myself.
I’m kinder to myself than I used to be and I don’t see other people’s behavior as something to internalize. I don’t rely on my relationships to make me whole as I used to when I was drinking; rather, I work to make myself feel whole. Honestly, I think people can feel that difference. This internal connection means I’m never lonely because I look to others to enhance my world, rather than be my world.
The line of reasoning known as Occam’s Razor says, “the simplest answer is often correct.” There are many different pieces that mold together to form a person’s path to addiction. Since there is not one singular path, there is not one singular way to eliminate it… but I think addressing our issues with connection is a strong starting point. At least it has been for me.