At the time of this writing, I have attended 14 weddings while sober. This fact is only noteworthy because, before getting sober a little over two years ago, nothing sounded less plausible to me than surviving a single wedding without alcohol. In my experience, the entire wedding lifecycle was designed for drinking, from bachelorette parties to champagne toasts. I loved the equity afforded by an open wedding bar; every guest — regardless of age or gender — was encouraged to imbibe. Being over-served was permitted, even expected, in the context of celebration.
During my worst drinking days, weddings were the safest place to hide. Another glass of champagne or round of tequila shots were easy to camouflage in the name of love. And I loved the rhythm of drinking afforded by weddings: The easy flow from pre-ceremony beverages to cocktail hour to open bar. So when I first started contemplating sobriety, one of my biggest concerns was how I would survive future weddings.
This fear kept me drinking for most of my twenties, despite worsening hangovers and a mounting certainty that alcohol and I were not soulmates. In the end, my timing was flawed. When I was finally ready to get sober at 28, most of my friends were just getting ready to get married.
And so over the following two years, I began my studies in sober weddings: From basics like surviving cocktail hour to more advanced subjects like fun and dancing. These nuptials took me all over the world, from Oregon to Puerto Rico to Australia. Occasionally, I even encountered other guests who were forsaking alcohol for their own reasons. With a little time and a lot of cake, I developed a system for surviving weddings while sober.
Your Mocktails Don’t Have to be Miserable
A few days before my first wedding while sober, I met a girl named Alex, 30, through mutual friends. She had also recently stopped drinking and mentioned that she had already been to several weddings. I was desperate for any suggestions she had on surviving that first sober ceremony.
Alex’s first rule of thumb was to keep a drink in hand, ideally something with caffeine that would keep me awake through the reception. “Alternate Diet Cokes, Redbull, and fun mocktails,” she suggested. She also encouraged me to get creative with my drinks as the night went on. “Not sure if lime, cranberry juice, and sprite go together? Try it. It’s an open bar, honey.” She explained that often, when she found herself eyeing other people’s drinks, she didn’t even want alcohol; she was just sick of water.
When in Doubt, Make Yourself Useful
Chugging Diet Cokes was helpful but I was worried about more than just what was in my glass. Drinking at weddings had been about more than keeping up appearances; it helped me quiet the pesky voice in my head that was constantly nagging me about my dress not fitting right. Alex encouraged me to try to be helpful to those around me when I felt uncomfortable. I was confused; didn’t most weddings already come with a full catering staff?
It turned out that being helpful could come in different forms. “Offer to help the bridesmaids hold their dresses while they pee,” Alex offered. “See a drunk cousin? Get her a water and take her outside during the speeches. You’ll get out of your head.”
“See a drunk cousin? Get her a water and take her outside during the speeches. You’ll get out of your head.”
During the dinner at my first wedding while sober, I practically had to sit on my hands to avoid jumping out of my seat and ordering a vodka soda. I was about to butter my third dinner roll when I noticed an older woman next to me sighing as she tried to brighten a picture of her and the bride on her phone. Her brow was furrowed as she swiped through different filters, skipping one after the other. I remembered Alex’s words.
“Do you want some help with that?” I offered.
Yes, it was a weird opener. But the woman smiled up at me as if I had just offered her a million dollars. “I’m so bad at Instagram,” she confessed. I helped her brighten the picture using a photo editing app, and she posted it proudly, nudging her husband to show him the finished product. We chatted for a few minutes, and she thanked me effusively. I was surprised; being helpful, even in the tiniest way, had distracted me from wanting to drink.
Someone Else’s Wedding is Actually Not About You
Shocker, I know. This one sounds deceptively simple but it’s actually a game-changer. When I finally realized that weddings were not about my dress, how I looked in pictures, or how long I stayed on the dance floor, I was able to liberate myself from the pressure I felt to have the most fun. This pressure was what had always kept me refilling my drink, afraid that I wouldn’t be a good enough wedding guest without the added liquid energy. But there is both fun and freedom in discovering what works for you at weddings, from what you drink to when you leave.
Mary W., a sober woman living in New York, agrees. “I love dancing so I am typically the first one out on the dance floor,” she says. “When everyone is busy enjoying more cocktails, I go back to my table and eat the wedding cake. I also have an exit plan. At a certain point, usually around midnight, I head home.”
Remember Why You’re There
My experience of going to weddings while sober shifted when I realized that I wasn’t just there for a big party. I was there to watch two people, presumably ones I really liked, promise to love each other forever. There was something simple enough about that idea that kept me connected to the vows and the speeches, even as I watched the rest of my table make their way back to the bar.
“As I attend more and more weddings, I’ve realized how special it is to be sober for them. I can listen to my friends make vows and be a true witness of their love.”
“As I attend more and more weddings,” Mary says, “I’ve realized how special it is to be sober for them. I can listen to my friends make vows and be a true witness of their love.”
Alex echoes the sentiment. “Focus your energy on why you’re there: To celebrate love, not get hammered. And when you’re ready to go — it can be 11pm or 3am — go knowing you did what you were invited to do.”
Attending a wedding after getting sober can cause a lot of people anxiety or, even worse, to turn down an invitation for an event that they actually want to attend. While it can be triggering for some to see so many people drinking all at once (and if that’s you, know that IT IS OKAY to RSVP “no”), many of us can learn to still enjoy weddings even without the booze. After all, at the end of the day, a wedding is about connecting with your loved ones and those that they love. And best of all? You’ll get to do it all sober — and remember the best times of the night to boot.