*Editor’s note: This post was originally published on the SobrieTea Party blog and was written in response to “sober tourists,” or what the author calls people who typically don’t identify as having a substance use disorder but are curious about being sober without trying to understand the plight of folks who are in addiction recovery.
Strangers frequently reach out to me asking for suggestions on how to get through 30ish days without drinking. I don’t think they realize that my sobriety doesn’t have an endpoint. It’s fine that someone who probably doesn’t have issues with a substance use disorder, is “trying on sobriety” for a little while, but why are you asking me, someone who does have a substance use disorder, for advice? I can’t be your cheerleader for 30 days just so you can celebrate day 31 by posting photos of mimosas on Instagram.
Sober Tourists are usually people that try out whatever is trendy at the moment: activated charcoal, fidget spinners, romphims, only to abandon said trend when they get bored of it. Right now the trendy thing happens to be giving up booze. The approach many Sober Tourists take can be offensive to people that are committed to their recovery as a lifelong journey taken one day at a time. These Tourists don’t see the adversity commonly associated with people in long-term recovery. Sober Tourists are different from people that are Sober Curious, a term coined by author and podcast host Ruby Warrington. Warrington challenges social norms related to booze while encouraging her readers and listeners to change their relationship with alcohol through mindfulness and personal work. Her brilliant approach speaks to folks who don’t identify as addicts or alcoholics; folks that may not want to quit drinking for good. While she promotes Dry January, she understands that that method doesn’t work for all and that some people need professional help beyond that.
Almost anyone can take a break from drinking. Try doing that, paired with the emotionally exhausting work of identifying why you drink and why you’re choosing to give it up temporarily.
If you really want to experience the lifestyle of us sober folks, try on recovery… not sobriety. Sobriety is the act of abstaining from a self-destructive behavior like drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, etc… Recovery is abstaining while doing the arduous work to figure out why we spent years resorting to said self-destructive behaviors. Almost anyone can take a break from drinking. Try doing that, paired with the emotionally exhausting work of identifying why you drink and why you’re choosing to give it up temporarily.
This work is important because it shows that you respect the recovery community. Plus you’ll learn a little about yourself along the way. Once I learned the difference between sobriety and recovery, I eagerly wanted to dig deeper into my own personal work to discover why I chose to live so recklessly. I started weekly therapy which helps me work through the thoughts that race through my head; the thoughts that used to overwhelm me to the point of wanting to drink until I blacked out. After an arduous search, I eventually found the right style of support group that works for me. While therapy is ideal for when I want to talk to a professional, peer support groups are ideal for when I want to relate to fellow recovering substance abusers. I learned that recovery is an ongoing journey that strengthens my desire to stay sober.
If you’re still eager to try on recovery, here’s how to do it in a responsible way:
1. Get active.
Interact with people who are dealing with recovery every damn day. Smart Recovery, Women for Sobriety, Secular Organizations for Sobriety, LifeRing, and Alcoholics Anonymous are just a few examples of free group meetings. Find an “open meeting,” or one that is open to folks who don’t necessarily identify as having a substance use disorder. There are even some online options. You can also follow folks on social media who are actively posting about what it’s like to live through addiction and recovery. By acquainting yourself with their stories, you can start to understand what it’s like to live through and recover from a traumatic experience with addiction.
2. Sit with the shitty feelings.
If you’re trying on recovery, it won’t necessarily be super fun. It might even suck sometimes. This is because you aren’t able to rely on old coping mechanisms to stuff down or numb difficult emotions. You have to actually process uncomfortable feelings that would usually go away (temporarily, at least) with the aid of alcohol or drugs or sex or shopping or eating or gambling. While this part of recovery isn’t “fun,” learning how to sit with uncomfortable feelings, and not rely on destructive patterns to cope, has been crucial to my personal growth. It can help you get the most out of your sober time, too.
3. Connect to something greater than yourself.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to “find God”, start meditating, go to yoga, or join a cult. It means you must figure out who you are without alcohol in your life. “Something greater than yourself” can mean soul searching, volunteering, or reconnecting with family and friends. And if at all possible, go to therapy. I can’t recommend it enough. Giving back to the recovery community helps me get out of my own head. It reminds me that I’m not alone in this. Admitting that I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol allowed me to realize that I needed tools to deal with life on life’s terms. And that there’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
4. Remain sober at events you would normally drink through.
I wouldn’t recommend this to someone struggling with substance use disorder. I only recommend this to Sober Tourists. Go to the bars or clubs that you frequent. Hang out with your friends that are still drinking. Experience all of this completely sober. Deal with how uncomfortable it is by acknowledging the feelings that come up. The point in this exercise is to truly feel what it’s like to be a person in recovery at a bar. If this is challenging or triggering for you, know that you have the ability to leave at any time without explaining your discomfort to anyone.
5. Think about WHY you’re doing this.
Is it to learn about yourself? To learn about your relationship with alcohol? To prioritize your mental health? To experience a new lifestyle? To empathize with the recovery community? All of these are perfectly valid answers. When taking on a social experiment like this, really dig deep and figure out why you want to do it.
My “why” for giving up booze for a year was to learn more about my relationship with alcohol. I quickly learned that life kept happening whether I drank through it or not. Reminding myself of my intention helped me when times got tough; when my grandmother passed away and when I checked a family member into rehab for an eating disorder. I wanted to drink during those stressful periods but I stayed true to my original intention by sitting with those shitty feelings (see #2).
Sobriety is trendy right now. Perhaps the trendiness is making you wonder what your life would be like without booze for a little while. I get it. I was a Sober Tourist. Twice. The first time was in Spring 2015, when my first published article went live on Elite Daily. In that article, I discussed how I walked a mile (or 3 months…) in the shoes of sobriety, claiming that I’d changed. I didn’t. I went on to drink until I blacked out for another year before starting my second social experiment: my blog, SobrieTeaParty.com.
Now when I read old blog posts, I realize how pompous I sounded at times. I was preaching the lifestyle of sobriety and leading online sober groups without truly grasping the concept of recovery. My heart was in the right place, but I was speaking too soon about something I barely understood.
Being a Sober Tourist helped me find my voice as a writer and ultimately my purpose in this world: To live my life in recovery and share my story. I just wish I went about it in a more respectful way.
Before you travel to a new city or country, you probably do research on the location you were visiting. Apply that same mentality before visiting our Sober World, or any new lifestyle for that matter. This challenging journey can be worth the voyage.