I grab a chocolate truffle off the table and shove it in my mouth with the other two truffles already in there.
People are dancing in front of me, and I’m uncomfortable. Watching from the “all the single ladies” table, I can see the bride and groom cutting a rug to “Love Shack.”
I am about six months into sobriety, and this is my first wedding sans booze. I am self-conscious of most things to a degree I haven’t experienced since my teens (when I first started sneaking drinks at weddings). The thought of joining the group to do the conga feels like death.
Somebody’s aunt, who has spilled a red food item all over her bell-shaped, white polyester dress, is trying to pull me onto the dance floor. She yanks my forearm, and I can smell steamy white wine permeating in her mouth.
“Mish-shfell! Come on!” The way her head bobs when she talks, the heavy breathing, and the piece of cigarette ash stuck to her face are more familiar to me than anything else in the room.
When I look around the aunt at the rest of the crowd, it occurs to me that not everyone there is intoxicated. Only a select few look smashed. This is a revelation because I really thought “everybody” was drunk at all of those weddings of my past.
After I say “no” for the fifth time, the aunt moves onto someone else who eventually joins her. I still don’t know if I will make it into dancing waters that night.
When I quit drinking eight years ago, my biggest fear—beyond feeling like an outsider—was that I would never have fun again. I learned to socialize and do many group activities with a drink in my hand—to talk to people and be at a wedding or barbecue without a drink felt naked, boring, and like a swamp of anxiety.
What I didn’t realize was that the alcohol dulled the happy parts of those experiences as well.
To avoid social discomfort in early sobriety, I hid quite a bit. Between meetings with other sober women and coffee with friends, I watched a lot of television and ate a lot of sugar. Eventually though, I remembered that fresh air and being at stuff with people satisfied my need to connect and belong. Even when I didn’t want to participate, I started pushing myself to try.
Over time, ripping the Band-Aid off at birthdays, concerts, and even on dates, showed me that not only can I have fun, but I can also engage with people on a deeper level.
Laughing is different, too. When something is funny now, I laugh harder than I ever remember laughing before. The laughter comes from a place where it’s more intense.
I’ve also learned that I prefer small groups or one-on-one interactions to large rooms full of people I don’t know. Small talk makes my skin crawl because I’d rather talk about real things. Because it isn’t always appropriate to go deep with strangers, I don’t spend a lot of time in big rooms with people I don’t know anymore.
I used to rule the wedding—or so I thought. More than one bride asked me to “get it going and get the people dancing” if they needed encouragement. When I was drunk, I loved being on stage and the center of attention. In sobriety, I don’t like either of those things.
My first sober wedding experience was surreal because I brought a different self to it and didn’t know how to act. When the bride, who I love, looked up at me with support and just a little bit of guilt to get the f*ck out there with her and dance, I finally pushed the truffle basket away and made my way into the pool. “Happy” by Pharrell blasted, and I decide to just let her rip.
I kicked my heels off and started jumping around the dance floor, moving like I used to as a child when I didn’t give a sh*t about what anyone thought. My arms and hair bounced around, and I felt like I did when I danced alone in my room.
Then it occurred to me that I, apparently, don’t give a sh*t about what anyone thinks. As other women, including the bride, kicked their shoes off as well, I found myself in a circle of guests jumping around like crazy kids.
At other weddings, plastered under many layers of tequila, I still found a way to feel ashamed and insecure in my skin. The booze only ever masked my pain so much. In sobriety, I’ve discovered that with each adventure I try without alcohol (world travel, stand-up comedy, or wearing a bathing suit despite the quarantine-15 I gained), not only do I usually enjoy doing it, but I’m also way more present.
I’m not saying that everything I take on is a snow-white song through the forest. I do promise though that life can be more enhanced in sobriety.
For each excursion you are scared to conquer sober—the concert, the trip, the wedding shower, or the sex—I challenge you to dive in and try. You will likely be shocked at how much you are getting out of the experience when you aren’t buried under oceans of alcohol that only tricked you into believing it made life more enjoyable.
Alcohol sales have skyrocketed over the past few months, and it looks like many people have been drinking their way through the pandemic. I totally understand—if I hadn’t already given up my obsession with booze, I would be doing the same thing right now.
For people considering stopping, please know that there is a ton of support out there available to you, and life can, and will be, fun again once you are able to find the courage to practice socializing without the false security blanket that is alcohol.