I want to start by saying I can only speak on my experience of how I told people that I quit drinking. It can be difficult to tell people that you quit drinking, especially your friends and family. I wish that someone had told me you don’t have to tell everyone. In the beginning, my reaction was to tell everyone I came in contact with. I imagined that everyone would be happy for me and give me high fives when they found out that I stopped drinking. Little did I know, that many people would have negative reactions to my decision. The reality is that people’s reactions will reflect their preconceived notions about sobriety as a whole based on their own experiences, which has everything to do with them and nothing to do with you.
Deciding to get sober is a huge and deeply personal decision. Before you decide to tell people you quit drinking or ask for their opinion, I suggest you ask yourself, “Do I look up to this person?” or “Do I value this person’s input?” If the answer is no, then do not tell them you decided to try sobriety as a way of life, because negative reactions may deter you from your decision to stop drinking.
Looking back on my early days of sobriety…
Looking back on my early days of sobriety, I wish I would have shared my journey with only a few select friends and family members. People’s reactions honestly led to a few relapses because I cared too much about others’ opinions about my decision. In particular, a childhood friend made a comment that she didn’t think I was an alcoholic. That comment made me question my decision to stop drinking and eventually led to me drinking on New Year’s Eve. It wasn’t her fault that I drank. I was not confident in my decision to stop drinking at that time. I was still letting outside opinions dictate my actions. Your decision for sobriety is yours and no one can make the decision for you.
Here are some of the reactions I received and suggestions for how to respond. Honestly, I did not have the best reaction or response to these when I first got sober, that is why I want to share with how to tell people you quit drinking and a few responses to expect.
1. “You’re not an alcoholic. You don’t drink as much as my Aunt Linda.”
Often, other people have their own ideas about what an alcoholic looks like. You may or may not fit that preconceived notion. Before I got sober, I definitely did not think I was an alcoholic because of my own life experience with an alcoholic parent. However, only the alcoholic or addict themselves can decide if they need to stop.
2. “I don’t think you’re an alcoholic; we drink/use/party the same amount!”
I will never forget my best friend’s response when I told her that I went to my first AA meeting. She said, “Really? You think YOU’RE an alcoholic? But I just went to the Lil Wayne concert last night and don’t remember any of it!”
Her reaction to me not drinking was to look at her own drinking. My choice to explore sobriety made the people around me look at their own alcohol and drug consumption, and that made some friends feel uncomfortable with my decision.
Your decision to try sobriety may mean that they’ve lost a loyal drinking buddy. You still have to listen to your own intuition and do what’s best for you, regardless of their reaction. Your friends and family may resent your decision because it causes their own self-reflection. You may lose those friends, and, honestly, that is part of this journey. However, your true friends will support your decision and want what is best for your health and happiness.
3. “I’m happy for you, but this is just a phase right?”
The common phrase in 12-step programs, “one day at a time,” is a simple statement and a great response to this question. Some of your friends and family may be proud of your lifestyle change, but wary of if it will stick or not. This reaction is warranted after all of the chaos we may have caused in the past, right!?! The skepticism of sobriety is typical. Their approval is not necessary. However, the best remedy to this problem, which has proven true for me, is to show them that sobriety is important with actions and real change.
Many people may not understand the severity of our disease. Going to rehab or 12-step meetings really ruins the fun of drinking and using drugs. Many of your friends and family won’t understand that you won’t be drinking for a while or, if you stick with it, ever again. This thought is hard to consider in the beginning. Just let them know how you’re doing and that you are taking it “one day at a time.”
4. “You’re overreacting. You’re not that bad.”
Everything I posted on social media when I was drinking made it seem like everything was totally fine.
“Nothing to see here! I’m super happy and successful and awesome!”
I was good at putting on a front of happiness and contentedness. However, the pain and shame on the inside are what finally made me, as an alcoholic, want to stop.
When I was still active in my addiction, no one knew the whole truth of how much I was drinking and using drugs. I told part of my story here, part of it there, especially keeping my “party girl” side hidden from my family. I was two-faced, acting one way around my family and another way around my friends. No one person knew everything that I had done and how much pain I was in because I didn’t want to admit the truth.
I also had this thought over and over when I first got sober: that my addiction wasn’t that bad. This phase is called denial. I wasn’t as bad as all these losers in these meetings! After a while, my sponsor challenged me to listen to the similarities instead of the differences. Then I started to see how much I had in common with the other alcoholics and addicts.
Don’t let anyone convince you that your pain is not great enough or that you’re not “bad” enough to stop drinking. Everyone’s story and experience are different.
5. “I’m proud of you. I support your decision.”
YAAAAS! These people are your OG besties and supportive family members. Maybe they will go to events sober with you or even help plan your sober bachelorette party. They probably held your hair while you were puking in the toilet, or picked you up from your ex’s house for the fifth time. Even if they are losing a going-out pal, they know you needed to get sober and will help you on your journey!
If you are going to take away anything, take away this: don’t let the haters or the skeptics change how you feel about your decision.
Your true friends will support your decision. Keep these people around and accept their support! No matter what kind of response you get from others, you have to know in your heart of hearts that this is the right decision for you. You CAN stop drinking and you can tell people you quit drinking, when the time is right!
Find an AA meeting: http://www.aa.org
Find an NA meeting: https://na.org