First, they are DELICIOUS and I would highly recommend.
But to the purpose of this post – I bought myself a bottle for Christmas so I could make it a little *sparkly* and I mentioned it to my parents. A few days later, my dad texted and asked if I wanted him to pick up a couple bottles for me to drink on New Year’s Eve, too.
The offer made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I felt really seen and understood, and I appreciated the effort to make me feel included.
And as usual – it got me thinking! What does it mean to be sober supportive? What are my friends and family doing that’s helpful, and what are they doing that’s harmful – even if not on purpose?
So, I’ve come up with two lists: The Could Do List and The Shouldn’t Do List. Read on for some sober supportive tips!
The Could Do List
Be Careful How You React
The decision to be sober doesn’t come easy, and many who struggle with alcohol abuse experience a deep sense of shame about their condition.
So please, be careful with your words when they tell you they are going to be sober.
Use positive language – “I support your choice and want to help in any way, just let me know how”, or “I’d like to understand why you’ve come to this decision, if you’re comfortable telling me more”.
Ask What They Need
Everyone has different needs and though this list may provide a starting point, it’s best just to ask what’s helpful!
Be upfront by letting them know you want to support their sober journey but you’re not sure how, and you’d like to work together to come up with ideas for how you can be supportive.
I appreciate every time a friend has asked “How can I help?” instead of assuming what they think I need.
Offer to be a Sober Buddy
You don’t have to quit drinking, but you can offer to be a sober buddy by suggesting you do activities that don’t revolve around drinking.
Hiking, museums, working out, going to an arcade, going to the movies, bowling, grabbing a cup of coffee/tea. Pick things that don’t have to revolve around drinking.
Offer a Non-Alcoholic Alternative
If you’re going to invite a sober friend or family member to a party, first, make sure they are comfortable being around alcohol. Then, ask what they want to drink! They will so appreciate you going the extra mile to be sober supportive by picking up soda, juice, tea, or coffee.
The Shouldn’t Do List
Don’t Bring it up Constantly
As a newly sober person, I can tell you it’s on my mind pretty much all the time. I think about how much I miss drinking. Even though I make the conscious choice not to drink alcohol, I can’t force my brain to stop wanting it.
So, do your sober friend a favor and don’t bring it up all the time. Don’t constantly ask how they feel, if they’re okay, if they miss it.
It’s fine occasionally – but you don’t have to check every hour if they are doing okay while you’re out at a restaurant.
Let them talk about it when they’re ready.
Don’t React with Surprise
This one is hard because surprise may be your immediate reaction and for many of us it’s hard to not make a face out loud.
But it’s potentially damaging to a newly sober person’s self-esteem for you to be shocked that they’re sober. I guarantee they have a voice in their head saying “you can’t do this”, and your totally shocked face only reaffirms that voice.
Try to contain your surprise and reframe your surprise into excitement – “hey that’s exciting news, want to tell me more about your sober plan?”.
Don’t Remind Them of “The Before”
I know what I’m like drunk, and I don’t need a constant reminder.
Please, do not bring up what life was like before sobriety. Focusing on the past is a surefire way to make shame bubble up to the surface – and for a newly sober person, they’re more likely to relapse when they experience strong emotional situations.
Instead, focus on the present! Ask if they’ve experienced anything differently since becoming sober, or if they’re looking forward to something.
Don’t Sow Seeds of Doubt
“Are you sure you need to do this?”
“Why bother? You’re not an alcoholic!”
“Can’t you just learn to cut back a little”?”
Sobriety comes smothered in doubt, guilt, and shame. You’re actively choosing to give up something you deeply desire to have. You’re worried you might be destined to a lifelong dependence on it. You wonder if sobriety has to last forever, or if you’ll ever have a healthy relationship with alcohol.
You wonder why everyone around you has self-control and you seem to be crumble in the face of a cocktail.
When your friend, family member or partner decides to get sober, they may be agonizing over their choice every hour of every day, and doubting their decision is never helpful.
Don’t tell them how to live their life. Don’t make them think they’ve made a bad or wrong choice because it’s not the one you would have made. Don’t tell them they don’t have a problem, just because you haven’t noticed it.
If you doubt their reasons, or their ability to get or stay sober, I kindly invite you to keep it to yourself.
Don’t Assume You Have to Be Sober, Too
This one is going to be up to the person who’s sober. Your first gut reaction may be that you can’t ever drink around this person or you’ll cause them to relapse.
However, studies show that for someone to get and stay sober, they’ll find more success in learning to avoid giving in to their triggers – not avoiding them altogether.
So, just ask! They may request to not be around alcohol for a short period of time while they adjust, but eventually they may want to purposefully expose themselves so they can practice their sober strategies. And in that scenario, it goes without saying that you should never offer them alcohol as a “test”.
If you’re sober, I’d love to hear what your support system is doing that’s helpful – and what’s not!