Last night, as I was sitting in a restaurant eating dinner with a few friends, I received a text with a link to an article. This article, published by Refinery29, was about the dangers of calling sobriety a wellness trend, and it had… my name in it?! As I read through the article my entire body was shaking, and as soon as my friends realized what was going on they made an embarrassingly large scene (because they love me). They even went as far as to show our server the article’s two short sentences about me. As much as I hated the commotion, I loved that my friends, who aren’t in recovery, could be and were this excited for me about something to do with sobriety. I was feeling so much love for these people sitting around me, for the people texting me about it and for all of the people who have so immensely supported me through my journey. It didn’t feel real that someone, somewhere, writing for a place like Refinery29 (a website I read often), liked my words enough to share them on their platform. And as much as I wanted to pretend like it wasn’t a big deal to me, the people in my life knew it was, so we went to celebrate. At a bar.
Now, listen, I know what this sounds like. A bar? I was just quoted in an article about my sobriety? Well, I’m 21. And my friends are all in their 20s as well. We didn’t think about it, we didn’t even notice the irony behind what we were doing. Bars are the place you’re supposed to go for last minute celebrations, right? It’s the kind of celebration most young people know. Celebrating is so equated with drinking that we sometimes don’t even think twice about it. Even after over 2 years of sobriety I still struggle with this idea. Going to this bar was a way of allowing us to stay out late and hang out with each other. Where I live we have no sober bars, and there’s not much open past 10pm on a Wednesday; we went to the only open and available thing to us.
But, how do you really celebrate sobriety at a place full of alcohol? Well, I’m not sure, but I can tell you what it looked like.
It looked like having an amazing time with my friends, it looked like laughing and photo shoots, but it also looked like drinking water in a room full of drunk people. Drunk people who were not in the mood to celebrate something like sobriety. My friends are almost too supportive, so the sharing of my two sentence article feature didn’t stop at the restaurant. At the bar, one man in particular took to my story. This man, who we met for the first time at this bar, decided he needed to ask me an overwhelming large amount of questions about my sobriety.
How old are you? 21. How long have you been sober? 2 years and 4 months. Do you have a boyfriend? No, a girlfriend. Oh, you like girls? Maybe I should stop asking questions. Please do. I forgot, how old are you? I already told you. Sorry, I’m drunk. Why did you quit drinking? So I wouldn’t die. Oh, shit, have you saved money? Over 3,000 dollars. Stop rubbing in my face how much money you’ve saved. You’re like 27, right darling? Abso-fucking-lutely not.
He decided he was entitled to an answer for every question he asked, even the ones he drunkenly asked twice, and with every answer I gave I watched him become more and more angry with my responses. I can’t speak for this man, I don’t know what was going through his head, but I can put myself in his shoes. In my drinking days, seeing a sober person at a bar would have made me wildly uncomfortable. I wouldn’t have become aggressive or asked intruding questions, that’s toxic masculinity for you (seriously fuck this dude), but I would have felt my drinking behaviors were being attacked. If you had told drunk 19-year-old me that in two years I could be having fun at a bar sober, I would have laughed in your face and called you a liar. But, what if I had actually seen a 21-year-old having fun at a bar sober? I think one of two things would have happened: I would have decided it was possible, and that I could do it too, or I would have decided the sober 21-year-old thought they were better than me. And while I was drinking, the latter would have been much more likely to happen, but I wouldn’t have been able to deny it was possible.
What I find interesting, is although this man was outwardly annoyed with my answers, he was clearly interested in my story. Seeing a sober 21 year old, out and having fun, isn’t something we encounter often. Many people still associate sobriety with being anonymous, or even with staying in and not having fun, and when we see the opposite happening, it’s, well, weird. And I get this from drinkers and nondrinkers. I sometimes see people who drink become weirded out when they see me able to have fun without alcohol, but I also sometimes see people who have quit drinking become weirded out when they see me continuing to go out to bars with my friends. But I want young people to know it is possible to still go out late and have fun while sober. It took me a long time to get to a place where I was able to be around big groups of people drinking, but I am now secure enough in my recovery that this is possible. And what I’m not saying is every young sober person should go to the bars, or that the only way to have fun is to be around drinking, but we are absolutely allowed to still go out and have fun in whatever way we want and can safely do. And although the man I talked to last night was a fucking asshole, I think I left him with a part of my story, and if I am able to plant a seed in a young person’s head, and show them you don’t need alcohol to have fun, I’m going to.
Being sober at 21 is hard to navigate, and although I would prefer to celebrate outside of alcohol fueled places, right now that is not always a reality, so I’m going to continue to figure it out, have fun and probably make mistakes along the way.
And if you’re cool with that, I’m cool with you.