You survived Valentine’s Day. There is a sweetness in the promise of roses, chocolate and a bottle of wine shared with a special someone. Yet this feels like a love life on autopilot: While well-intentioned, the traditional gesture doesn’t deliver the sustained intimacy we seek. On top of that, no one loves the sugar/toxic/overspend hangover that follows. What if instead of looking for love in all the wrong places, we got curious—”sober curious”—about our real quest for intimacy and the paths that can lead us closer?
If you are ready for your next romantic encounter sweetened by your most authentic presence instead of wine and dessert, then consider four tips signed, sealed and delivered by Ruby Warrington, a leading voice of the new conscious living movement and best-selling author of “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deep Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol” (HarperOne, 2018). Drawing on research, expert interviews and personal narratives, Warrington explores a radical takedown of the myths and habitual patterns that keep so many of us numbing out in our lives, especially through mindless drinking.
- Pop the question
Not that question. This question is for you. Why do you want a drink? We are so conscious in the other areas of our life. After all, we yoga. We green juice. We meditate. We self-care. And yet, come a preordained holiday, the start of a special relationship or an awkward social situation, we drink. One glass of wine turns into two or a bottle, and the conversation and chance for real connection dwindles as the night goes on … and in the end, we feel terrible. As you plan your romantic evening, stop and ask the question: Would this date be better without alcohol?
Likely so. We tend to drink because we are uncomfortable in social situations and learned that this was an acceptable way to bond and feel good. We’ve trained ourselves to be uncomfortable in these situations. It’s not because humans are uncomfortable in social situations. Social anxiety is very natural, particularly for more introverted people, and we develop both FOMO (a fear of missing out) as well as FOMA (a fear of missing alcohol) in order to connect and feel confident.
The way to overcome that is to feel the FOMA and do it anyway! Most people drink alcohol to feel more confident and relaxed in social situations, and this is often where FOMA is most prevalent. If we’ve been teaching our brains since, say, age 15 that we need alcohol to socialize or to connect, the thought of having to perform without our trusty liquid crutch can bring up a lot of fear. From there, it is very easy to quickly become dependent on alcohol in social situations, especially if we are not given tools to confront our social anxiety or find ways to socialize that don’t make us anxious—and get OK with not being invited to all the cool parties or whatever it is that’s the real source of anxiety.
Since the fastest way to dismantle fears is to prove them wrong, Warrington recommends embracing as many “sober firsts” (staying sober in situations in which you would normally drink) as possible. As we lean into the journey, we get more and more comfortable with sober dinners and sober networking events and sober dates. And we discover that when we let go of our attachment to the fake feeling of alcohol, these experiences on their own can be amazing—if not much better—sober. We also begin to discern that if something feels not fun or worse without alcohol, then it is probably lining up to be a soul-destroying experience and best to skip it all together.
- Show up well-fed
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Whatever may be stirring in you, and as you contemplate all, one thing is certain: When it comes to transforming the world we live in, at both the personal and collective levels, we need to be fully conscious to do it and have all our wits about us. A sober curious approach is self-directed and is about educating yourself to begin trusting your own body over the societal messaging we receive.
It’s helpful to find a meditation practice that works for you. This is how you get spirit on speed dial, the connection you were possibly seeking in spirits (the alcoholic kind). Try a yoga class. Find a way to express your creativity. Spend time in nature. Lose yourself in music. Dance with abandon (alone is awesome). These are all ways to bring spirit into your life that will fill your cup until it is overflowing. Sobriety can be a conscious lifestyle choice available to everyone invested in their overall well-being—one that leads to greater joy, clarity, confidence and connection.
- Imbibe presence
A lot of people drink in order to make it easier to be more social and often think, My life’s going to get so boring. What am I ever going to talk to my friends about? Warrington says that having been a habitual binge drinker for the majority of her 20s and 30s, she’s spent the past six years slowly but steadily unlearning the habit of reaching for a drink on autopilot in any and all social situations.
At first, it was a challenge to actually be really, fully present with the reality of our experience. It’s painful, boring and frustrating. There are many things that we don’t want to feel or we don’t want to confront because they can be too challenging. But good things can come out of just being present: There’s a whole other level of opportunity to connect and strip away everything that prevents us from being ourselves.
Warrington says she really surprised herself with how much fun she could have without alcohol. Staying curious going forward makes each sober first easier, and eventually, it’s possible to go into social situations and just expect to have fun.
- Move a little closer
At first, we might be concerned about how not drinking could affect even our most romantic relationships with partners and spouses. It’s fun drinking together, even if the price we pay afterward seems higher and higher. Not drinking might even leave us with nothing to talk about. But Warrington finds being fully present with each other has led to a new level of emotional intimacy, even after almost 20 years of marriage. (Her husband is now sober curious, too.) There’s plenty to talk about, and the period of adjustment is largely in terms of what to do on a Friday night. Warrington says her relationship probably became more emotionally intimate because they are fully present for each other.
It is also worth mentioning that intimacy in a #metoo culture has inspired generations of women to rethink their relationship with alcohol. Warrington came of age in London in the 1990s, the era of the “ladettes,” of Sex and the City and of Cool Britannia—when Kate Moss was falling out of the Met Bar, drunk was seen as the epitome of cool. This was also when alcohol companies began actively targeting women with their messaging, on a mission to make it appear “feminist” for women to drink as much as men. Warrington believes it left a generation way more dependent on alcohol (to feel like modern, emancipated women) than ever intended. Now even Kate Moss has stopped drinking. (She celebrated a year sober in October 2018). And following a spate of booze-sodden #metoo stories, it’s becoming clearer and clearer that getting sober curious is actually how women and men and people of every gender expression in between can begin to reclaim both their bodies and their consciousness and step into their full power.
Last but by no means least, living sober curious has meant getting super comfortable with the fact that being human is not—and is not supposed to be—comfortable. We are designed to experience a whole range of feelings on a daily basis, some “good,” some “bad,” and all in service of keeping us in alignment with the choices that are in our highest good. Feels good? Do more of it. Feels bad? Either don’t do it or do something to make it feel better (like maybe actually have that “difficult” conversation with your mom versus getting wasted on rosé next time you have to see her). Option three? Simply sit with it, feel it and allow it to pass. (It will pass.)
Photo credit: Mark Kuroda, kurodastudios.com