As a culture, we seem conflicted. On one hand, we are busy writing a New Year’s resolution to be healthy, fit and our best selves. At the same time, we are sorting out New Year’s Eve celebrations, which for many will entail spirits and cocktails. In a world where we eat well, we exercise, we meditate—why do we still drink? Is there another way? What do we gain and what do we lose when we participate in getting lit up among friends and drinking the night away? And what would happen if we opted for a new possibility instead?
To answer these questions, we reached out to Ruby Warrington, author of “Sober Curious: The Blissful Sleep, Greater Focus, Limitless Presence, and Deeper Connection Awaiting Us All on the Other Side of Alcohol” (HarperOne, December 2018). As a seasoned lifestyle journalist who launched The Numinous (an online magazine/community for conscious living), Warrington is known for challenging cultural precepts and expectations, such as how you can be a spiritual being and still enjoy life in the material world, and what life is like when you get super present and connected to yourself.
As New Year’s Eve approaches, we wonder, Can we possibly do this without alcohol—and why should we? Below are Warrington’s tips to increase your curiosity and courage for a “sober first” New Year’s Eve and very happy (not hungover) New Year’s Day.
Understand your why
This is the seat of your resolve. About seven or eight years ago, I began to question, very quietly, whether life would be better without alcohol. Many of us experience the detrimental aftereffects from drinking, including the physical effect of hangovers. As I got a little older and got more connected to myself and to what I really want to contribute in the world, I noticed that after drinking, it would take me days to get back to full speed and back to feeling confident about myself. It took even longer to get back to feeling enthusiastic about what I was doing. And so I began to wonder, “Why am I still drinking when I know that the short pleasure that I may experience while drunk—assuming I could even remember it—would have an inevitable cost or payoff the next morning?” It began to feel more and more like it was detrimental to my well-being. So I began the journey of getting “sober curious.”
Getting sober curious is personal
It is for you to define for yourself what it means to be sober curious. For me, getting sober (culminating with writing a book about my findings) began when I moved to New York and started creating The Numinous. Engaging with emotional, spiritual and wellness practices, I found that there was a real disconnect between the practices I was bringing into my life to help me feel supported, help me feel better about myself and be more physically fit and my drinking habits. It was very contradictory and I kept questioning, “Why am I so willing to cancel out all this hard work, time, energy and money that I’m putting into feeling good for a night?” With that awareness, I began to very actively remove alcohol from my life and opted out of the drinking culture.
It’s not us vs. them, good vs. bad choice
This is not a matter of morality. I have no moral standing whatsoever on people using substances to alter their consciousness. Every single animal in the natural world uses some kind of a substance to alter its consciousness. And I think that’s actually a very human
urge. It just seems interesting to me that a substance, which is the most widely used and the most societally approved, was actually one that can be pretty harmful.
That aside, I’m much more focused on the positives than trying to scare anybody into not drinking. (Alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.) In some situations, it can feel like there isn’t a choice as to whether you’re going to drink or not. I wanted to present a choice rather than to pass judgment. I wanted to consider drinking as an option and not an obligation. I wanted to treat this like an inquiry, to understand the complicity of our behavior and to understand the impact of how even occasional drinking influences the different choices in my life, like not going to the gym because I don’t feel great in the morning.
How do you want to feel?
What I really wanted from giving up drinking was to strip away everything that prevents me from being me and from being present. For most of us, being fully present with the reality of our experience all the time is difficult. It can be painful, it can be boring, it can be frustrating feeling all these things that we don’t want to feel or we don’t want to confront it because it can be too challenging. It feels good to check out, but for me, the price of choosing to check out to not be present is just not worth it.
Get ready for your sober first
Be curious about it all. And expect to feel FOMA—fear of missing alcohol. We have all heard of FOMO (fear of missing out). A lot of people drink in order to make it easier to be more social and not feel like they’re missing out. It’s very natural to have social anxiety. It’s part of our biological defense mechanism to feel anxious or to worry about what other people might think of us. Social anxiety is very natural, particularly for introverted people. The key to conquering your unease is to feel the FOMA and do it anyway and to meet people that can relate. As I started getting more into my health and wellness activities, they became a great way to meet other people who were perhaps more invested in doing things that helped them get healthy and were helping them feel more vibrant and alive naturally.
The thing about having a sober first is that it is a celebratory or a party experience. Generally, people are arriving to the party with the intention to have a good time and to have fun. If you come with that same intention that you will have a good time, you will connect and you will have fun. Generally, I find that after the first round or two, people don’t even notice that you’re not drinking. You don’t really notice that you’re not drinking. Just try to focus on it as little as possible while also keeping in mind all the reasons you are making this choice and how you want to feel the next day. Hold on to that as a bit of an anchor for why you are not drinking.
Make your own midnight
Don’t feel like you have to stay out all night. If you want to go to bed before midnight, that’s completely fine. Maybe you don’t want to stay up until midnight. That’s great. Or if you want to opt out of an activity, that is also fine. [But if you do participate, you might be surprised.] For example, I was recently at a bachelorette weekend and I saw that there was karaoke on Saturday night. I knew I probably wouldn’t be going to the karaoke bar because that feels like a slippery slope, but I went. In the end, I was having so much fun, and I felt really awake and energized being around everyone else having a great time. I had so much fun; I really surprised myself. Surprising yourself like that with how much fun you can have without alcohol is going to be more fuel to your sober curiosity going forward and will make each of your sober firsts easier and easier and easier. Remember your experiences of how great it feels not to drink—keep that feeling as your anchor, and then go and expect to have fun.
No announcement is necessary
There’s no need to make a big announcement about not drinking. If someone asks, I might say something, but the goal is to make it a nonissue. If it comes up, deal with it. At that bachelorette party, the bride decided to announce it. We were going on a train somewhere, pouring Prosecco and eating snacks, and she blurted it out. Everyone noted it for a few seconds and then [continued] on with the party. No one brought it up. Finally, one woman did want to sit next to me and talk about it. Of course, it came out that she’d been thinking about going to AA, wondering if maybe she was drinking too much. You might find that your choice not to drink helps some people open up about their own conflicted feelings, in which case by all means have an open conversation and share your experience.
“Sober Curious” is available at booksellers everywhere. Find more of Ruby Warrington’s high-vibe insights and inspiration at The Numinous, and consider joining her for a Curious Sober Retreat.
Photo credit: Ruvan Wijesooriya