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The Vine: September 18, 2013

Submitted by on September 18, 2013 – 1:58 PM15 Comments

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I have recently (six months ago) stopped drinking. I stopped because I am an alcoholic.

I have attempted sobriety many times throughout my life (I'm in my fifties) but have always eventually relapsed. The longest period of abstinence that I have attained is twelve years. I slipped after I stopped attending AA meetings and stopped keeping in touch with my AA friends. I am doing well, doing everything that I need to do to stay sober and am more committed to my sobriety than I have ever been.

While I was drinking, I made a group of friends who all drink. Some of them socially, some not so socially. I really enjoyed this group of friends and thought we had a lot in common — until I stopped drinking. I then realized that while a few of these friends are still interesting and fun to hang out with, some of them were no longer fun once the alcohol was removed from the picture. I realize that basically they were drinking buddies. Most of my friends who drink totally understand, respect and support my decision to abstain, however one person in particular, R, does not seem to get it.

I have explained to her that I need to avoid bars and parties that are centered around drinking — at least for now, maybe for always. She continues to invite me to activities that would not be healthy for me to attend. Like a wine-tasting tour (yeah, that would be fun for a recovering alcoholic). I continually turn down these invitations and explain that they would not be a good idea for my recovery. At this point I feel like I need to distance myself from this friendship but in doing so I don't want to hurt her feelings.

At first I thought that we could do activities that don't center around booze, but now realize that every activity that she participates in is surrounded by booze. I'm not exaggerating — she does not like any type of outdoor activity, doesn't like to go to plays or museums or really do anything that I am interested in. She likes the night life and parties and bars. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

My question is, do I just keep turning down invites until she gets the hint? Do I sit down with her and again explain the situation? How does one gently exit a friendship without hurting someone's feelings?

Signed,
Sober for today

Dear Sober,

Good for you, first of all. Second of all, it's nice of you not to want to hurt her feelings, but I don't know if R would even notice. A wine-tasting tour is pretty oblivious.

Continuing to turn down invitations is plenty gentle; either R will stop asking, or she'll comment that you never want to hang out with her. If it's the latter, you can inform her neutrally that she only ever suggests "activities" that involve drinking, and as much as you'd like to spend time with her, you can't endanger your recovery that way right now. Then suggest an alternative: a walking tour (not one of the pub-crawly ones, obvs), an art gallery, whatever. Maybe, if you explain it again, she'll make an effort with an afternoon at a museum…because people sometimes don't get it re: recovery, specifically that every addict's experience of it is different, everyone is triggered differently, and when there is a timeline for feeling comfortable around booze, it's unpredictable and evolving, et cetera and so on. We have movie-ish ideas about sobriety, sometimes, and it isn't your responsibility to educate R, but you and I happen to know dozens of people who chill with Bill. R may only know you, and need that reminder that you don't hang with the hops anymore.

Maybe she won't get it; maybe you don't actually want her to, because it's becoming clear you have nothing to say to her that isn't about bourbon or you feel like she's undermine-y maybe a little bit, and in that case, just keep declining. But, you know, decide which it is first. If you'd like to try to keep her as a friend, it might require a teaching moment, but it's okay to feel done, and to kindly but firmly beg off places that aren't good for you.

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15 Comments »

  • Kristin says:

    First off, Sober, congratulations on what is an incredible achievement, and I wish you ease in your continued sobriety.

    That said, I think, from your email, that you're aware that your friendship with R (who sounds like a living example of cluelessness) is circling the drain, and while it's nice that you don't want to hurt R's feelings, you need to protect yourself as she really does not seem to understand.

    I come from a family with a heavy dose of the "Irish flu" (forgive me, fellow Murphs) and I watched some non-sober family members actually put drinks in the hands of the sober folks, saying, "one won't hurt." It wasn't exactly intentional, but not exactly accidental either. There are some people who, for whatever their reasons, will forever fail to understand, and unfortunately for you, to stay sober you may have to kick them to the curb.

    Best of luck.

  • Megan in Seattle says:

    First off, Sober, I'm impressed by how much care you are taking to protect your sobriety. It sounds as if you have been pretty firm in setting your boundaries and explaining yourself to this friend. At this point, from what you write, it very much looks like she is set on undermining you. There could be a thousand reasons for that, but–at face value–she is not onboard with your sobriety. I think Sars is spot-on in her advice, if a little too generous with your friend. Just keep turning down her invitations, see if she misses you, and try to suggest an appropriate get-together as an alternative. Be prepared for her to turn that museum visit into a few cocktails in the museum's restaurant, though. Good luck, and keep up the hard work! It will be worth it.

  • JenV says:

    Yeah, I'm not sure I'd be that concerned about hurting a friend's feelings if I had tried to explain the situation to her as many times as you have, and she still didn't get it or didn't care. She's not that good of a friend if she makes no effort support or even understand your decision.

  • LunaS says:

    Sometimes alcoholics – or people who might suspect on some level they drink too much – don't like change, especially in friends and loved ones. It threatens the structure they have put in place to make it seem like what they're doing is okay.

    Sober, you might already know this, but sometimes the things alcoholics do are harder to deal with in others. It might be worth your while to check out some Al-Anon lit on detachment.

    Hopefully it's just that R really has no concept of social activities without alcohol, and just needs a little education in that area.

    Good luck, and congrats on your sobriety!

  • rlnpirate says:

    Sober,
    Congrats on your sobriety and may you live long and prosper in your new life.
    What I am about to say may sound mean, I don't mean it to be that way, but…..here goes.
    Is it possible that R liked you better when you were drinking and wants THAT friend back? Not that you are not a lovely person when sober, but when I quit drinking, I was shocked at how many of my "friends" dumped me because I was no fun anymore. I guess that was true if you think of fun as turning your life into a hot mess with alcohol fueled bad choices.

    I would simply tell R that you cannot continue your friendship. PERIOD!!! R isn't on board with your sobriety and really isn't your friend. At least not a friend to the new sober you.

  • MizShrew says:

    Sober, congrats on six months of sobriety. That's a lot of work and commitment right there, and you're right to protect it from destructive people like R. Sadly, sometimes people see not drinking as a judgment of their drinking. (I'm not saying it is, just that I've seen people get touchy about it around people who don't drink.) Or perhaps she's looked at her own habits and sees they're not that different than your pre-sober habits, and wants to pull you in to your old drinking ways to justify hers. Or maybe she's just really, really clueless. (Seriously, a wine-tasting?) Either way, just keep saying no. I think you've been very kind already. If she asks directly, you can tell her again that you just can't do the bar/booze scene anymore. But you don't owe her more than that.

  • ferretrick says:

    Congratulations, Sober, on your recovery and best of luck to you.

    Obviously, I don't know this person and you do, but-is it possible your friend has a bit of an alcohol problem herself? I am assuming R is of a similar age to you. Most adults have given up night life and bars as their main social outlet by age 50. Not that middle aged people never like to tie one on, or hit the old haunts, but when the person is past 25 and has developed NO other interests or hobbies besides drinking? I would say that indicates a problem. And if that's the case, that might explain A LOT about why R is trying, consciously or unconsciously, to wreck your sobriety-your recovery is putting a mirror up to her face that she doesn't want to see.

    Regardless, obviously she's not a positive person for you to be around right now, and it sounds like you've tried the gentle disengage and it hasn't worked. It's nice to try to spare her feelings, but I think you are going to have to say it in so many words-"You only seem interested in activities that involve drinking, and I've explained that I simply can't do those anymore. I'm sorry, I wish you the best, but we just don't seem to have much in common anymore." It's harsh, but as Sars always says, lots of people can't take hints.

    And-one other thought. You might be doing her a favor. You don't have to get all Intervention-y about it-but IF R does have a problem, and IF you state in so many words that you aren't interested in being her friend anymore because all she wants to do is drink-maybe it will encourage her to seek help also.

  • Barb says:

    I'm confused here.
    You told us "I am doing well, doing EVERYTHING that I need to do to stay sober and am more committed to my sobriety than I have ever been."

    "Most of my friends who drink totally understand, respect and support my decision to abstain, however one person in particular, R, does not seem to get it."

    "At this point I feel like I need to distance myself from this friendship but in doing so I don't want to hurt her feelings."

    One piece of that "doing everything" would have been talking this over with your sponsor.

    You know you want to give up drinking, you know it can ruin your life and kill you, and it seems to me that you are weighing hurting her feelings against your survival. There are a million examples where/when I would advise against hurting someone's feelings – this is not one of them.

    I think that every time you talk to R, even to turn down that wine-tasting tour, is an opportunity for you to slip. So I believe that for you to indeed "do everything… to stay sober" you should end the friendship, cleanly, swiftly.

  • Maria says:

    I agree with Barb above.

    I also think that getting sober is a time of looking out for your own needs. I don't think you should be bogged down in worries about R's feelings for the simple reason that she doesn't seem to care about your feelings–most importantly, the feeling that you don't want to drink anymore.

    Who knows why she acts as she does…I've come to feel that people see what they need to see in order to keep themselves from facing change. Clearly she thinks she just needs to keep after you to come out drinking with her to keep her life the way it was. It doesn't allow you to be yourself, though, so you wisely know not to go there. So what I'm saying is, don't be like R. Don't just keep propping up what isn't there. Make the break.

  • Jen B. says:

    Sober For Today, I think Ferretrick nailed this one.

  • Jen S 1.0 says:

    First off, congratulations. What a difficult task and you are performing admirably.

    I agree with pretty much everyone here including Sars, natch. I mean, I hardly drink at all, maybe Champagne at New Years, but even I know that when someone tells me "I've given up alcohol" the first response should NOT be "How great, want to go on a wine tasting tour?"

    Honestly, R sounds like she has problems of her own, and you are caught up in one of her denial webs–the kind that makes behavior that from the outside look astonishingly clueless make sense from within. The kind that makes up all sorts of exceptions: "wine isn't really alcohol", "tasting's not the same as drinking", and so on.

    Who knows why R is the way she is. Let her go gently, talk to your sponsor, and check out Caroline Knapp's fantastic book Drinking: A Love Story. It's an amazing view of how alcoholism is an evolving process, and the clarity needed to step outside it.

  • Shannon says:

    What Barb said. If you want to stay sober, I think a no-compromise approach is best. Sometimes we have to be ruthless to achieve our goals. Best of luck to you.

  • Sue says:

    It's not clear to me that R is being your friend right now. My understanding is that becoming and remaining sober can be difficult. Aren't friends supposed to support each other through difficulties? At the very least, friends shouldn't make difficult things more difficult. Do you need to stay friends with someone who is actively sabotaging your sobriety (e.g. wine tasting)?

    It's hard, I know, to say that a friendship has reached its end. I understand that. I also believe that taking care of yourself, taking care of your health, taking care of your sobriety is MUCH more important than trying to spare someone's feelings.

    It sounds like you're already doing amazing things for yourself – I wish you all the best!

  • Been There, Left That says:

    Hey, Sober–Solidarity hugs from another recovering alcoholic over here! If AA is working for you, fantastic, glad to hear it, but do keep in mind that you are more than the label 'alcoholic'. Whatever works, though. There are as many ways to get and stay sober as there are to go down the road to ruin, pick what is best for you and never apologize for being who you are!

    As for your 'friend'–they are either a)incredibly empathy tone-deaf, b) ignorant as to what 'sober' means, or c) alcoholic themselves and in denial so deep as to be abysmal. This is a trench-warfare situation, not peace talks at The Hague. You need to cut loose anyone and anything that is going to compromise your sobriety, period, full stop. Hang in there, you can do this, no–you ARE doing this.

  • erikagillian says:

    Hey, daughter of a 30 plus year recovering addict here. Not that I go to Al-Anon as much as I should… but! My mom calls Al-Anon advanced recover for addicts. And Al-Anon is, at least to begin with, how to deal with drinkers. So I'm thinking if you're not going maybe try it? If you are, I adore the detachment leaflet, and recommend it highly :) A lot of addicts don't go to it, they think it's for their relatives, they don't realize that it's also for dealing with relatives and friends of addicts, which… :)

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