I got sober at 22 years of age (I turned 31 at the end of July) and so my 20s were different than a lot of people my age. I’ve been catapulted into my 30s with a mindset dissimilar to most of my peers.
I struggled with wanting to be social and feel 22 — which Taylor Swift clearly tells us is happy, free, confused, and lonely in the best way — and also 25 and 27 and 28, all the while constantly questioning a bigger purpose to life. I was forced to maintain a lifestyle with a certain level of self-awareness or else die or be miserable.
Getting sober so young has propelled me into a somewhat 60 year-old mindset and maturity (two of my best friends that I talk to the most are women in their 60s). Small talk is a struggle for me and I value my relationships above all, especially my relationship to myself.
My non-alcoholic (and even some in denial) friends love to go to the bar and get drunk while I would prefer to sit at home and read. Now I have a feeling that all the introverts out there are giving a resounding “Me too!” But surprise: I’m an extrovert.
Young and no longer hopeless.
I’m still young and am still in the throes of “figuring it out.” I navigate the tumultuousness of hormones and desire to feel young and still manage to make plenty of mistakes, to which I get to claim more accountability since I don’t have the “I was so drunk” excuse. So if you’re young and trying to get sober or just over the drinking game, there’s hope.
Life doesn’t have to (and arguably, shouldn’t) revolve around something that adds no value to your life. (Surprise, drinking too much alcohol is damaging to your health.) I’ve learned who I actually am, what I actually like, and how to converse and care about people.
Taking away alcohol and drugs from my life made it glaringly obvious that I didn’t know how to live life on life’s terms (as they say in AA). I had to learn how to manage my emotions, how to be a good friend, how to dance sober (let me just say, that was a set of awkward nights), how to re-live.
It was the most painful thing I’ve ever done. But it is also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done. It gave me a life that I never would have had if I didn’t need to. Getting sober through the 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous challenged me and made me grow as a person, something I would have avoided if it didn’t mean life or death.
I realized that it wasn’t the end of my life, rather, just the beginning.
After getting sober I was given so many opportunities that I never would have been brave enough to go after if I was still drinking and doing drugs. A few of my “wins” were getting accepted in graduate school for poetry at Emerson College in Boston, dropping out of graduate school and learning to sing, going to graduate school for Physical Theatre in Italy, volunteering in Thailand and teaching English to disabled students, getting cast in my very first musical and having solo moments. And I know if I continue to stay clean and sober, the list will only grow from there.
I don’t have the luxury of having a beer or glass of wine after work to relax. I’ve had to adapt and learn a different set of skills. I’ve developed a meditation practice and journaling habit that help calm me down and get the day’s chaos organized.
I am an artist and my art has thrived as a result of having more energy from not being hungover everyday or being worried about who I was going to go out with or how I was going to get drugs. I am consistently writing music and devising theatre and pursuing my dreams.
Now, looking at my life when I’m [almost] 31, I see that all these things are amazing. However, when I was 22 all I wanted was to fit in and find a group of friends. I wanted the acceptance of my peers (mostly guys) and the feeling of being a part of something.
Bar culture is everywhere.
It’s easy to see the prevalence of American drinking culture from just flipping on the TV or selecting any country radio station. You can’t escape the media’s input and advertising to drink lots and often. It has been a part of society and culture for a long time, notably since the agricultural revolution, but it seems to be the center of all social interactions and entertainment (most states even serve alcohol at the movie theater now).
Being sober throughout the majority of my 20s has allowed me to see the prominence of alcohol in our society and view it from a different perspective.
How did I survive my 20s while getting adequate social interaction and still feeling young while not drinking? I had to find a new way to live and socialize, and it wasn’t easy. I thought that there was no way I could escape alcohol since I would see it on billboards, watch it on TV, listen to it on the radio, or hear about a coworkers morally questionable weekend in Las Vegas.
It permeated everything I did and I struggled to imagine a life without alcohol. Today, I rarely notice it, I see it or hear about it but I don’t give it much thought. This came from filling my life with other things that I pay more attention to.
The time is now.
If you’ve been thinking it’s time to get sober or move away from the bar culture but don’t know how to make friends or find people who are aligned with how you want your life to look, keep reading.
I’ll give you my empirical advice and tools I learned from stopping drinking and drugging in the prime of my youth. It’s a change in how you approach life and interaction and will require effort, but following the steps outlined below, you’ll be on your way to a new perspective, and consequently, a whole new world. (Cue magic carpet.)
Find Your Tribe
Now this is the MOST important step you can take to see a drastic shift in your lifestyle. Ultimately, that’s what you’re doing: making a lifestyle change. So you’re going to need to find the same type of people who are living that lifestyle. Without this it’ll be hard to change.
You probably have friends who text you on Friday and ask what bar you’re meeting at or what you’re wearing to the club. Without adding to your social circle you’ll just get pulled back into the same patterns. You’ll be bored on Friday with no one else to hang out with but your bar-hopping friends and eventually, you’ll end up going out with them. But what if you had someone else to text about going to see a movie?
I found my tribe naturally through 12 Step programs. Needing to get sober, I went to a lot of meetings and met people my age trying to do the same thing. We all wanted to live a better life and give up alcohol and drugs and needed the support of each other. But what if you’re not an addict? How do you meet these people?
The internet connects and unites.
There are a lot of different websites and platforms to meet people with similar interests, such as Meetup.com. You enter your personal interests and location and find others in your area who have created a group around specific hobbies or ideas.
If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can always create your own Meetup! For example, when I lived in Italy I was desperate to find a spiritual group of people who spoke English. I went on Meetup.com and couldn’t find anything, so I decided to start my own.
I found a location to host it (a local bookstore). Then I picked a theme to lead the meetings with (Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now”). The meetings consisted of reading passages from the book and a discussion. We talked about what we understood (there was a language barrier on top of the already esoteric concepts) and how we felt about the excerpt. It eventually led to discussions about ourselves and our day at work or school and how we try to implement spirituality into our lives.
I got to know people of different cultures on a different, more profound level. The support of the group was something I had to look forward to every week that was in alignment with who I wanted to be and the path that I was on.
If you can’t find your tribe, make space and they’ll find you.
Go Out in Public
Years ago, I remember distinctly complaining to a male friend of mine that no guys were hitting on me. I told him that I felt ugly and unattractive because I wasn’t currently dating or talking to anyone. He asked me, “Are you going out in public?”
The answer was no. I was going to work and that was it. How could I expect guys to hit on me if I wasn’t even making that a possibility? If you want to meet people, you have to go where the people are. (Enter iconic song about gadgets and gizmos aplenty.)
Go to the library or a coffee shop. Bring a book and stay there for a while. Go bowling or attend a sporting event. You’ll definitely have a better chance to meet people when you are surrounded by people.
Public events can help you find your tribe.
This goes in line with finding your tribe. If you can go to an event that you’re really passionate about, you’ll not only be out in public, which creates opportunity to meet people, but you’ll be doing something that interests you.
For instance, when I was in Germany, I went sightseeing alone and wandered into an animal rights protest. I am super passionate about animal rights and asked if I could join. They gave me a sign and I became a part of something and connected with people I never would have known. Today I still have Facebook interactions with the leader of the protest and can reach out to him if I go back to Germany.
Another group I joined while living in Italy was for human rights. I attended some of their meetings (which I didn’t understand due to the language barrier) and partook in a march and a protest for women’s rights. Through me just showing up in public to the meetings, I met friends who I hung out with outside of the group. I even got the opportunity to perform original music I wrote at one of the group’s events.
If you want to be a part of that world, you have to, be a part of that world.
Let Yourself Feel Awkward
When you’re used to drinking and being a part of the nightlife, you build up a set of social skills based around that culture. Then if you remove yourself from that scene, your skill set is going to seem a little out of place. Yelling loudly over music is not acceptable during a classical concert. Similarly, flashing the barista to get a free Pumpkin Spice Latte might get you cited for indecent exposure.
American culture is against authenticity. We see a crack in the veneer as a detriment and a failure. But that’s not truth. I tried for so long to make my outside look perfect: makeup everyday, beautiful hair, sexy clothes. While inside I was miserable and dying from addiction and depression. No one knew how truly broken I was.
All of this is to say, be yourself. If you feel awkward meeting people without a beer in your hand, that’s okay. It’ll get easier. It’s much easier to drink and pretend you don’t care than to be fully present and sober and actually care. It’s awkward to change your life and how you relate and interact to people, but eventually it becomes natural. You’re creating new habits so there’s bound to be a learning curve.
Do I look as awkward as I feel?
When I first got sober I was incredibly awkward. I felt awkward and I didn’t know what to do with my hands. Do I place them on my hips, do I run them through my hair, do I stick them in my pockets...what if I don’t have pockets — why don’t dresses and skirts have pockets? I had a slew of conflict and chaotic internal dialogue that ran rampantly through my brain in any social situation. I didn’t know how to be.
One night, I asked my sponsor if I was awkward and she replied with a resounding “No.” Six months later, while driving in the car, she said, “Remember when you first got sober, you were so awkward!” Apparently, she had lied to me to spare my feelings, which I’m grateful for. But it validated the truth: I felt awkward and I was awkward. And, thankfully, eventually the awkwardness passed.
Admit the truth to yourself, and others.
It’s going to feel really awkward while you learn a new way to meet people and get to know them. You have to be gentle with yourself and allow your true feelings to be felt. I always say, speak your truth. You can actually speak words into your feelings; tell people that you’re uncomfortable, which in my experience, allows the other person to feel more comfortable.
Pretending like you’ve got it all figured out is not welcoming and usually not true. In the beginning you’re like a toddler learning how to speak. You can’t expect the grammar to be perfect or the witty banter to come naturally. Speech is a learned trait and can be adapted and modified. The same goes for learning what do with your hands.
Learn What You Like
This is a great time to get to know yourself. Oftentimes we allow ourselves to be dictated to when it comes to likes and dislikes. We are in the middle of mass consumerism and marketing and sometimes don’t realize our preferences are really not our own.
You might like a certain beer or drink because you saw people having fun on TV while imbibing it, or the hot girl across the bar drinks it and you want to emulate her. Shows like “How I Met Your Mother” center around a bar and make us think we want a life centered around a bar with friends getting drunk every night. But what do you actually enjoy?
I learned that I love to read. My favorite series is Harry Potter, which I read once a year for almost a decade. (Yes, I mean all seven books, every single year.) I took voice lessons and learned how to sing. For someone who was told they were tone deaf all their life, this was a huge feat. It was a gift to learn about who I actually was.
Being sober gave me a life and allowed me to pursue my passions. I realized I enjoy learning and so I went to grad school, twice. I learned I love traveling and so I made that a reality. I’m still learning new things about myself and it’s all unfolding beautifully.
Play in the world.
If you love to dance, dance. Dance as if no one is watching. If you love to sing, sing. Sing as if no one is listening. Give yourself the permission to explore what matters to you. Maybe you will learn about a passion you have for crocheting.
Perhaps you enjoy making socks for dogs and your craftsmanship is seen across the Los Angeles landscape of four-legged friends. And when you go to the store and buy yarn maybe you meet someone who knits for cats and you fall in love and start a business empire for clothing the paws of our furry felines and canines. It’s a crazy world, people.
When less time is spent drinking and recovering from drinking, you get to play more. There are so many opportunities in life and so many wonderful hobbies or activities you can partake in. Figure out who you want to be and go be it.
I hated being alone when I first got sober. I couldn’t stand silence because it left with me with my thoughts. And after years of drinking to avoid those thoughts, it was a slap in the face to have to listen to them. If you’ve been drinking as a coping mechanism, you’re likely to come up against a similar situation.
I had to learn a new set of skills to deal with the self-hatred and pain I felt on an hourly basis. So I went to therapy.
Therapy, therapy, and more therapy.
I recommend therapy for anyone and everyone. In a world of technology and social media, we are losing our ability to create and maintain interpersonal relationships. We rely on “likes” to validate our worth and comments to suffice as our daily interactions. But when it comes to social media, we often put our best foot forward and aren’t being vulnerable or sharing what we’re actually feeling. (An interesting read: Social Media and Relationships.) This can lead to feelings of discontent and loneliness. That’s where therapy can help.
Someone who is educated in counseling supports you while listening to you and talking all about you. How amazing is that! You get 50 minutes of ALL YOU. It’s a narcissist’s wet dream.
If you’re like me, there are probably underlying reasons why you might drink so much. Therapy can also provide you with insight of why you’re drinking and will help give you one-on-one accountability to stop drinking and how to cope. Also, you may want to consider AA if you think you might be an alcoholic— without this program I would not be sober today.
If you don’t have a drinking problem and are just reading this article to find ways to meet friends, I want to say congrats! But I still recommend therapy. We all have hurt and it’s nice to have someone give us their undivided attention and to feel heard.
Find New Ways To Drink
If you’re not an alcoholic, you don’t have to give up drinking altogether. You can still enjoy a glass of wine or a craft beer at a brewery — these are actually ways to meet people who are more aligned with what you’re looking for.
Surprisingly, people can drink without binging and getting wasted (a concept unfamiliar to myself). If you still enjoy the taste of alcohol, you can go to a wine bar or a wine tasting. You can find people who have a lot of knowledge about the subject and develop a friendship over this interest, the same for craft beer.
Who knew there were so many drink options?
If you want to stop drinking alcohol completely, drink something else! Meet people for a cup of coffee or go out to dinner and talk and have a mocktail. I still enjoy a good virgin piña colada. I’ve started drinking kombucha and different teas. I learned that there are other types of liquids out there to consume than just hard liquor chased by harder liquor.
If you still want something to do on a Saturday night, there are options. Look for live music and get a virgin drink or sparkling water so you’ll still feel like you’re participating with a drink in hand, but you’ll feel much better the next day.
Giving up alcohol or changing your bar-hopping lifestyle of getting smashed every weekend doesn’t mean you have to become a different person. It actually gives you the space to be the person who you actually are.
Life should be centered around relationships, not drinking. Whatever you do, if you keep that in mind, you won’t miss drinking because you will be replacing the activity with a newfound intimacy of interaction.
The most important thing is about finding people with whom you can relate. Sharing a connection about a topic will allow you to have a foundation to build upon. What I have found from being sober is that my relationships with people are a lot more fulfilling. I actually get to know people really quickly.
It’s similar to if you decide not to have sex with someone for a couple months while dating. Without the physical, you have a lot more time to actually get to know a person and see if you’re compatible personality-wise.
When your main social interaction isn’t based around a night of details that you’ll mostly forget, you get to show up more presently. You are more vulnerable, which at first feels terrifying, but actually is significantly more rewarding. You gain friends who feel like family. People you can call about a heartbreak or loss who will actually listen rather than give a prescription for a crazy night on the town.
But I like my friends...
Alcohol and drugs never added to my life. They only took away. Removing them from my reality gave me a new life. I have so many more opportunities and time and energy that I use for learning and figuring out what I actually want in life. I get more time to dedicate to my family and friends. Best of all, I have learned to love myself and I enjoy ‘me time’ more than any other time.
Yes, I may be a sober millennial with an older mindset. I mentally grew up through therapy and life experiences. But I’m still young and love laughing and having fun and staying out late with friends.
Brittany Noelle Roa is an interdisciplinary artist with an MFA in Physical Theatre who uses her art and creativity to heal herself and others. She loves learning about health and wellness so she can optimize her human potential to live a full and happy life.