When you change, you’ll quickly encounter these 3 people

Milena
7 min readJan 17, 2022

What my sobriety experiments taught me about people’s perception of change

Image credit: Nick Fewings, Unsplash.

In January of 2022, I had the first in-person conference after 2 years.

All participants had to provide vaccination records and were wearing masks the entire time. It was different than the conferences in the past, yet, it was amazing. We were all stuck and isolated for so long so connecting with others was true soul food.

This conference brought me so much joy but there was another extra special thing.

This was my first sober conference.

I quit drinking in July 2020, in the safety of my own small social bubble, and coming out to the world as a sober person was a gradual process.

My husband was very kind and supportive from the get-go.

Then I told about my sobriety to some close friends at our rare social gatherings. I told my parents and some friends via phone.

Some people didn’t react very well and asked me a bunch of weird questions. Some people seemed totally fine. Some people told me that they could never ever do it.

I started my own sober social meetup. It is an awesome space in which I had so much fun and was never pressurized to explain myself for not drinking.

Then I had one sober work trip- that went well.

After another round of sober holidays, I finally had this conference, completely sober and it went great. Having a first-hand experience of being able to have fun, make friends, socialize, and have joy without drinking is fantastic because it helps me strengthen my belief that sobriety is joyful and life-affirming.

As you could notice from this intro, I wasn’t the one to shout from the rooftops about my new sobriety. I did it out of necessity (for health reasons) and I found the non-drinking part easy. The more challenging part, for me, was coming out into the world from my cocoon as a newly sober person.

All my friends knew me as a drinker. Most of my friendships were made in bars, wineries, breweries, and during happy hours. For a long time, alcohol was a big piece of my identity. I thought of alcohol as an incredible tool that made me fun and sociable and that helped me make friends.

With sobriety came a trace of shame, a feeling as if I am not like the other cool kids. I use to say that I “couldn’t drink” because I had such bad reactions and difficult insomnia even after one small drink. In fact, I also didn’t want to drink. And that was evident from the ease with which I was able to quit. My body and my subconscious mind aligned perfectly and made not drinking an easy choice.

However, it took me some time to mourn my old identity of a drinker and embrace my new identity of a sober person.

Whenever I told someone that I don’t want a drink or whenever I ordered sparkling water when everyone else opted in for booze, I watched other people’s reactions closely. It wasn’t always comfortable, but it helped me grow and learn about myself and others.

Out of all these experiences, I came to learn that people react in 3 distinct ways when they hear that you are making an unconventional choice. In my case, that was the choice not to drink made in a society obsessed with alcohol, but these principles reflect well on any other change.

The moral of the story is: don’t be afraid of the change that makes sense for you. Just expect that people will react differently. And that’s OK.

Type #1: Sounds good!

Many people couldn’t care less about what you have ordered in a restaurant. They worry about their own business. Often, it happens that I order my sparkling water or the lemonade and people say nothing at all. That is an easy scenario.

Sometimes, people ask questions out of curiosity, and when I explain, they say: “Sounds good,” and we are free to talk about something else.

Some people will say things like: “Good for you.”- in my experience, these people were rare so far because in our society, drinking alcohol regularly is seen as what all normal adults do. But that’s a whole another story.

Type #2: WTF?!

I wrote about this before and I will say it again: when you make a bold, empowered, and unconventional choice, you’ll piss some people off. There is just no other way around it.

Even though my choice of drink should not impact anyone at the table- after all, everyone is free to order whatever they want, it still creates ripples.

Some people don’t like it because it brings their choices into question. My ability to choose differently makes them uncomfortable because they have probably not questioned their choices before. They choose alcohol as default and assume that everyone else will do the same. When someone different appears, it’s like an error in the system.

Around alcohol, people get defensive. Some will cite a random French study based on which a daily glass of red wine is good for the heart. Some will tell you that alcohol makes them sharper, more creative, and better at their job. Some will proudly say that all amazing, smart, and creative writers, artists, and scientists were heavy drinkers and that they are in good company. Some will tell you that you’re missing out. Some will inquire about why and not accept your reasoning.

At the conference, a pushy colleague was trying to make another colleague get one more drink. When the guy said that he doesn’t want it because alcohol messes up his sleep, the pushy guy replied that that’s probably the sign of old age and doesn’t have anything to do with alcohol.

(Alcohol, in fact, is the most effective substance that eliminates NREM sleep, based on Matthew Walker’s book Why We Sleep. Because NREM sleep is so vital, pregnant women are advised not to drink at all so that baby’s NREM sleep is not disturbed.)

Drunk or tipsy people will go the extra mile to defend the substance and attack the other person. Because their inhibitions are weakened by alcohol, they will push and push, and the situation can get uncomfortable. But don’t worry, seeing a drunk person arguing using weak logic and repetitive thoughts will only make your conviction not to drink stronger.

Extra tip: If you ever find yourself being a pushy person or getting extremely uncomfortable when someone makes a change, take a step back. There is something important inside. Unpack it!

Type #3: Can I join your club?

Lastly, there is a third type of person in this scheme. These people will make a sigh of relief and do the exact same thing as you did.

This happened to me more than once.

  • When we were on a camping trip and when I said that I won’t be drinking, a friend was ELATED to share LaCroix with me and not to have to drink over the weekend.
  • A reader from Medium told me that she was sober throughout December thanks to reading some of my posts about sobriety.
  • During the above-mentioned conference, a colleague took me to a nice Indian restaurant and he said that he was eager to order mango lassi because he was tired of drinking alcohol. He knew that would not judge him.

Time and again, when you make an empowered choice, you’ll end up empowering other people to do the same.

It amazes me how many people actually don’t like to drink or don’t feel good while drinking, yet they do it so that they are not the only weirdo at the table. When you’re not alone, it’s easier to make a bold choice. We are social beings. We need each other’s support. Sure, you can walk the high path alone, but it’s easier when you have a companion or two.

When you do something bold, you are becoming a role model for someone. And we need good role models.

Less than a year ago, I only had one friend who didn’t drink. I had no idea that you can exist as an adult without wine. Now I know that a different choice is not only possible but also smart. How many more other things did I have illusions about? We are yet to find out.

If you feel inclined to change, you should do it for the sake of yourself, first and foremost. But also consider this: you will be a role model for someone. You’ll give someone an example, an idea, an a-ha moment, a glimpse of inspiration.

Your turn. When you made an unconventional choice, how did people react? Did someone follow your example? Share your story in the comments and let’s keep the conversation going.

Before you go…

If you are on Medium you are probably obsessed with creativity, just like me. I made a FREE ebook “100 ways to be creative today”, with 100 creative prompts, most of which require 5 minutes or less, $0, and no special skills. Go HERE to learn more and grab it.

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Milena

Engineer. Creator. Sustainability researcher. Obsessed w/focus, mental health, sobriety. On the quest to find gentler and more meaningful ways to live and work.