Going out, without the alcohol

Catherine Gray | December 2020 | 10 minutes

You have to be drinking to enjoy going out - right?

It doesn't have to be that way. The reason it feels like a slog is because we approach it as one. The reason we don't have cracking nights out is because we stay in, scheduling all our fun-times for once we're drinking again instead. If we think about Dry January® as an example: in January we're skint, probably on a diet, and we see our sabbatical from booze as a yawnsome deprivation, rather than an awesome liberation. We limp through it, groaning, rather than skipping through it, rejoicing in a hangover-free month.

When I quit drinking in 2013, I fully expected that my life would no longer be fun. Goodbye fun! I will miss you. 'I will be a Fully Functioning Adult, but one who no longer has fun,' I thought.

What I actually discovered (you could have knocked me down with a feather) was that my life became more fun. Which is why I wrote The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. Once you learn how to socialise sober, it's a far superior experience. Best of all, you still feel good the next day. The saying, 'Drinking steals happiness from tomorrow' is incredibly spot-on. 'Happy hour' ruins the entire next day, or beyond. In my book, Dr Julia Lewis says that after a binge, a hangover can last three whole days.

Going to the pub

I go to pubs all the time, but the difference is, I find something else to do other than watch people get drunk. So, a gastro-pub with amazing burgers and a roaring open fire; a sports bar with pool tables and dart boards; a quiz night so that I can showboat my (woeful) general knowledge; a plush cocktail bar with a retro bowling alley.

Swerve any 'you're not drinking?! Don't be boring!' pressure by making sure you have a drink at all times; tonic water or ginger ale have more adult bite than a sugary soft drink. Notice how food tastes better (wine doesn't enhance food; in fact it numbs taste buds), plus enjoy your superior gaming skills (alcohol blurs vision and blunts fine motor skills).

And if you feel like you won't be able to resist having a drink, no worries! Go for alcohol-free bars such as the Redemption in London, Brink in Liverpool, or Sobar in Nottingham.

Going to a gig

Live music is one of my favourite sober nights out. Perhaps tell your mates beforehand that there is no way you're drinking tonight (I used to text people pre-night-out to brief them). Squash any social anxiety with box breathing (in for four seconds, hold for four, out for four, hold for four. You'll find you're probably holding your breath). And give yourself permission to leave whenever you like. Sober socialising is more tiring and you'll find (at first) that 1am is not within your reach.

Think back to gigs gone by when you were half-in-the-bag by the time the band arrived on stage; isn't it lovely to be fully present tonight and able to remember every song they played? A £1.80 pint of soda and lime will last you all evening, so clock how much cash you've saved. And time: see that angry-faced queue at the bar? You're not in it. Hooray.

I also love that I'm now able to gig mid-week without feeling like a zombie at work the next day. Sober, you can actually go out more.

Going on a date

Whether you're single or attached, sober dating is a nerve-wracking notion, but a joyous reality. Once you free up the finances you would have spent on fancy wine over dinner, there's money there to try something totally new. I've been on climbing dates, crazy-golf dates, dog-walking dates (borrowmydoggy is brilliant). Doing dates are so much less awkward than sitting across from each other in a bar, so you no longer need booze to anaesthetise your nerves. Still nervous? It's normal. You're human, not a robot. Try a meditation app (I like Buddhify) to calm you down beforehand.

Attached? You're less likely to argue tonight. And have better sex afterward. Reams of evidence shows that drinking slows our sexual response, reduces satisfaction and puts our orgasm further out of reach (there's a chapter on this in the book). Disabling our senses during the delicious sexual act is crazy. We want to be able to feel it, surely.

Going dancing

The final frontier! 'I can't dance sober!' I hear you cry. (There's a whole chapter about my wall-clinging phobia of this). But I promise you - yes you can. You already sober-dance with kids at birthday parties, or around the kitchen at home. Think you can't dance? Doesn't matter. Dancing is about having fun, not impressing people. Hardly anyone can dance, save actual professional dancers.

Locate your sober dance legs by initially trying zero-booze dance parties, such as Morning Gloryville (London) and Shake Awake (Scotland). And once you've got them, my tips are: wait for a song you can't-not-dance to (when we're sober, we have to love the music), see it as exercise (rather than a bird-of-paradise crowd pleasing performance) and pay attention to the fact nobody is pointing / laughing at you (despite your worst fears).

I can now dance until 3am sober, without falling over, spilling red wine down myself, or forgetting the last hour of it. If I can, you can too, once you push through the initial 'arrgh'.

Once you learn how to socialise sober, you'll feel more than a little invincible. It's empowering, knowing that you don't have to drink to have a blinding night out. And maybe you'll find that drinking then becomes a choice, rather than feeling like a social necessity.

See you on the dancefloor. I'll be the desperately uncool one - who doesn't give a damn.

Catherine Gray is the author of The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. For more, follow Catherine on Instagram @unexpectedjoyof or see her website unexpectedjoy.co.uk

Have you downloaded the free Try Dry® app yet? You can use it year-round to track your drinking, savings and more!

Download it here

You might also like to read...