What it feels like to party sober

Catherine Gray | January 2022 | 7 minutes

Author Catherine Gray writes about alcohol-free nights out, and how they differ from nights out where alcohol is involved.

I haven’t had a drink – no, not even a little one – since 2013. But I’m not one of those reformed hellraisers who has become a preachy evangelist. I don’t throw holy water on drinkers, or hiss at those doing shots. I know why people drink. I remember. I did it for 21 years, after all. Drinkers are my people. I get it.

Alcohol is a legal and highly convenient way to medicate that low thrum of nervousness that most of us (all of us?) feel before a big party. I won’t pretend alcohol has no positive flipside. It does. It takes jewel-coloured veils and dances them between us and our most anxious self.

It works, yes. In the short-term. But for me, there was a steep price to pay. You may relate? That price tag may well be why you’ve started Dry January® in the first place. And my experience was that that price just gets steeper the longer and deeper in you go. Over years of use, I found it started to exacerbate, rather than soothe, my anxiety.

It got to the point where I wouldn’t just need a drink at the party to feel OK, I’d need a drink before the party… and then two drinks before the party. The more I drank, the less able I was to cope with social events without alcohol. It took away my ability to socialise, rather than enhanced it, essentially.

For a socially anxious introvert, as I am, early teen years are oftspent feeling adrift from inclusion and togetherness while in large groups. We find that click of connection one- on-one, but faced with a roomful? It’s like we’re bobbing on a boat at sea, watching Lego-sized people dance at a party on the shore. For a while, alcohol works as a tug rope to bring the little boat in. But the more we use that tug rope; the harder we pull on it, the more it frays.

When we quit drinking, whether for a month or for good, we no longer have the tug rope. We feel adrift, unable to come ashore. Like awkward teens again. And for this reason, it’s no understatement to say that quitting drinking, even temporarily, means we have to learn to socialise all over again. We’re newborn hatchlings. A wet kitten. It’s hard and discombobulating. While also being enormously worthwhile, given you are learning to socialise without a crutch.

I don’t know one – one! – ex-drinker who would tell you they find parties easy. Why? Because parties aren’t easy. The reason parties feel easier when we drink is because we’ve poured a social-anxiety numbing agent into ourselves. Simple.

Sober people learn that parties are expensive. That they cost a king’s ransom of energy. That even a coffee with a new friend demands a princely sum. That a date is to ransack a princess’s jewels. In early sobriety, we learn to spend discriminately, carefully, rarely, until it’s no longer as expensive.

What about you? You’re clearly sober-curious, given you’re doing Dry January®, so you may well be inquisitive as to how it feels longer-term to party as a teetotaller rather than a drinker.

Staying sober is the right choice, for me, but only you can decide which way you’re happiest. But I’m here to tell you that, even though parties may be more expensive energy-wise as a non-drinker at first, over time they become altogether more enjoyable. Like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets. I promise.

Catherine Gray is the author of Sunday Times Bestseller, The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober. This blog is an amended extract from her latest book, Sunshine Warm Sober. You can buy it now.