When I knew it was really, really, REALLY time to quit drinking, I was afraid to do so. I was afraid of it for many reasons, but what really comes to mind was my fear that I was going to lose my friends.
I had a lot of friends. I may have been able to count up to 100 or more friends. I had collected them over the years and I maintained them on one level or another. In fact, if I had to draw you a visual diagram, I would say there was Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3.
In Tier 1, I had my more casual friends. I saw them at parties or out at bars and we gave each other big hellos, maybe a kiss or a big hug, we engaged in small talk and bought each other drinks. When I had a few drinks in me, I loved to see them because they were part of my enormous network of friends.
In Tier 2, I had closer relationships with these people. We would talk sometimes or frequently on the phone, email regularly or sometimes. Many of them were at my wedding and some of them I reluctantly had to cross of the list of guests because there were too many people on it.
In Tier 3, these were my closest compadres. They were all at my wedding and we had gone through time together, lived through many laughs, tears, accomplishments, losses, milestones, fights and reconciliations. Some I met in college, some I met in grade school. We rented beaches houses in the summer or traveled across the country or moved to another coast together.
They were all my friends and I wanted to keep them all!
The thought of quitting drinking meant no more bars and parties, no more of my buddies in Tier 1!
The thought of not drinking meant I was no longer going to feel chatty enough to pick up the phone after a long day and touch base with friends. I mean, who on earth wants to talk on the phone without a huge goblet of red wine? Bye-bye Tier 2!
And how would I tell my bestest friends in the whole world, my sisters from other misters who I had laughed, cried and boozed with for decades? I was the lovable, drunk buffoon, the party-start, the Dorothy Parker of the Our Round Table! I just couldn’t.
I delayed and putzed around and dragged my feet until I just couldn’t stand myself anymore. Then I decided there was a few important events I needed to attend and I needed to attend them WASTED. The list kept growing and I kept pushing my quit date farther and farther out.
Finally, enough was enough and I had to quit. I decided I was not going to broad-side my peeps with the news. I was going to release the information very slowly. I came up with all the cliché reasons: “I am trying to lose weight,” “I’m on medication,” “I’m taking some time off because, but DON’T PANIC! I will be drinking again!” I rehearsed these lines in my head all day long because this was really, really big. A lot of peoples’ lives were going to be affected.
In the end, it was no big whoop. Looking back over the last two years since I quit, I have learned a lot about myself and the people around me:
- My Tier 3 friends are all in my life today and they are proud of me because I took the steps to change my life for the better and, frankly, some of them were a little worried about me! Did I know this? No.
- There are people all around me that do not notice I am not drinking and still offer me something from the bar. And I thought they were going to feel so uncomfortable that they were drinking when I was not. Uh, no.
- I don’t like to talk on the phone after a long day and wine was the only way I was going to pick up that ringing phone or dial that number.
- I don’t need 100 friends. And besides, many of those “friends” were really more like acquaintances or parallel drinking buddies. If I saw them coming down the street in daylight when I was sober, I’d have probably ducked into an alley to avoid having to get through a conversation with him/her.
- A lot of my friends in Tier 2 were in Tier 2 for a reason: I really didn’t enjoy their company that much or relate to them or trust them with personal information. I didn’t know the real them and they didn’t know the real me. So when many of them fell away after I stopped drinking, it was because we had a very superficial relationship. I may have kicked any one of them to the curb had they stopped drinking while I continued. I would have thought they were smug or judgemental. In reality, I would’ve felt shame and insecurity around them.
As I have recovered, I have lost much of the neediness I had for so many years. I needed to have a lot of friends, I needed to feel adored or admired or, well, needed.
Cultivating and keeping friendships that don’t hum on their own is work. It takes energy and, for me, it took a lot of booze to keep up. I am not a naturally energetic person. I am a mellow, observant, reserved person.
The real me wants a certain amount of time to be alone and regroup.
I have met amazing people in recovery who inspire me and give my life a new layer of peace, wisdom and knowledge. I feel like my life has slowed down to a pace where I can actually stop and smell the roses instead of frantically planning my next event where I can smother myself in alcohol and people.
If you are afraid of losing your friends when you stop drinking, try to remember that your real friends will never abandon you because you are doing something to help yourself.
Anyone who walks away is in your Tier 1 or Tier 2 and you won’t need them anymore where you are going.