May 25, 2016

I'm Newly Sober. How Do I Deal With My Drunk Friends?

Hey, Bonita…

Thank you so much for posting Gina M. Defalco's letter [in the May 11 issue]. I had no idea I could still press charges against my abuser. Thank you.

Another Hurt Kid

It's responses like this that make all the spam, hate mail, slut-shaming and racial slurs worth it. I'm honored. Thank you!

Hey Bonita,

It's no secret that Athens is "a drinking town with a football problem." If you live here for any length of time, you will experience (or at the very least, witness) some serious consequences of the drinking culture. In the nine years I've lived here I have seen lives ruined, even ended by the long-term effects of the booze itself (from employment-ending chronic hangovers to life-threatening organ failure) and/or by proxy (DUIs, self-harm, interpersonal drama, poor judgment, etc).

Subsequently, I have also seen a lot of habits ebb and flow, including my own. In preservation of my health and happiness (or more accurately, to acquire those things in the first place), I quit drinking about 18 months ago. It took several serious attempts, with all but the last ending in relapse. Every time I relapsed, despite having broadcast my intentions to quit, even my closest friends welcomed me back to the bottle with open arms.

What finally made the difference last year was having someone enter my life who absolutely refused to enable me. If I drink, regardless of whatever else happens, I will face the immediate consequence of someone I love dearly walking out of my life. They offer me tremendous, uncompromising love and support. I love them so much that just the thought of losing them to something as stupid as beer keeps me sober. Lo and behold, over time [abstaining from alcohol] got easier. I did not take this support for granted.

So, here's the thing… There are quite a few people in my life who have quit drinking in a fashion similar to mine. There are three people in particular who by happenstance have all relapsed in the past month or two. And I'm not talking about having a glass of wine on graduation day. We're talking a swan dive off the wagon, then running off in the opposite direction, guns blazing.

I want to offer them the same rock-solid support and understanding that pulled me through my darkest times. I don't want to enable and I don't want to ignore. I want to stand up for and with them, without coming across like I'm standing up to them. But I have no idea how to address my concerns without it coming across as an attack. I refuse to overlook the fact that last month they treasured their sobriety, and today they are stumbling around drunk in the middle of the day, and laughing about it. I also refuse to act like I'm OK with other people pretending like it's not a big deal. We all know better. We all are better.

Please help me be a good and supportive friend without jeopardizing my integrity or my relationships. I want my friends to be happy and healthy. I love them. I need them.


Sad and Scared

Hi Scared,

So you want your friends to be in your life, but not as the intense drinkers that they've become. You want things to be the way they used to be, and sweetie, you can't have that. Things change for a reason, and we can't turn back time.

I'm picking up a lot of feelings of resentment and betrayal from you, but you shouldn't judge your friends so harshly for making a choice that you wouldn't. Kinda reminds me of my friends' reactions when I gave up vegetarianism. You might be disgusted, but if your friends are over 21 and wanna drink, then they can drink.

You either have to accept your friends the way they are or become Friends With Conditions. Make plans for sober hangouts, but refuse to meet them at bars or restaurants that serve alcohol. Make it clear that you don't want to be around alcohol or drunk people. Live your life loudly and beautifully, and invite them in where you can. You can be friends with addicts, believe me, and you can do that without imposing your lifestyle on them or relapsing yourself.

Need advice? Email, use our anonymous form, or find Bonita on Twitter: @flagpolebonita.