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FUN IN SOBRIETY: Let the good times roll


“Right…right. You’re sober. But what do you DO?! For ACTUAL FUN?!?” I remember repeatedly asking this question of every single sober person I met when I first seriously tried to quit drinking. I’m afraid that I was probably rude, snide and embarrassingly condescending in these inquiries, too.


But it was such a radical, unknowable concept to me. Not drinking? Ever? Never. But really! I mean…EVER?? Not even when I’d been sober for six whole months? What about a year? Or five years? Not even a “when-my-child-gets-married-at-their-wedding-toast” drink?! No way. It was utterly inconceivable. It seemed impossible.


I started drinking as a way to feel connected to and fit in with others. I envisioned Drinking Me as a more relaxed, convivial version of myself. More humorous, more interesting, more social, more fun. It was like “Presto-Personality!” (just add alcohol). Any actual feelings I had about my life, or any feelings at all, really, would conveniently disappear, and I could shift into entertainment mode. It was comfortable for me there, just bobbing around on the surface.


Eventually, my drinking grew and morphed in both size and intensity. It went from being a fun, social activity… to my “mom time”… to my favorite pastime… to my only pastime… to my lone, limping coping mechanism… to my viciously destructive, unhealthy obsession and reason for existing. Drinking became my entire world. I couldn’t envision an activity or event that didn’t involve drinking, and certainly not one I would enjoy or bother to attend.


Getting sober, for me, meant transforming my life on a lot of different levels. One of those levels included my finding activities and sources of joy and excitement that were not substance-based, and that didn’t necessarily include the same people with, or places where, I used to spend my time. But I had no idea what was actually left for me to do that didn’t involve drinking.


Rediscovering fun in addiction recovery


Upon getting sober, I was shocked at how little I knew myself. How little time and attention I gave to considering my likes, dislikes, what I enjoy spending time doing, what makes me laugh and what falls under my “Nope, let’s not repeat that activity” (like, EVER, for you Swifties out there) list. Taking the time to explore all sorts of pursuits and learning how to be playful – joyful, even – as a sober adult is a lot wilder, weirder and more fun than I anticipated.


In addiction recovery, we have to allow ourselves the gift of that time. The time to discover, or rediscover, who we really are without the chemicals and the self-defeating rhetoric – without the weight of the self-limiting beliefs and destructive narratives we carry with us from before. Now, we can release ourselves from those burdens and look underneath the years and layers of emotional spackle we’ve coated ourselves in to plaster over any cracks or patch up errant holes.


It's a fresh start, full of potential and possibilities. At least that’s how I choose to see it. We didn’t come this far, fight and work this hard to settle for adequate, humdrum or boring. No, my friends. We survived. Now… WE THRIVE.


Here’s a bit of a roadmap or breadcrumbs (or to be more accurate for me, Froot Loops crumbs…) that I used to find my way back to fun in sobriety. I hope you find a few new ideas or inspiration – comment here or let me know on social media @beyond_sober_shop or #BeyondSoberShop!


Food for (FUN!) thought:


Host a hangout.

Make your own opportunities for fun and friendship and see what develops. Forget waiting to be included – host your own gig doing whatever strikes your fancy or suits your whim. Movie marathon nights (might I suggest The Matrix or The Godfather?), karaoke battles, board games, trivia, cookie dough tastings – whatever sounds intriguing.

Group of sober friends tasting Doughp cookie dough

Finding ways to socialize without drinking took some time. My non-lubricated social skills were pretty rusty. But it was a revelation to realize how much I laughed, had to say and appreciated listening to others when I was fully present and in the moment. It still surprises me sometimes. I look around me and think, “This is what actual happiness feels like. Right now!!” And it’s blissful. And real.


I also get together with a group for lowkey potluck dinner nights. We’re planning firepit nights for fall weather. I’m currently trying to gauge interest in a book club. And a skee-ball or kickball team. Or both.


CREATE! Make stuff. Lots o’ stuff.

Getting clean and sober means we’re now experiencing emotions that we numbed and avoided through substance use. Connecting with your creative side is a great way to express those new (and, at times, overwhelming) feelings – and it’s fun! I write terrible, cringey song lyrics. It’s very cathartic. I also color intricately designed curse words. I sing in a band. Occasionally I make jewelry, and I’m trying to learn new sewing skills. I’m a baker now. I actually bake. The brownies are legit.


You can try your hand at anything: Paint. Scrapbook. Draw and doodle. Write. Woodwork. Sing. Color. Play an instrument. Dance on TikTok. (Please, PLEASE make a video of yourself and your recovery friends singing the Bohemian Rhapsody scene from “Wayne’s World.” And post it. And tag us. I would be so happy!! I’m trying to get a group together to do this and no one is cooperating with me. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=thyJOnasHVE)


It's also a human biohack that creating a sense of accomplishment for yourself stimulates dopamine production (a lovely, naturally occurring hormone/neurotransmitter in our brain that makes us feel happy – one which we temporarily stop producing for ourselves once drugs and alcohol do it for us). Literally choose one thing to explore or try that’s new each day. It could be something really small that ultimately provides a big mental-health payoff.


Squish some modeling clay. Or kinetic sand. It’s really soothing. Write quotes you love about recovery on post-it notes and make a mural of them on your wall. Try a new recipe - make a special dinner for just yourself. By setting a simple task as an “accomplishment” in your brain, you are establishing a neural pathway and connection to feed it dopamine on the regular as you repeat healthy activities that you enjoy in sobriety.

While you try all the things, please also try not to let yourself get tangled up in the end results. Because, really, who cares? Not us! So your homemade ashtray looks like your anus. Pffft. No big deal. It’s part of the spirit of exploration and experimentation. And onto the next! Just focus on enjoying the journey – it’s a metaphor not unlike the recovery-is-the-journey-not-the-destination-itself one that you’ve probably heard a time to two.


Seek community.

If the opposite of addiction is connection, then I encourage us all to become futuristic-era energy conduits (Spaceships? Satellites? SPACEBALLS?!), like beacons, so interconnected and active that we’re bright enough to be seen intergalactically. Forging connections with others on the path to recovery and who also share common interests with us is invaluable to keeping us sane and sober in the long-term.

In my first year of sobriety, I needed to be around sober people. All the time. Especially if I left the house and ventured out into the world. It was 2021 and amid pandemic quarantine, so living in a virally enforced bubble was helpful to me in terms of reducing my exposure to alcohol or drugs. Treatment and meetings were all virtual, which was physically safe but mentally and emotionally challenging, particularly in building a network of sober people I could spend time and attempt to have clean and sober fun with.


So, I became a champion walker. And by “champion,” I mean I regularly slap on my shoes and skulk around, even when I don’t particularly want to, because it ultimately makes me feel better. Invite a friend (or three) to walk (or skulk) with you. I tend to haunt the greenways in Charlotte, NC (because shade! Art! Coffee! Dogs!), but I also love a good nature and neighborhood walk. I’ve experienced some of my best moments, biggest realizations and brightest moods when walking and talking with sober friends I’ve met in recovery.


Speaking of your friends… help them with random stuff!! It gives you lots of talking-and-listening time, and it’s a low-pressure way to get to know people (for me, it involved way less awkward worrying about my overly intense eye contact and what to do with my hands). I wanted to make sober friends, and I LOVE to organize things. I volunteered myself for projects, tasks and activities to be helpful while feeding my psychological need to make things orderly – and I made some freaking amazing friends along the way. (Bonus: I know where the coffee mugs live in most places I visit.)


Recovery-focused meetings are, of course, also a great place to get to know other clean and sober people in your area. Stay afterward, help clean up or put away the chairs and strike up a conversation.


Tour the world.

You can start small, locally and inexpensively on this one, as you continue your quest of finding ways to stimulate the happiness part of your brain without drugs or alcohol.


With our new lease on life, we also have newfound energy and time on our hands. Taking advantage of free festivals, visiting local attractions and exploring the town or city adjacent to our backyard is an experience not to be missed. Be a tourist! See the sights and places you never made it to before sobriety. Download a guided city tour and prepare to be surprised.


Now, we no longer take our existence or experience for granted. Exploring Charlotte and its surrounding areas has been a reawakening of sorts for me. The weeping cherries on Wendover that shower the pavement with blossoms in the spring. The bustle and mingling scents of Optimist Hall when I am just the right amount of hungry and on the food-porn prowl. The unmistakable bite in air – that harbinger of fall – when the setting sun gilds the leaves on every tree in sight and the world looks like the inside of a golden kaleidoscope for two hours every night.


I love having fresh eyes. Being able to notice, to recognize and appreciate these things again – things I once loved that I lost sight of in active addiction.


When you want to venture farther afield, plan a trip with another sober friend or group. I’ve been on a few sober retreats, which I really enjoyed, took a trip to Canada to visit our friends from the North (and fell in love), and I see a sober cruise in my future.


I feel like we can’t go wrong with any type of sober travel experience we choose – be it hiking, biking, taking a bus tour, eating our way across Italy or France, sleeping in a hostel or a hammock strung up in the Costa Rican jungle. Experiencing the world, other cultures, other customs, other lives, can only help bring additional perspective to our recovery and serve as a reminder of why we are here and why we choose to live life in sobriety every day.


Learn and grow.

So much of addiction recovery, for me, has been about self-acceptance. Self-love. OK, let’s be realistic…I’m in early recovery here. Self-like. Rebuilding my sense of self-worth – or maybe it’s more like properly constructing it with a stable, secure foundation for the first time? – is an integral part of my continued sobriety.


Finding ways to grow as a human, to continually develop and expand my horizons seems to be helping me cement the bedrock of that foundation. I love learning, and there’s a very large world out there for me to discover. I grow by reading about the many things that interest me and by finding answers to my seemingly endless stream of questions. About everything. Two of my dearest friends recently went back to school, and they’ve inspired me. I’d really love to take a creative writing course, and some classes that educate me about any of the eccentric topics and interests that regularly circle the carousel in my cranium.


Maybe you can find a class you’re interested in…and find some new friends there, too. What about improv comedy? Volleyball groups, planned Nerf tactical assaults, moss art, axe throwing, beekeeping, Meet Ups, paintball war…the possibilities are literally limitless for each of us. Seeking joy, freedom, fun and lasting happiness in sobriety is critical to developing a healthy, durable and lifelong recovery – and I hope some of these suggestions help you along the way.


Leslie


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This advice is solid for anything that ails you. I remember thinking when I first retired, okay what now? I had lost touch of myself in those many years of planning and writing marketing campaigns. I felt lost and disconnected. Slowly, I realized that to survive and thrive I needed jump into life again. I literally joined every club my 55+ community offered. Slowly, I began to realize that I didn't need to be busy 24/7, but to embrace only those activities that made me smile, that taught me new things and that I enjoyed. I think we are all afraid to show our authentic selves for fear others won't like us. It's so very easy to self-medicate and be…

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Leslie Dorfman
Leslie Dorfman
Sep 20, 2022
Replying to

I love what you wrote! And I agree - anytime there is a radical life change, it's easy to lose sight of ourselves - who we are, what we stand for, what makes us happy. I think it's wonderful how you are embracing your fully authentic self, and others, just the way you and they are. Such an inspiration! 😍

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