Sober.com logo
SoberTool App
Get it Free
Download

Coming Out as Sober Is Easier Than You Think

How to share your sobriety with friends, family & coworkers?

When I got sober in 2020, keeping it a secret would’ve been easy. I was living alone. My city was in lockdown. There was no one around to notice I was no longer drinking.

Heck, I didn’t even hit the fabled rock bottom! But I knew that any amount of alcohol was hurting me. I knew that any amount of alcohol was disrupting my sleep, compromising my health, and making my swings between anxiety and depression way worse.

I also knew that many folks are profoundly addicted to alcohol (even if their drinking passes as “normal”). I didn’t want to be part of that anymore. I wanted to celebrate my choice and to be “out” as sober.

As a writer, I chose to disclose my sobriety on my personal blog and newsletter. Because my family and closest friends were reading along, they found out along with everyone else.

Obviously, this isn’t the most casual, low-key way to share your sobriety! It’s not even the way I most recommend (more on what I do recommend below). Still, the reactions I received are common ones:

  • Most people seemed not to care. As long as they could still drink (or weren’t drinkers anyway), they took in the announcement and moved on.
  • Some people (including loved ones who have a problematic relationship to drinking) ignored my sobriety completely and would change the topic if I brought it up.
  • Some people ignored it and proceeded as though I was still drinking (gifting me a bottle of wine, for instance – which I promptly regifted).
  • Some people (including friends, acquaintances, and strangers) wrote to say thank you. Turns out, they were reevaluating their own drinking and felt inspired by my story.

All in all, coming out as sober wasn’t so bad! The biggest surprise was how many folks revealed that they too were sober or thinking about trying it.

That said, not everyone’s experience goes so smoothly (or happens in such a public, all-at-once way). Whether and how to share your sobriety is a personal choice, and there are many variables to consider. To support you in this, I’ve got some backup.

Should You Tell People About Your Sobriety?

There’s a saying in sober circles that “recovery comes first.” If you suspect that sharing your sobriety with others will endanger your sobriety, don’t do it. You get to keep this to yourself for now if that’s what supports your recovery.

However…there are also benefits to sharing your sobriety! Let’s run through some pros and cons.

Benefits of telling people about your sobriety:

  • Adding accountability: Being open about your sobriety offers external accountability and may help you stay sober.
  • Easing emotional burdens: There are tremendous gifts and much relief in setting down the burden of denial, hiding, and secrets.
  • Cultivating community: Coming out as sober can help you find others on a similar path. This increases the likelihood of long-term recovery and makes sobriety more fun.
  • Developing self-awareness, communication skills, and deeper relationships: Coming out as sober is an opportunity for developing self-awareness and your capacity to have difficult conversations in a skillful way. This can also deepen relationships.
  • Countering stigma: The more people talk about their sobriety, the more it counters the stigma associated with addiction while spreading awareness. That said, reducing stigma is not your responsibility. Your responsibility is your recovery. Reducing stigma is a bonus!
  • Inspiring others: Here too, inspiring others is not your responsibility, but it is a bonus! When we share our choice to get sober, it helps folks on similar journeys.

Potential challenges of telling people about your sobriety:

  • External pressure: The flip side of having external accountability is adding external (and internal) pressure. Some people thrive on such pressure; others find it leads to self-sabotage; others find it depends on the particular person or people they’ve told. Recall times when you’ve stuck (or not stuck) with a commitment: Did telling others help reinforce that commitment or result in self-sabotage?
  • Relationship changes: When we make the life-changing decision to get sober, our interpersonal relationships will change. Many times, this results in deeper connections. Sometimes, however, the opposite is true. People may treat us differently or distance themselves from us, or we may choose to distance ourselves from them. This isn’t “bad” – just be aware that social dynamics often shift after disclosing sobriety. Also know that people who have problematic relationships with alcohol themselves are the ones most likely to react in negative and unhelpful ways.
  • Unsolicited advice & attention: Coming out as sober may bring unwanted attention, questions, or advice. Just remember that you don’t have to share details about your recovery with anyone. You can even say: “No unsolicited advice, please!” (I say that often – usually in advance of when I suspect unwanted advice is coming.)
  • Judgment & negative perceptions: We can’t control people’s perceptions of us, and addiction still carries stigma in many settings. This isn’t personal, isn’t about you, and isn’t something you can control. (Thankfully, it is changing as more people share about their recovery.)
  • Work-related concerns: Unfortunately, such judgment can carry over into the workplace, and disclosing your sobriety could have work-related consequences. As the stigma around addiction changes, this is becoming less prominent. Still, weigh your employment situation carefully when choosing whether to come out as sober to employers, colleagues, or clients.

How to Tell People You’re Sober

Let’s say you’ve weighed the pros and cons and have decided to tell folks you’re sober. Now what? What’s the best approach?

While I told everyone through my blog, you don’t need to do that! Same goes for sharing on social media or elsewhere online. In fact, I recommend starting with one-on-one conversations and expanding from there if and when you feel ready.

Regardless of how you decide to share, think it through and make a list of people and groups you’d like to tell. While making this list, consider how much detail you plan to provide (this will likely differ depending on the group or person you’re telling). Also consider when, where, and how the topic might come up naturally.

Will a casual conversation suffice? Are you hoping for an in-depth heart-to-heart? How about a simple email or text? Coming out as sober can look all kinds of ways. The key is to bring intention to the process and to have standard backup lines for predictable situations and questions.

  • How will you respond when a colleague suggests you go for a drink?
  • Or when a new friend or romantic interest suggests meeting at a bar?
  • Do you want to say you’re sober on your dating profile?
  • Do you want to say you’re sober before or during the next family gathering?

If this sounds daunting, rest assured that the first time for each situation is by far the most awkward. After that, it gets easier. At a certain point, you may even feel confident pride when responding: “No thanks, I’m sober.”

Another great answer? “I’m not drinking right now.” No need to say more.

Whether you’re using a general line like that last one or disclosing your sobriety, you get to decide how much information you provide. In other words, “coming out as sober” or as “not drinking right now” can be the whole of it!

You’re not required to answer follow-up questions. You get to say: “I’m not ready to talk about that right now. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

If they push back or insist on knowing more, just calmly repeat the same line: “I’m not ready to talk about that right now. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

If they still push back or insist on knowing more, that’s your cue to remove yourself from the situation. You (only you!) get to decide how much access people have to your personal reasons, details, and story.

Make it about you.

You’ll notice that all the examples above include “I” statements. Whatever and however you share your decision to not drink, make the disclosure about you – not the other person.

Same goes for answering questions about why you’re not drinking. For example, I might tell a friend who asks questions: “I just feel so much better when I don’t drink. My sleep is great. My metabolism is better. My skin looks brighter. I feel more energized. I’m noticing way less anxiety, depression, and brain fog.”

Nothing above contains a judgment about the other person and their drinking habits. And while science is definitely on the side of NOT drinking alcohol when it comes to our health, I don’t recommend broaching that aspect when sharing your sobriety. Getting into a scientific debate will probably not be helpful.

Instead, focus on how you feel better making this choice. Emphasize that, for you, the benefits are worth the tradeoffs.

Common Reactions People Have When Someone Says That They’re Sober

Here’s the deal: You can weigh all the pros and cons, plan out who you’re going to share your sobriety with and how, and proceed with tons of intention.

And, it still might feel awkward. And, you still might get reactions that are less than ideal.

Know what? That’s okay. Believe it or not, most people will appreciate that you’re showing up with authenticity and courage. Any awkwardness will pass and is more likely to increase their trust, respect, and compassion – not lessen it.

Just remember that the person you’re telling may feel awkward too. And – however they respond – their reaction has little to do with you. They may have a fraught relationship with alcohol themselves. They may lack the emotional capacity to have vulnerable conversations. They may simply be nervous, taken off guard, or unsure what to say.

When you tell someone you’re sober:

  • They might apologize, as though you’ve suffered a loss.
  • They might ignore what you said and move on.
  • They might say: “What? Why? You don’t have a problem! You’re not an alcoholic!”
  • They might say: “Yeah, right. We’ll see how long that lasts.”
  • They might act like they support your choice in the moment but forget once they’re drinking, inviting you for a drink, etc.

Or…

  • They might thank you for trusting them and ask how they can support you.
  • They might ask whether it’s okay if they drink around you. (I recommend thinking through how you feel about this. You get to decide – and your answer may differ depending on the person.)
  • They might tell you they’re sober or reevaluating their relationship to alcohol. (This happens far more than you might expect!)

The more people you tell, the more different reactions you’re likely to get. I recommend thinking through how you might respond in the above situations.

And remember: Keep your responses about you! Don’t divulge any more than you feel comfortable divulging! Their reactions are out of your control and aren’t really about you at all.

If things go sideways, you have complete permission to say: “I don’t want to discuss this further right now. If I change my mind, I’ll let you know.”

Your Next Right Steps

As you consider everything above – here are my suggested next steps.

  • Take your time and think this through: Make a list of people you wish to tell. Jot down how you plan to tell them and how much detail you plan to provide.
  • Start where it’s easy: Take a look at your list. Which one feels easiest? Start there. See how it goes. Maybe even ask that person to help you practice before telling the others.
  • Surround yourself with sober folks: This might mean attending meetings, joining in-person or online sober communities, following sober blogs and social media accounts, subscribing to sober-focused newsletters, and hanging out on Sober.com! The more you surround yourself with sober content, the more normal sobriety will feel (and the more non-sober life will lose its allure). You’re bound to encounter others working through the same questions and challenges. Discussing them in community is way easier and a whole lot more fun.

Coming out as sober isn’t one-and-done. Even if you tell everyone in your life now, you’ll still encounter new opportunities to share your sobriety in the future.

That said, it will never feel as uncomfortable as it does in the beginning!

And, as more people embrace sober living or choose to drink less, saying you’re sober is becoming less of a big deal.

These days, it might even make you seem more self-secure, confident, and cool.

Find A Meeting Today Phone icon 800-681-2956 Question iconWho Answers?