Sober in the City: Surviving Pride Without Liquor

Feature Image via The New York Times

In a previous post, I talked a bit about my experience with redefining my queerness in sobriety. Changing my relationship with Pride was one of the first and hardest things I had to do as a sober queer. I currently have five years of sobriety and I plan on celebrating Pride in New York City dancing, singing, marching, and rejoicing all things LGBTQ… and doing it sober for the fifth consecutive year! However, getting to a place where I could enjoy Pride in sobriety was certainly a challenge; especially considering I spent my heavy drinking years (10 to be exact) at Pride face down in a bottle of vodka.

via Gify

via Gify

Confession: I could have been celebrating six years of sobriety this year. However, I relapsed three times during the first year that I attempted to get sober. One of those relapses happened the night before the 2008 NYC Pride parade. Good lawd, I remember it like it was yesterday. I did absolutely NOTHING that my sponsor told me to do in order to prepare for Pride full well knowing that Pride is like gay St. Paddy’s Day when it comes to alcohol and drug consumption. With only 50-something days of sobriety under my belt, I thought I’d wing it. I took some heavy drinking friends visiting from out of town to a bar. After white-knuckling it for a few hours, I downed a glass of Champagne with them because I couldn’t stand being the teetotaler in a room full of insane partying. That glass of bubbly turned into a full on bender. I recall leaving a nightclub at 8am with a DJ and my friends (I couldn’t believe the sun was out) and we all continued drinking at my place. When my friends left at 11am, I stood in my living room alone and mortified. I reeked of alcohol and cigarettes. I was sick to my stomach. I spent an obscene amount of money. (Well, obscene for my income bracket.) And, I had to make a number of embarrassing phone calls, including one to let my sober friends know that I was too hung-over to march with them in the parade and another to my sponsor to let her know that I had relapsed… again. Instead of attending the parade, I spent the day in bed alternating between crying, vomiting, and sleeping.

I really was committed to getting sober and never wanted to experience hangovers and drunken shame again. But, I was in a jam: I loved Pride and still wanted to be a part of it, however, I was afraid I could no longer enjoy the festivities anymore if I were sober. Over the years, I had convinced myself that my mind needed to be in an altered state in order to share in the spirit of the day with my fellow queers. I had to ask a hard question: Do I really have to ban myself from Pride in order to stay sober? The answer for me was “no.” While some people struggling to get and stay sober do in fact have to avoid Pride because it is too much of a trigger, others, such as myself, can find ways of changing their perspective and learn to love things about Pride other than getting f*cked up. In fact, attending Pride sober over the years has made me even more proud, more engaged, because Pride is not about getting wasted and often times the real meaning and purpose of coming together as a community is overshadowed by the debauchery (No judgment. The debauchery is fun.)

Here are some tools I employ to protect my sobriety while still allowing me to participate in all of the fun. If you’re concerned about being a sober queer at Pride this year, some of these tools may come in handy:

Pregame at a meeting

Before you head to any Pride event, attend an AA, harm-reduction, or other supportive meeting and get some love and wisdom from your sober family. Sharing at a meeting, or even just listening to what your peers have to say, can remind you of why your sobriety is important and provide you with the fierceness you need to be of service to yourself and others.

Bring a sober friend

Remember your “friend” who would hold your hair back while you threw up? Well, your sober friend will one up that by helping you avoid needing to have your hair held back as you hug a bowl full of E. coli in the first place. And, your sober friend will be on the same plane as you, so you can have meaningful shared experiences that no one who is drinking can 100% relate to. These experiences are important if one of the reasons why you drink is to feel included. You and your sober friend(s) will have your own inside jokes, your own exclusive club.

Always have a (non-alcoholic) drank

Sometimes other people are more uncomfortable about you not drinking than you actually are, a phenomenon that Megan Knash talks about in her article, “My not drinking bothers friends.” Knash states,

“I couldn’t figure out why the roommate kept bringing up my dryness that evening, but I suspect the threat of having a non-drinker in the midst is that, when folks are drinking together, everyone — except the abstainer — is going somewhere. Together. On a journey. Booze softens the edges. It massages the ache of unspoken words. It dissolves the perceived boundaries among people. When you’re sober, especially if you want to stay that way, you have to be at peace with where you are. You have to believe you’re already where you need to be.”

One way that I get people off my case about not drinking is to always have my favorite non-alcoholic drink in my hand. This makes people, who always just assume that there’s alcohol in my cup, think that I’m getting drunk with them, which is hilarious because I get to watch their drunken madness unfold.

Holding onto a drink also gives me something to do with my hands. Addicts are very ritualistic. A martini glass was my go-to ritualistic paraphernalia, so I’ll ask the bartender to pour me a cran-pineapple-seltzer in fancy stemware.

Rehearse your excuse

If you’re not out as sober, make sure you have a good excuse about why you’re not drinking for the members of the drink patrol. You know, the ones that chase you around trying to get you to take shots with them and forcing drinks down everyone’s throats all night. I usually use the “I’m on powerful antibiotics and I’ve been drinking cran-pineapple-seltzer all night” excuse.

Know your HALT

HALT stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. Any three of these can trigger a relapse. So, if one minute you’re fine and the next you’re feeling like you can just down a fifth, remember to check in with yourself and assess if you need to phone a sober friend, take a nap, or just get something to eat. When in HALT, sometimes an iced coffee works for me because I find that I get a bit tense when I’m under-caffeinated. But, be careful – caffeine can also trigger a relapse for some.

via Gify

via Gify

Wake up, flawless. Post up, flawless. Ridin’ round in it, flawless. Flossin’ on that, flawless.

Nails did? Weave right? Brand new bow tie? Fresh scent? Check! Pamper yourself. Step up on some next level shit. When I walk out of the house knowing I look fly, I exude confidence. And, one of the major reasons why I drank in the first place is that I lacked confidence. Add it up. Besides, I always love ending the night looking as fresh as when I started it, instead of having a crooked eye, running mascara, and broken heels. #iwokeuplikethis

Play the tape

There is a reason why you got sober. Don’t forget it by romanticizing how amazing Pride will be if you just had a few drinks. Instead of simply thinking about immediate gratification, “play the tape” until the end. Where is that one drink going to take you? Will your movie end as an uplifting story of triumph or as a horror flick with mass carnage?

Have an exit strategy

Ok, shit just got weird because you want to drink, if you stay a minute longer you will drink, you’ve stopped talking, and now you just gotta GO! But, if you run away like a bat outta hell, your friends are going to wonder, “WTF?” Someone might convince you to come back and that may result in you drinking. Or, you just may create a lot of angry, awkward, and embarrassing feelings by ditching your friends without cause. Please, have a game plan my friend. Think of an exit strategy that can quickly get you out of any situation without things getting all Twilight Zone. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I will suddenly remember that I left my curling iron on. Shit burns down in NYC. BRB. TTLY.

Remember why you’re celebrating

Heritage of Pride hosts New York City’s Pride events in commemoration of the Stonewall Riots of 1969, the beginning of the modern Gay Rights movement. Heritage of Pride works toward a future without discrimination where all people have equal rights under the law. We do this by producing LGBT Pride events that inspire, educate, commemorate and celebrate our diverse community.” There it is. That’s the mission of NYC Pride, which I am sure is similar to the missions of other Pride events all across the world. That’s the point. Nowhere in that mission statement does it say the purpose of Pride is to get wasted. We addicts can make lots of excuses to get f*cked up. Really think about whether you’re using Pride as just another excuse.

Get involved

There are many ways to advance the actual goals of Pride in your area. Look for opportunities to volunteer, march, rally, organize, support LGBTQ artists and activist, and engage with the community in a healthy, positive manner. In fact, you don’t need to be sober to do this. Use Pride to be the change you want to see!

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Ginger has written 7 articles for us.

20 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    Thanks for writing this. I’ve been Sober (also sexually/emotionally) and have been enjoying pride for years. It’s about the solidarity and being out and proud for me when I attend pride. I have a blast though. Let’s have a sober celebration in Weho this summer for pride:) (I also sponsor fyi). Well done on the article choice.

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    I’m currently trying to get sober and your articles are helping me out so damn much. Thank you!!! I’m looking down a barrel full of triggers with Memorial Day bbqs and friends wanting to go out this weekend. Your tips will come in handy!

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    I’m not sober and I really enjoyed this article. I would love to be able to enjoy Pride, or any other queer event, without needing to feel like I have to stand around with a drink in hand. I also wish there were more queer events that aren’t synonymous with boozing ’til you drop.

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    This is really important stuff.

    Having sober spaces to hang out also helps a lot. I’m in SF, where we’re blessed with a few sober social spaces like queer coffeehouses. It helps to be able to get out and have the social atmosphere without being in a bar. But I imagine that sober folks could have a “guerrilla queer coffeehouse” just about anywhere near a Pride venue.

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    This article is awesome. I very rarely drink, mainly because I grew up in a world (Christian fundamentalist) in which alcohol was considered as sinful as heroin, so I never really was around alcohol all that much. When I left my church I thought to be a successful agnostic I had to enjoy alc

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      *stupid phone….

      I thought I had to enjoy alcohol as much as everyone else seemingly did. But I hate it. It makes me sick and I don’t like feeling out if control. Trying not to drink when so many of my friends drink is extremely difficult. There’s this constant pressure that you are being a downer or something. I can only imagine how much more awful it is when you actually really want to drink and know that you can’t.
      I am always looking for strategies to avoid drinking so I love these articles. Also even though I am not an alcoholic, I struggle with other addictive behaviors. So it’s nice to get the affirmation that there are consciously sober, mindful queers out in the world. Thank you.

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    Love this article. It makes so uncomfortable that so many queer events are tied in with heavy drinking, considering that queer people have higher rates of alcohol. I hate seeing booze companies trying to cash in on that, in advertising and even by being involved somehow in Pride. I hate that Pride here is all about the beer gardens. We need space that is safe for sober people, and for young queer people! We need to move away from alcohol in queer spaces in a big, big way. Not that it should be banned, but it shouldn’t be the center.

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      The world needs more queer coffeehouses. Not “queer friendly” (which my city does have) but the kind of coffeehouse where queer people can hang out, meet, chat, and set the dominant tone and clientele of the place. Your point about a space where underage queer people can meet is important.

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    Thanks for writing this. I’m not an addict but I don’t like to drink these days and used to drink a lot quite self destructively and find these kinds of events really hard due to peer pressure which frankly at 30 years old or over my friends shouldn’t be putting on me…and yet :/ I try to make myself the designated driver for events so I have an excuse not to drink around those folks that will force booze on you or constantly whine at you for being sober and thus boring. Also big fan of a mocktail, it’s fun and keeps questions at bay or recently hanging out with a pregnant friend. Those drink pushy folks make me super angry and also sad and sadly too many of my friends fit into that category.

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    I’m not sober but when quitting smoking, which I would say is similarly pretty big in the queer community, and I’d be at a queer club of some kind craving a drunken cigarette with all the other cute queers on the smoking patio I’d tell remind myself that tobacco companies market to queer people and that queer people’s rates of addiction are much higher and it’d make me feel responsible and want to break the cycle, so to speak. Just something that works for me.

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    Thank you SO much for writing this. I live in a relatively small town two hours south of Chicago. I wanted to go to Chicago this summer for the Pride parade, but since the last time I went was in 2012 (and I was a full blown addict and active alcoholic) I’m sure I would feel like I’m missing out on something. I mean, isn’t pride all about getting f*cked up and hooking up with 5 people in one night in your friend’s basement in Boy’s town? Well it was for my 19 year old self. Now I’ve been sober for over two years, but I fail to actively work a program of recovery and I’m lately becoming envious of those who get to drink & be merry. To add on to my confusion and sadness, I’m navigating my home town since I returned from leaving a big college campus. Meeting new queers is great, until I tell them I’m sober. After they know I don’t drink, they really have no interest in being friends. So, to be brief I’m happy to see this voice represented because it makes me realize I’m not the only queer sober person. I just wish I lived in a more queer and populated area so that this demographic was represented physically in my own town. Thanks again.

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      Hi Frankie,

      Thank you for your comment and for being part of the AS community, which has given me a platform to share my experience. I do not actively work a 12 step program either. I do not recommend this approach for everyone, but as an atheist and feminist, I find the Big Book to be really alienating. But, I do take the suggestion of “take what you need and leave the rest.” I go to meetings, I fellowship, I make myself available to other addicts, and now I write about my experience. Alcohol has become so ingrained in queer culture that it really does mess with our heads when we try to do something queer without booze. Search for what it means for you to be queer without substances and you’ll find that you are not missing out on anything. You don’t need to check out to feel the full experience of Pride! ODAT!!!

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    Oooof it’s been a tough couple of weeks and with Pride coming up, I was gonna get plastered! Screw Karl Rove and his accusations that I have brain damage! Ok, so my response was a little slow to when the shoe was thrown: http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/hillary-clinton But, who expects that to happen?! In any case guys, don’t get hammered for Pride. You never know when you might run for President and then have some jackass accuse you of brain damage for getting drunk at Stonewall Inn. And remember, you too can be fabulous like me, sober: http://giphy.com/gifs/lqY2H0eVgNegg

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    I am SO HAPPY these articles are being written.

    Last year at LA Pride, I blacked out and cheated on my girlfriend right in front of her. I haven’t had a drink since. I went to Long Beach Pride this year with two sober friends and I actually remember everything that happened.

    I relate to your articles so much, and I hope there will be more in the future!

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    Sending good wishes to all of the people out there who are newly sober or struggling with sobriety.

    There are lots of great suggestions here: HALT, have a plan, bring a sober buddy.

    For me, I find it’s helpful to have a non-alcoholic beverage in hand: Diet Coke, mineral water, whatever. That can be reassuring to drinkers and non-drinkers alike! When I first got sober, I felt like there would be a big awkward spotlight on the fact that I was not drinking alcohol. Almost no one noticed or cared! Usually that only people who are “concerned” when someone is not drinking are people who may really be uncomfortable with their own drinking.

    In sobriety sometimes a big drinking holiday can feel like an approaching category 5 storm…so I’ve found it’s important for me to prepare.

    And a big surprise in sobriety: how much fun life can be without alcohol. Never would have expected that! :)

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