On Staying Sober and What TV Gets Right and Wrong About Alcohol

Welcome to part three of Autostraddle’s Sober Series, a four-part candid conversation between members of the Autostraddle team on sobriety.


Dani Janae: What are some challenges you’ve experienced in sobriety/how do you deal with pressure to use drugs/alcohol?

Analyssa: I think getting sober in the pandemmy removed a lot of the most obvious pressures for me at first — there weren’t bars to go to or parties to attend.

I do still feel sometimes outside of a shared experience, moreso in situations that are slightly more laid-back, like a Saturday afternoon hang on a patio or a fancier dinner. At parties, I’ve come to understand that truly no one thinks about you as much as you do, especially if they are drinking, so that feels less stressful to me now than it used to.

Tracy Levesque: The path my wife and I took to stop drinking was gradual. We did a few Dry Januarys in a row. The first one, we drank a couple of times. The second, we made it the entire month, but as soon as February 1 hit, it was game on. Then my wife found this thing called The Alcohol Experiment, and it was 30 days where you stop drinking (or not) and you watch a video every day dispelling myths about alcohol. Like “alcohol relieves stress” — actually, it releases more stress hormones in your system. “Alcohol is fun” — actually, your body’s attempt to get rid of it makes you grumpy. It shows you the cognitive dissonance between wanting to be a generally healthy person and regularly drinking literal poison. It was very non-judgey, logic, and science-based, and it 100% worked for me. So after doing that, we tried moderation. But I have to say, moderation takes so much work! You make up rules for yourself you inevitably break. And it’s such a slippery slope.

Finally, we decided to just stop, and it’s so much easier than moderation.

So “moderation” was the first challenge.

Next is the annoyance of people questioning your choice to not drink. Like, if you quit smoking, people are not like, “good god why?”

Analyssa: Oh! Also! How often people offer to buy you a drink in situations? Like, I just had a very stressful thing happen in my work life, and I had so many people text me like “I owe you a drink for this” or “can’t wait to buy you a drink,” and I still haven’t figured out how to answer those sort of well-meaning but clueless things.

I have a few times said “well, I was just too good at it” when asked why I stopped lmao.

Tracy Levesque: Good one.

Dani Janae: When I got sober, I was still performing poetry pretty regularly, and sometimes I got paid in drink tickets, so I’d either give them away or use them to get a ginger ale or something.

When people offer to take me to a bar for a date, I usually say I prefer coffee. Or I just get a tonic water with lime.

One thing I definitely notice now more than ever is the alcohol ads on social media. They are EVERYWHERE, and sometimes I get like “mannnn, I could have a drink and not spiral.”

Right now, I keep seeing an ad for a peach wine, and my mouth waters every time. I know I’d just drink the whole bottle and get super sick lol.

Tracy Levesque: I saw something somewhere where people said they wouldn’t trust a person who put “sober” on their dating profile. How messed up is that? But to be brutally honest, I would have thought the same way during the height of my drinking career.

Analyssa: I have found that my easiest way of dealing with it, personally, is to just be honest. At first I would try to skirt around it. I’d have a red solo cup full of sparkling water instead of carrying the can or I’d tell people “I just don’t feel like drinking,” and that was always way harder. Now I’m just super firm on “I don’t drink” or “I’ve been sober for 18 months” and let people have their own reactions. That’s their business, not mine!

I have had to block so many companies on Twitter for advertising alcohol for the same reason.

Sorry to Twisted Tea, hope they are well.

Dani Janae: Lol Analyssa.

I saw something somewhere where people said they wouldn’t trust a person who put “sober” on their dating profile. How messed up is that? But to be brutally honest, I would have thought the same way during the height of my drinking career.

Tracy Levesque: I tell people that drinking stopped being fun so I don’t do it anymore. But I always feel the need to say “but I’m cool with other people drinking,” like I need to make other people feel okay with their drinking.

Analyssa: Oh I definitely do that!

Dani Janae: Yes, totally. I feel like I still went to bars in early sobriety so I wouldn’t inconvenience anyone else’s fun.

Analyssa: I’m trying not to do it as much? But I think there’s probably a balance there, because honestly, people DO get really fucking weird when you say you don’t drink, so I like to encourage them not to be weird on my account but also I’m trying to be less “I’m not like a regular sober person, I’m a cool sober person” because….who is that for?

Tracy Levesque: “I’m not like a regular sober person, I’m a cool sober person” omg this!!!

Dani Janae: At my old job, people were so weird about it, and I was like why do you care so much?!

Tracy Levesque: It’s going to be interesting navigating my first tech conference alcohol-free. So many of my tech relationships involved drinking.

Dani Janae: I feel like being the only sober person in a group is so much pressure because people just instinctively start monitoring their own drinking, and it’s like, you don’t have to do that! They think you are judging them when you’re really just trying to get through the night.

Tracy Levesque: YES, Dani, that! I’m afraid my closest tech friends are going to feel that way.

Dani Janae: I hope they don’t! It’s a hard position to be in.

Analyssa: Yes, I don’t know how to tell people like “babe I simply do not care how much you drink.”

How much YOU drink is not capable of ruining my life — that’s me and me alone.

Tracy Levesque: I don’t know how much of it is me being afraid they’ll think that way or the fact I felt that way around a non-drinking person when I was in the height of it.

I feel like being the only sober person in a group is so much pressure because people just instinctively start monitoring their own drinking, and it’s like you don’t have to do that! They think you are judging them when you’re really just trying to get through the night.

Analyssa: But then that’s a whole other thing, too. It’s like, did I feel that way because I already had some work to do on my relationship with alcohol? In my case, yes, and so then I think I hold onto that when people are weird around a sober me. Because it does start to reveal to other people things about their drinking they may not like, even if they don’t get sober, which I know when I was in the height of it was why I felt weird swiping on sober people on the apps or being around sober people at parties.

Not to say everyone who feels strange around a sober person should not be drinking, just that there’s a weird chicken/egg/maybe some third thing there.

Tracy Levesque: Right

Dani Janae: Totally, that makes sense! I feel like, at the height of it, I thought everyone was out to get me or judging me, even the people who were trying to help. When I saw sober people on the apps I was always like “what would we do together if we weren’t drinking?”

Analyssa: I could not have imagined a dating app date without drinking three years ago, I could not have done it.

Dani Janae: Even when I drank too much on dates, I was still like I can’t imagine not living like this.

Tracy Levesque: It’s so messed up how the alcohol industry wants us all to feel this way. And media, everything plays along! Like the “I need a drink” scene happens hundreds of times on TV shows.

Analyssa: Oh, yeah, for a full four years I could never actually tell if a date went well or not because I’d been drunk so I didn’t trust my judgment!

Dani Janae: To use a word that’s already been used it is truly so insidious.

Analyssa: Have either of you watched Single Drunk Female?

Tracy Levesque: Yes

Dani Janae: I haven’t watched yet! Is it good?

Tracy Levesque: I’d give it a B.

Analyssa: I liked it!!

But I thought of it because I think it goes pretty far (as much as a single show can, I guess?) in combatting the media’s “I need a drink” normalization of drinking by showing the sort of routineness of sobriety?

Idk it sort of has an “I need a drink” tone, but instead all the characters are saying “I don’t drink so…”

Dani Janae: Oooo interesting!

Analyssa: Idk if that makes sense lol, and Tracy may disagree! But it was just a refreshing tone to me.

Tracy Levesque: Oh totally, I liked SDF‘s take.

I really liked how …And Just Like That handled Miranda’s sobriety storyline, because you never see Spontaneous Sobriety (going sober without a formal program) on TV. I related to her story so much, because we’re in our fifties and drinking crept up on both of us.

Analyssa: I haven’t seen that!

I loved The Flight Attendant, because it was the first time I saw someone who thought she was a fun party girl realize that actually her life was in shambles and had been for years because of her “fun.”

Tracy Levesque: Oh! I haven’t watched that show.

Analyssa: It’s…a lot, I will say. But the emotional core of Cassie’s sobriety actually really got me. I mean, there’s also like murder and espionage plots lmao so really a lot in every way.

Dani Janae: I saw Feel Good and thought it was pretty accurate.

Analyssa: I loved Feel Good. I just hate the romantic lead in that for some reason. Not the actor — she’s great! That character I cannot get past, idk why. Maybe I just think Mae Martin should be dating me!

Tracy Levesque: I loved that show too lol.

Dani Janae: LOL.

Analyssa: Since we talked about Tracy’s wife and their journey together, Dani, do you make an effort to date other sober people? Or just normies who drink without thinking too much about it.

Tracy Levesque: (Holding my comment for your answer.)

Analyssa: No pressure to answer if you’d rather not. I’m just curious about how other people approach dating while sober since I haven’t actually done much of it.

Dani Janae: I actually do! It’s not a major priority, but I find it easier to date other sober people. When I think of my ideal relationship, it’s with someone who is sober! One thing I did notice through dating is what regular drinking looks like, like sitting your glass down between sips and taking more than two minutes to drink a drink lol. But ultimately, I know myself, and I know I’d think “if they can drink, why can’t I?” So I try to date sober people mostly.

When I think of my ideal relationship it’s with someone who is sober!

Tracy Levesque: There were seven years when my wife didn’t drink and I still did (the Trump administration got her drinking again). While it was fine at the time, I enjoy life more with the two of us not drinking.

Analyssa: Omg Dani, noticing those regular drinking behaviors is so funny. I have friends who will…leave a beer unfinished? It’s so unimaginable to me.

Dani Janae: Lol totally! It’s so weird to watch people just moderate like that.

Tracy Levesque: The scary thing is I used to be that person, and you can go from that to drinking lots of bourbon nightly.


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danijanae

Dani Janae is a poet and writer based out of Pittsburgh, PA. When she's not writing love poems for unavailable women, she's watching horror movies, hanging with her tarantula, and eating figs. Follow Dani Janae on Twitter and on Instagram.

Dani has written 106 articles for us.

Analyssa

Analyssa is a co-host of the To L and Back podcast: Gen Q edition. She lives in LA, works at a TV studio, and can often be found binge-watching an ABC drama from 2008. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram, or her social media of choice, Letterboxd.

Analyssa has written 36 articles for us.

Tracy Levesque

Tracy Levesque is the co-owner and co-founder of YIKES, Inc. a web development agency located in Philadelphia. Certified Women and LGBT owned and the web developers for Autostraddle dot com.

Tracy has written 4 articles for us.

7 Comments

  1. I love this series! I’ve discovered that more than a tiny amount of alcohol really aggravates the Syndromes^tm and nothing brings a conversation to a halt faster than “I owe you a drink!” “no i’m good!” “no really!” “I mean it’ll make my joints spontaneously dislocate” no one has a follow up there and they pretttttty much stop asking!

    i appreciate y’all’s commentary on the alcohol culture of our world bc like it is truly inescapable! ads, friends’ posts, media content, even social scripts for how to interact with acquaintances. it’s all liquored up

  2. As a dyke who’s trying hard to get sober this series has really come at the right time!

    Totally related to the anecdotes about other people’s drinking behaviour – my partner can have a sip of a cocktail and forget about it, which totally blows my mind

  3. As someone that does not live (and is not from) the States, it has always caught my attention how drinking is portrayed in American shows, even in the ones that are kind of PG rated. Also what I have been getting from social media and this kind of discussions on the media.
    Don’t get me wrong, people in my country do drink, and there is a lot of abuse of it too. But I perceive that after you pass your twenties or so, people usually do not drink that much, also it’s not expected to drink with work colleagues, unless you are close, or you are in a end of the year party or similar. If people get together to have dinner or anything like that, yeah some of them will drink beer or wine, but it’s not often that they would get cocktails, shots or other drinks. There would usually be other drinks available, like sodas/soft drinks and everyone will choose their drink without much fuss from others. I have only experience pressure from others in certain dinners with close friends or from my partner (just to join her in order to buy a wine bottle for a dinner for example, because she will not drink one on her own).
    In my case when people ask I usually say that I decided to quit completely because I read about what alcohol actually does to your body and mind, and that there is not benefit from it. Also when I’m with my family I’m usually the designated driver and I prefer to stay sober just in case someone else cannot drive and I have to do it.
    In spite of all of that, I do understand the pressure that comes from being surrounded by people who expect you to drink. In my twenties I had a group of friends in which all of our interactions occurred with alcohol around, and sometimes it could be difficult to not give in to the peer pressure. It can be done though, especially if it isn’t being fun/good for you anymore.

  4. This is very interesting! I don’t drink liquor because I don’t like it. (I do like beer and wine.) I am encouraged by the increasing number of zero-proof cocktails I see on drink menus, and sometimes I order those because they honestly appeal to me more than an alcoholic drink does. Not sure if this is common where y’all live, but maybe your friend could take you out somewhere with those options? Another thing I sometimes order is a seltzer water with a splash of bitters in it, so I feel like I’m still having something fancy. Technically there is trace alcohol in the whole drink, so it may not work for everyone but it is a nice option for me.

  5. Suggestion for what Analyssa brought up, eith people wanting to buy you a drink for something you did for them or a hard time you’re having:
    I’m not really one for drinks, but I love homemade cookies!
    Or: I’m more of an ice cream person, want to treat me to a cone?
    Or: My preferred vice is actually the fries at (diner) – want to go Thursday?

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