Who Am I Without Alcohol? Finding Your Identity In Sobriety

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Many people experience an identity crisis when they quit alcohol. This can be especially true for social drinkers. Those who drink heavily and often at bars or with friends are part of a group culture. Getting drunk together and socializing is a shared experience. Such groups can have their own dynamics, expectations, and even shared values.

Over time, such ongoing alcohol use can obviously become problematic. But in the short term it provides a sense of community, identity, and belonging. It can be difficult to break away from a part of life that’s become so ingrained.

Sometimes, such friend groups may not understand why you’re cutting back, or may even feel threatened by the changes you’re making. Or, you may decide it’s simply not healthy to continue spending so much time with these friends. As a result, an entire social structure may fall away overnight.

Even if you tended to drink at home alone, quitting alcohol can disrupt your sense of self. Drinking may have substituted for other parts of life, such as healthy socializing and self-development. It may also have become your preferred way to numb or manage difficult feelings, even if it sometimes made you feel worse.

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Alcohol and the Self

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Whether you usually drank alone or with others, it’s common to feel uneasy in your identity after quitting drinking. How do you adjust to a world that doesn’t revolve around alcohol? Who are you when you’re not drinking? And what does a sober life even look like?

Excessive drinking can interfere with personal development and everyday functioning, especially long-term. Areas of your life that might be affected include:

  • Social life
  • Relationships
  • Sexual self
  • Stress management
  • Physical health
  • Emotional awareness
  • Professional development
  • Development of hobbies and interests

For many, alcohol serves as a substitute for meeting important needs, including all of the above and more. As you reduce or stop drinking, such neglected areas and hidden problems may suddenly emerge. You may realize that you haven’t prioritized things that are important to you.

Why Change Is Important

When it comes to recovery from alcohol misuse, it’s important to make changes in your everyday life. This may involve recovering who you were before heavy drinking. You may rediscover who you were as a child, or as a younger adult. Or, you may develop a whole new self and start exploring who you are now.

In either case, this process of change helps separate you from a previous lifestyle that revolved around drinking. The more you develop a meaningful life without alcohol, the easier it becomes to stay sober.

Recovering Your Identity after Alcohol

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The process of rediscovering your identity won’t happen overnight. But now is a great time to focus on the areas that are most important to you. Here are some steps to help you recover your old self, or develop your new identity after drinking.

1. Take Time to Reflect

As you cut back or quit drinking alcohol, a flood of feelings may come up. In working through these emotions, you’ll have a chance to reflect on what’s important to you now. These may be the same things that were important all along, or you may find you have new priorities.

Start with your values—such as family, career, self-development, spirituality, or helping others. What things have consistently been most important to you? What feels important now? If you have a busy schedule, you’ll need to carve out some time for this reflection. Pick 30 minutes a day, or one afternoon a week, to focus on yourself. Take a walk, journal, or read materials that prompt you to think about these areas.

2. Explore What You Enjoy

Many adults, with drinking problems or not, simply don’t know what they like to do anymore. They spend so much time working, caring for kids, or helping others that they ignore themselves.

This self-sacrifice can seem like the right thing to do, but it’s not sustainable in the long term. Everyone needs healthy ways to unwind and enjoy life. What hobbies have you enjoyed in the past? What have you always wanted to try? This can be as varied as taking up a craft, to learning to fly a plane. What sounds like it could be fun?

3. Ease Into Relationships

One of the most difficult parts of cutting back or quitting alcohol is learning how to interact with others. Alcohol often makes words flow more freely and cuts down on inhibitions. When you’re sober, it can suddenly feel debilitating just to have a conversation with someone.

This will get better over time. For now, find one or more people who you feel safe around, who are easy to talk to. If you have trouble finding friends, look into groups like Meetup, local churches, or events that center around your interests. Simply attend and take small steps. You don’t even have to talk much if you don’t want to.

Fortunately, you can develop these areas of your life gradually. There’s no need to figure out your entire future overnight. Even after you cut back on drinking, you’ll likely experience changes in interests, values, and priorities throughout your life. Give yourself time to better understand yourself and explore your future. There’s plenty of opportunity ahead.

If you’re looking for support in alcohol recovery, Ria Health can help. Our program is proven to help people cut back on drinking, and our coaches can give you tools for making healthy, lasting changes in your daily habits. Get in touch with us today.

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Written By:
Jennie Lannette, LCSW
Licensed therapist, writer, and published author, with a focus on trauma recovery.
Reviewed By:
Evan O'Donnell
Evan O’Donnell is an NYC-based content strategist with four years’ experience writing and editing in the recovery space. He has conducted research in sound, cognition, and community building, has a background in independent music marketing, and continues to work as a composer. Evan is a deep believer in fact-based, empathic communication—within business, arts, academia, or any space where words drive action or change lives.
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