March 16th marks the first anniversary of my sobriety. I’ve been celebrating small victories measured first in weeks, then in months, but this feels big. It is big. And I don’t mark my progress just in terms of time, but what I’ve been able to do with that time.
- Moved to a beautiful new home with a pool
- Watched sunrises over lakes, oceans, at the top of parking garages
- Hosted pool parties
- Spent time at local parks
- Went moonlight canoeing with my girlfriend
- Started a local LGBTQ community
- Formed some of the best friendships I’ve ever had
- Took some of my favorite photographs yet
- Learned how to make vegan cheesecake
- Watched the shadows of a solar eclipse on the sidewalk
- Learned how to make vegan Thai tea at home
- Saw a double rainbow spill into the highway after a hurricane
- Began writing the SaaS Growth Playbook
- Joined Zest — as the first hire
- Hosted gorgeous Halloween, Friendsgiving, and Christmas parties
- Participated in my first podcast, on Everyone Hates Marketers
- Starting a new Facebook community, Startup Product Launches
- Started a book club focused on non-men authors of color
- Started a newsletter about launching, engaging, and growing communities for SaaS
- Began hosting a co-working space
- Started playing D&D (finally!)
- Was featured in Mashable
- Participated in a PBS special for Dust 2 Onyx
I’m not bragging — my goal is only to share this personal revelation I’ve been having this year. I have so much energy now! More energy than I knew I had.
Not drinking, for me, is one of the most positive experiences of my life. What it does for my energy, my health, my creativity and sense of well-being? Wow!
But yes, I came to this revelation as I suspect most sober people do — the hard way.
Binge-drinking has been my coping mechanism for dealing with negative experiences in my life. Painful, traumatic, personal stuff. Things that, colloquially phrased, might well drive someone to drink.
Because somehow, it made sense to pile on sabotaging my health and self-care routines, damaging friendships and messing with my mind on top of my list of existing woes?
It’s not a logical thing.
What is logical, for me, is to acknowledge that drinking for me = bad.
And while that realization has opened up a whole new world for me, it also means I’ve had to shut some worlds down — and I’ve been excluded by others.
That’s what I want to talk about here.
When I committed to being sober, I had to drop several friends who only wanted to get together to drink. We have new friends now who can have a drink or two, but drinking isn’t the purpose.
(Yes, I fully acknowledge and appreciate that there are a lot of people out there who can stop after drink #1 or #2. But when you’re in pain, it’s so easy to overdo it until the pain is dulled. For me, that’s around drink #ILostCount.)
If social pressure and social anxiety are contributing factors, going to an event makes not drinking remarkably hard. So hard, it’s often easier not to go at all. And feel excluded, stressed, with serious FOMO as a result.
When I drank in social situations, I thought that was how people liked me. A little louder, a little roudier, a little more ‘exciting.’ You know what I’ve found? This stunned me. People like me for me. Not drunk me. Just regular me.
Then there’s the level of difficulty that is way past hard.
Boozy tech events
The tech culture is so enmeshed with alcohol — craft beer, craft cocktails, wine — that booze often gets top billing.
As Kara Sowles wrote in a 2014 Model View Culture article,
In the tech industry, alcohol is currency. It’s used to grow event attendance, to bribe participants, to reward employees and community members. Informal interviews are conducted in bars, to see if potential employees are likable in a social setting, or can hold up under heavy drinking with clients. Co-workers gather in pubs to bond and shed the day’s frustrations. Good performance is rewarded with shared whiskey, tequila parties, opening up the office taps. We drink to say thank-you, to seal deals, to bid farewell, to make new friends, to rant.
I’m not moving to Silicon Valley anytime soon (probably not ever), and the drinking culture is one of my reasons why. Sure, I can avoid that by being self-employed, right?
If I go to a tech conference, alcohol will likely be free and plentiful. That’s fine — as long as they have Diet Coke behind the bar, I’m happy.
But the networking that happens inside and outside of the event? So much of that happens in bars.
See, I’m going to the Learn Inbound conference to hang out with my #ShineCrew ladies this Fall, and I sent out a request that when we gather, I’d prefer to gather in a place where drinking isn’t the primary activity. Ie. Not in one of Dublin’s 751 pubs.
If they want to hang out and grab a pint without me, I will not take offense! (I made that perfectly clear — you do you! I’ll go for a stroll through an art gallery or museum — or treat myself to a Thai Tea — and meet you later!)
But that’s with my #Crew — they get me. If I wanted to hob-nob with other movers and shakers in my industry, my sobriety might bar me from entry (pun intended).
It’s not just me — I am “1 in 6 Americans”
The CDC estimates 1 in 6 Americans binge drink 4 or more times a month. (And by the way, binge drinking is different than alcoholism, which was new to me — in fact, binge drinking can be much more dangerous.) That’s about 4–5 drinks slung back in 2 hours. And in Santa Clara County (where Silicon Valley is located), binge drinking increased by 36% among women and 23% among men between 2002 and 2012.
There’s a lot of us out there.
And those of us who know we have a problem aren’t going to go to events, after work get-togethers, or networking meetups where drinking is the way people are expected to bond.
That means we lose out on you, and you lose out on us.
And, that can mean the difference between moving up in your career, getting the promotion, meeting the right people who can help you on your way — and not.
Yes, this is about inclusivity.
So, in honor of my 12-month-old sobriety, I have a humble request
Can we make our culture, our events and our bonding activities more inclusive for people who don’t drink?
It’s really easy to host sober-inclusive gatherings:
- Choose venues where drinking isn’t the #1/only draw (sub pubs for cafes, art galleries, tea?)
- Offer a selection of non-alcoholic beverages that are of equal quality to the alcoholic beverages (PBR = Diet Coke; craft beer = LaCroix — you do the math)
- Advertise non-alcoholic drinks equally before the event (so sober folks feel like they’re invited too)
- Consider substituting alcohol as social lubricant for crafts — learning to assemble windchimes is better at generating conversations than even the fanciest cocktail, from personal experience
AlterConf is a poster-child for really fun, completely inclusive events where alcohol isn’t even allowed. And nobody minds! Their Code of Conduct is inspirational to me.
So the next time you want to “invite everyone out to the bar!” — think twice. You’re not really inviting *everyone.* Just those who drink.
And there are so many really cool people who don’t.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me and made this past year the best ever.