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Date and have fun by sobering up or drinking less

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Parties, weddings, repeat concerts and late dates: the social calendar is back in full swing after nearly three years of lockdowns and restrictions related to the pandemic.

For some, this renewed activity comes with peer pressure to cut down on alcohol – a challenge whether you’re trying to sober up, go without alcohol or simply drink less.

“The hardest part about not drinking is other people’s perceptions of it,” said Millie Gooch, founder of the Sober Girl Society and author of “The Sober Girl Society Handbook.” She stopped drinking more than four years ago. “I heard so much: ‘Oh, you’re going to get boring now.’ I still get it from time to time.

Gooch is part of a growing moderation movement. Her UK-based group aims to support young women who want to stay sober or drink less with practical advice on how to socialise, date and have fun without a cocktail in hand. It offers non-alcoholic brunches and other gatherings.

“I was a sober shamer myself, and that was a reflection of my own drinking,” Gooch said. “I wish everyone was drinking.”

No amount of alcohol is healthy if you’re under 40, largely because of alcohol-related deaths from car accidents, injuries and homicides, according to a study released in July. CNN caught up with Gooch, who shared his tips on how to rethink your relationship with alcohol.

The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

CNN: Why did you write “The Sober Girl Society Handbook”?

Millie Gooch: I had been sober for six months and I was 27 years old. I couldn’t find any support around the issue that resonated with me. I had a preconception that AA (Alcoholics Anonymous) would be full of 50 year old men. I felt that many of the books on the subject were obviously geared towards people in their 40s or were about real, deep alcoholism, but not the in-between stages. They talked about how they got sober but didn’t focus on what to do after that. I couldn’t really find anything that was practical. How do you go on a sober date? How do you go to a wedding?

They were the main things I write about in the book. It has some of my history, but also some resources and self-help. It’s about how you actually go out and live as a person in a world where alcohol is so normalized and you don’t drink it.

CNN: Why did you decide to give up alcohol?

Gooch: I really started drinking when I got into university, and my drinking was very party, binge, blackout drinking, which is something I took with me when I got into (public relations) and journalism.

When I was drinking, I was always getting myself into very dangerous and vulnerable situations. I was waking up in places I didn’t want to be – having that crippling fear the next day of wondering what I said and what I did.

I wasn’t really a daily drinker. I was going out every other week, maybe an odd weeknight. The reason I stopped drinking was mainly for my mental health. I would feel very anxious.

CNN: What was it like getting sober?

Gooch: I found that one of the things when I stopped drinking was that I really had no idea how to deal with my emotions. I think every time I was stressed or heartbroken it was like I was going to go out and get really drunk. So I had all these feelings. It was really impressive. To get to the root cause of why I was feeling the urge to drink, I consulted a therapist.

When you use alcohol, it gives you a synthetic confidence that dissipates the next day – you don’t really have it. I had to push myself to get out of my comfort zone, let go and meet people. It helped me build a real innate confidence that kind of stuck with me.

CNN: What advice would you give someone who wants to drink less?

Gooch: Many of us drink mindlessly. Understand why you drink. Is it because you are happy and want to celebrate? Or are you drinking because you’re stressed and don’t want to deal with the emotion at hand? Is there anything else you could do, like go for a walk or take a shower?

There are many resources out there. You can follow sober accounts, splitting your Instagram feed so it’s not just a steady stream of brunches and boozy nights out.

Be honest about the number of units (beverages) you are drinking. There are many good apps. (She recommended one called Try Dry.)

The Sober Girl Society is part of a growing moderation movement.

CNN: How do you deal with peer pressure around drinking?

Gooch: Have an honest conversation. Don’t lie about having to take antibiotics or (have to) drive home. People will say, “Oh, you can drink in them” or “We’ll get your car in the morning.” I would say something like, “Look, drinking is making me really unhappy. I’m not sure it’s going to be a forever thing, but I’m trying to cut it down and would really appreciate your support.”

When it comes down to not wanting a big round of drinks, just say, “Actually, do you mind if I skip the round tonight? I just want to have a couple of drinks. I’m really looking at my relationship with alcohol.”

Stand in the mirror and practice and get comfortable saying these things before going out if necessary, even texting people beforehand. I used to go on the WhatsApp group and say, “Just so you know girls, I’m not drinking tonight.” Because then they kind of have time to get over it.

CNN: What’s your advice about going on a date sober?

Gooch: Pump yourself up before going out. A playlist is always good. And make sure you get rid of any nervous energy by, say, running around before heading out.

Always meet somewhere that you feel is comfortable for you – maybe check to see if they have good non-alcoholic drinks. I like being able to order a mocktail this sounds sophisticated rather than saying, “I’ll have a… Diet Coke, please.”

There shouldn’t be a judgment about it, but sometimes there is. I found that if I told people ahead of time, it gave them the opportunity to decide if they wanted to go out with me. I think it’s best to put it out there. If people are funny about it then that’s not the kind of person you want to be with.