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What is Sober Shaming?

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Sobriety is a challenging journey that people can work through successfully with the right effort. The opposite can happen if you don’t have the support you need from loved ones and the proper network in place.

On your journey, sober shaming is one thing you may need to worry about because it could lead to a relapse. During the beginning stages, folks are more vulnerable to sober shaming. It’s estimated that only one-third of people who are sober for under a year will continue the fight.

The rest relapse. This is why it’s important to understand what sober shaming, is and know how to cope with it.


What Is Sober Shaming?

The reality is that sober shaming often goes unnoticed. It generally flies under the radar because people don’t talk about it, but it happens more often than you could imagine.

A small survey found that 64% of men who’ve tried to cut back on drinking were shamed for doing so. That’s a large percentage for individuals who are just trying to make positive changes in their lives but are discouraged from doing so.

Sober shaming is when a person is shamed for being sober, or for trying to stay sober. If you’re working on your own sobriety and run into this, you might hear things like the following:

  • “Have one more drink; it won’t hurt anyone.”
  • “Don’t ruin everyone’s fun.”
  • “It’s just for a special occasion—you can go back to being sober afterward.”
  • “You only live once.”

We’ve heard all of these things and many others. Sadly, these statements can lead people to relapse—they simply can’t handle the pressure.

Some drinkers shame people because they don’t like to talk about being sober or cutting back. It reminds them of the possibility of developing a substance use disorder. It could even remind them that they might have a problem themselves. Sometimes, these reminders force people to lash out and get you to forget you’re trying to remain sober.


Why Will It Happen to You?

You may think this sort of thing might not happen to you, but it can happen. You’re probably wondering why something like this happens in the first place.

The reason is you probably have family members or friends who drink regularly. Ideally, you would put some of these relationships on hold or separate yourself as much as you can to avoid temptation, but that’s not always possible. There are certain people in your life that you can’t cut off, and those people could shame you for trying to stay sober. If you’re able to, try to minimize the amount of time you spend with people who aren’t supportive of your recovery journey.

It’s also important to lean on your positive support system—others who are going through or have been through the same thing. Peers you meet in meetings or sober circles will be understanding and supportive. When you’re unable to avoid a situation with people who might shame you for abstaining from alcohol, try to bring a friend or your sponsor along with you as a buffer. The buddy system may not seem so effective right now, but it can be powerful to have someone backing you up and telling others you’re trying to stay sober and to respect that.

Sober shaming doesn’t always come from your loved ones, friends, or family members. Sometimes it comes from total strangers. It might happen while you’re out on a date. You may order a mocktail and hear a judgmental statement, or simply a look you may interpret as judgmental. This can be a little jarring and might give you a ‘fishbowl’ feeling—like you’re under a microscope, and everyone can see what you’re going through. Try your best not to take this personally. The truth is that every person is going through their own struggle, and they may not mean to appear this way or say something to offend you.


Why Are You So Vulnerable to It?

Some people might wonder why shaming works. The truth is that shame is something most people have experienced to some degree, and most of us are vulnerable to it. Shame is inherently psychological; it makes you feel upset, confused, sad, and humiliated. Feeling ashamed could cause you to feel all sorts of other negative feelings, like the following:

  • Unappreciated
  • Sensitive
  • Embarrassed
  • Rejected
  • Having no worth
  • Vulnerable
  • Less than

You can see why shame can be such a problematic feeling that can affect your mental state, especially if you internalize these feelings. The reason shame is so effective and why it could be dangerous for someone newly sober is because it activates a powerful protective response in your brain. As you move forward in your recovery and have more time under your belt, your brain will understand what you can do to avoid these feelings and more effectively shut them down before they cause problems.

By the time you’re ready to leave treatment, you will have the tools to fight back. On top of that, you’ll have a support system with you since you probably already joined a support group for people dealing with substance use disorder. Utilize your support system whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed or want to drink or use. With the right tools in place, you’ll be able to withstand any triggers or difficult emotions.

The truth is that you’ve got nothing to be ashamed about, and while shame can be painful in the moment, try to remember that other peoples’ happiness should have nothing to do with you. They might have a problematic relationship with alcohol or substances if they’re spending time trying to coerce you into using.

Achieving and maintaining sobriety is a lifelong quest; it’s not something that comes overnight, or something that remains intact without dedication and perseverance. It takes a lot of work, dedication, and once you have a routine in place you can go on to live your best life.


What Can You Do to Fight Back?

The good thing is that you can take a few steps to keep yourself safe from any sober shaming you might encounter. Sober friendly bars have risen in popularity in recent years, offering the same environment as a bar that serves alcohol but with mocktails. They have plenty of options and offer an accepting atmosphere.

The other thing you can do to fight back is just accept it. Yes, this is going to be challenging since your brain will put up barriers to get you to feel positive feelings, but accepting it can help. No one can make you feel poorly without you allowing them to. Once you accept yourself and your sobriety, you’re taking any power back and owning it.

Working on your social circles by weeding out the negative and keeping those who provide healthy support and positivity is also key. Try to get more sober friends or friends who support your new healthy choices.

Speak about the shame you’re feeling with those you trust. This could be within your sober network, at a recovery meeting, with a sponsor or therapist, etc. This step can be hard, as it’s pointing out your vulnerability, but it can be the beginning of healing and accepting your new reality. If you plan to continue a relationship with someone who is participating in this shaming behavior, speak to them about it. Tell them what you’re feeling. Sometimes, their intention is to loosen you up; they might not mean to trivialize your sobriety or to make fun at something so serious. It might just take one conversation to show them the damage they’re doing, intentional or not.

While confronting someone directly about what you’re feeling is not easy, it is an important step. Normalizing any shame you’re feeling is going to take some time, but is the best way to avoid bottling it in, which can lead to relapse.

If you have some additional questions about sober shaming, or you just need support that you can trust, don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Granite Recovery Centers. Our Admissions specialists are available 24/7, and are happy to answer any questions you might have. Please give us a call today.