There’s a movie called How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days.   There are countless magazine articles on How to Lose 20 Pounds in Two Weeks.   Cosmo will tell you all sorts of ways How to Drive Him Wild or something like that.   I haven’t seen much out there about How to Be Friends With an Alcoholic.  Especially one with whom you used to drink incessantly.   What happens when booze is no longer part of the equation?

They say in recovery that a changing of the guard is very common with friendships during the transition to sobriety.   Yes, it is sad to watch relationships, many of them long-established and seemingly solid, dwindle away, almost like those last ice cubes that sit in the bottom of the glass, melting and mixing in with the final remnants of liquor.  There remains only a small puddle of uncertainty and a very diluted relationship.   Neither side is quite certain where they stand.  The ice has succumbed to the heat and the chemical conversion to its liquid state.  The scotch, vodka, gin, whatever, has become watered-down, cloudy and less potent.   Somewhere in this mix, sometimes, its hard to salvage anything at all.

But there is also the happiness and restored faith that the new guard brings with it.   Some of these people may have been there along, some on the sidelines, the mixers if you will, and some brand new.  In any case, there’s a reason why they are there, right then, at that point in your life.  They have moved from the sidelines to the forefront to cheer you on and support you.   This is not to say that old is bad and new is good.   Remember the saying, “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold”.   But there’s another expression about not being able to have your cake and eat it too.   In order to succeed in sobriety, a person must completely change.   In fact, stopping drinking is not  necessarily the main part of sobriety.   I tried once to stop on my own, and lasted almost a year.   By on my own, I mean very little effort and stock put in the program, and barely any of the necessary reflection and self-actualization or mandatory change.   Didn’t work.   Without putting in the work and yes, sometimes sweat and tears, to labor through the twelve steps and change the very core of yourself and what made you drink, it is highly unlikely that you will achieve and maintain sobriety.

But here’s the rub, and back to the cake and eating it too (or not).   You change.  You identify your character defects and work hard to change them.  You dig deep down in your heart and your soul, fight with your demons, and hopefully win, and emerge a different but better (and sober) person.   Your friends, however, mostly remain the same.  Their interaction and involvement in your transition may vary, but for the most part, they aren’t going through the same metamorphosis.  They look at you, a different person now, through their same eyes.   You look at them, the same people, now through your own very different eyes.   They may have been the same the whole time and you chose to see them differently, ignoring their flaws, OR, missing their strengths and assets.   Whatever the vantage point, things are different.  A very good friend said to me once, you can’t expect to be completely different and have everything stay the same.   The cake.

So it takes understanding, patience and willingness to learn on both sides.   Newly sober, it’s difficult to know what to expect from your friends and what they expect from you.  Many of them are going through this for the first time as well.  Do they continue to drink in front of you?  Do they continue to invite you to things where there will be drinking?   Do you go even if it’s hard for you?  Do you decline and stay home, feeling worse for missing out?   Or feeling better knowing that you made the right choice for you at the time and did what you had to for your new lifestyle?  And that’s what it is, a LIFEstyle.   Not a phase.  Not a trial period.  Not the latest 21-day cleanse.  A lifestyle.

Here’s my advice for both sides (for what it’s worth):  be honest.  Tell each other what you feel comfortable with and what you don’t.  Explain to your friends what you need to do to stay sober.  If they are interested, tell them how you are working your recovery.   Tell them when you just can’t do something, and tell them what you can and would like to do.  Tell them what’s hard.  Tell them what works.  On the other side, be patient.  Ask questions.  If the friendship is important to you and worth keeping, remember that this is probably the most difficult thing this person has done in their entire life.   Is it hard to be with your old buddy who used to slug down bottles of wine with you on a Tuesday night?  I’m sure it is.  But, hopefully, the real person inside, without the booze, is an even better person to be around and a better friend.  For some people, it’s just too difficult, or too painful, for whatever reason, to continue, and that’s okay.  Ideally, at the heart of any true friendship is the desire for the other person to be happy and at peace.   And if the only way for this to happen is to let them go, then remember this:  God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.