Here’s what I learned about partying sober since I gave up alcohol

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When I first gave up alcohol and went into recovery in July 2015, I didn’t know all of the changes that it would bring to my life. However, one of the more obvious changes are socializing sober.

When I was in New Orleans last September for my baby brother’s birthday (and having fun in the cute restaurant bathroom in the picture above), I realized just how different my life had become in the last year. I’ve learned a lot about maintaining a happy and alcohol-free life in this time, but it hasn’t always been easy.

For one, I had a few minor relapses between October 2015 and my last one in April 2016 (which I wrote about here). Minor in that they didn’t fully send me back into drinking full-time but rather were a 2-3 day binge episode. Not great, but I recovered and now haven’t had a drop in over a year.

The second struggle was re-establishing a social life and learning how to navigate the world that I was so used to in a brand new way.

One of the things that I have always said was amazing about my recovery is that my friends completely rallied for me. They supported me, heard my stories, comforted me and generally had my back. They knew I was embarking on a new and scary journey, and they made it clear that they would continue to be there for me.

I know that this is one of the luckiest things that an addict can go through because many addicts who I met weren’t so lucky. I heard many stories in meetings and online of people who lost all of their friends the minute they quit drinking.

And I get why: Your friends are used to you in a certain way and they’re likely used to socializing in a certain way. Even though my true friends supported my recovery, I was faced with others who weren’t so great about my drinking. People who questioned how bad it was (it was bad, trust me, otherwise I wouldn’t have admitted to it publicly) and who simply didn’t know how to have fun with me anymore.

Well, let me tell you: Sober people can still have fun!

I was just as social and fun before I had a problem with alcohol, and I’d like to think I am still as fun as I was back then. In fact, most of my interactions with friends and alcohol had been pretty normal. We drank wine with dinner, had cocktails on the weekend, indulged in happy hour occasionally, went out dancing and had some drinks, etc.

Yes, I occasionally got drunk and partied a little too hard, but my problematic drinking really mostly happened at home when I was alone and stressed out. I binge drank all by myself as a way to shut out the world, and that’s when I knew that I needed help.

So I sought help, my world changed and things have been… well, mostly better ever since.

But partying while sober is still tricky, and I bet it will continue to be for a long time. I’m still relatively early in my recovery and, because I’ve kept almost all of the friends I had before, I don’t have any sober friends.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does occasionally provide some challenges when I want to hang out with my friends and not have alcohol become an issue. And it especially can become an issue when I am in a new group who may not know why I don’t drink or even that I don’t drink.

But instead of becoming a hermit or totally giving up valuable friendships simply because they still drink and I don’t, I have started to implement some strategies for enjoying parties even when you’re not drinking.

And since I am a writer and love to share about things, including and especially my recovery journey, I wrote about it for one of my favorite food websites, The Kitchn. Here is my story titled Teetotal Like a Boss: Tips for Enjoying a Party When You’re Not Drinking.

One of my favorite things about writing that story is that I got to talk to some other women in recovery for their own tips. The other favorite part is that you actually do NOT have to be in recovery in order to enjoy these tips. Some people simply don’t drink because they never liked alcohol, others don’t drink because of medical issues and some don’t drink because they’re pregnant or hoping to become pregnant soon.

There’s lots of reasons for not drinking, actually. Recovery is just mine.

But I’m still hoping that my tips for partying while sober will help others. And remember my very last, but very much not least, tip: Have fun – and prove that you don’t need alcohol to do it.

That’s my plan, anyway.

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A year ago, I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk

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Exactly a year ago, I had just arrived in my hometown of Fort Myers, FL.

After 11 and a half happy years as a resident of New York City, I had decided to move back to Southwest Florida with my tail between my legs. Unknown to my friends at the time, I had just come out of the darkest place of my life and decided that what I needed was to restart.

So in early April 2016, I accepted my parent’s invitation to move back home for a little while and set about changing my life. I packed up my apartment, sold as much furniture as I could, had a goodbye party with the friends I loved but couldn’t yet tell the full truth to yet… and finally left the city in a van with the rest of my stuff, my faithful kitty Jack and my mom helping to drive the next 1,250 miles.

When I arrived at my parent’s house on the night of April 22nd last year, I felt completely defeated and lost. I didn’t know what the next month or six months or year would bring, and I was scared.

At the same time, however, I was ready to face up to defeat and admit that I needed to make some drastic changes in my life. As this post would suggest… When I woke up the next day, I realized (albeit half jokingly) that I was single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk.

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit there.

The whole idea behind the title of this post actually started after an idea I had while working on my Map Your 30s blog on my portfolio site. While I ultimately abandoned that idea like so many of my writerly fantasies, the thoughts still persisted.

At the time, I knew that I needed to make changes and figure out some stuff in my life. I had decided to blog about those changes and that “figuring it all out” mentality with the idea that life continues to change and evolve even after turning 30, which I had done exactly a month before my big dramatic move out of the city. I categorized these changes into six different sections: relationships, career, home, money, health and confidence (my code word for mental health and recovery from alcohol addiction, which I wasn’t yet ready to talk about publicly).

Those were the categories in which I thought I needed to make some changes… and although my life might not sound quite as dramatic as the title of this post implies, I was in fact all of those things:

I was single (no long term relationship in the past six years, and the ones back then were pretty freaking crappy). I was unemployed (I had just lost a new job that I realized too late wasn’t going to work out anyway). I was homeless (living with your parents isn’t exactly being the self-sustaining adult I had known myself to be). I was broke (no real savings or any money to speak of, and what little I had was used on moving expenses). I was fat (my health had slowly deteriorated in the past few years to the point that I was 20 pounds higher than what I wished I was, 40 pounds higher than my lowest weight post-weight loss surgery, and 30 pounds higher than my goal weight). And I was drunk (in that I had just suffered from a horrible-but-brief relapse into alcoholism after my first and only stint in rehab in July/August 2015).

Basically, everything was wrong with my life a year ago.

I wasn’t happy. I knew I still loved living in New York City, but I also knew that I needed to get out of there in order to clear my head. Recovery was harder than I thought and being an adult had become increasingly more difficult. And to be honest, being single in the city sucked.

I’m not blaming the problems of my life on where I was living, but I knew at the time that it wasn’t helping. I had loving, supportive, incredible friends… but it just wasn’t enough. My health and career had stalled, I never had enough money and somehow the support system I knew I had just didn’t seem like enough. And so I went home.

Well, as hard as it is to admit… that’s probably the best decision I could have made.

At the time, I remember feeling ashamed. My friends knew I was leaving the city, but not a single one of them truly knew why until weeks later. I just wasn’t ready to come clean as I packed up my boxes and said goodbye to the only city I had chosen to call home, to the friendships I had spent my entire adult life cultivating. It was hard.

But it was also good for me.

I took the wounds that life in the city had slowly cut into me, and I healed them.

In taking myself out of the environment I thought I wanted, I discovered that I am still the person that I always was – I had just gotten a little lost somewhere along the way.

I don’t know if it was the job troubles or the drinking or the not taking care of my body or the frustrating dating life or the living alone or the feeling constantly penniless for 12 years, but I finally broke. But in breaking and admitting that something in me shattered, I was slowly able to put myself back together again.

Shortly after moving back to Florida, I unexpectedly met the love of my life.

I know how ridiculous that might sound, trust me. The “love of my life” is not a phrase I ever thought I would utter. But in meeting my partner Adam, I realized that I had never known love before. He was the first – and very vital piece – of putting my pieces back together.

Afterwards, I got my old job back. Then I moved in with him, just as we both started to eat much healthier and started to take care of my finances again. I rebuilt friendships new and old, reconnected with those I left behind in NYC and those I have missed here in FL since I originally moved away.

And most of all, I haven’t had a single drink since last April.

The life I left behind slowly faded away into this new life I created for myself. I realized that I wasn’t all gone and that taking some time to take care of my mental health was nothing to be ashamed of. I know that I am incredibly lucky to have parents who were behind me when I needed them, and even luckier to have found someone who loves me and supports me (and still wants to see me naked) despite all my horror stories of the past.

Now, a year later, I almost can’t believe the changes I have seen in my life since leaving New York as a single, unemployed, homeless, broke, fat and drunk mess of a person.

I’m now in a loving relationship with a man that shows me more support than I could ever possibly deserve, happier than ever working as a full-time freelance writer and editor, carefully decorating a beautiful home that I share with my love and our two fur babies, slowly paying off all of our debt and saving money for the first time in my life, back to a really happy weight thanks to my mostly-vegetarian diet and going to proudly celebrate two years in recovery this summer (and just celebrated a year since my last relapse).

I’ve rebuilt my life in completely unexpected ways, and it wouldn’t have been possible if I didn’t admit to myself back then that I was lost.

When I set out on this journey a year ago, I didn’t know what the year would bring. I didn’t know how lost I was and, to be honest, I hadn’t yet realized just how dark of a place I was in until I was fully out of it. But that’s what happens sometimes, I think. Insert joke about hindsight being 20/20 here…

What’s true now is that I finally feel like I have my life back together. I’ve taken all of those little pieces that slowly crumbled around me without me noticing and I collected them all, meticulously glued them back together with my own brand of crazy glue, and just kept on going.

It’s incredible how I feel today in comparison to this day a year ago. I wouldn’t even know how to describe it except to say that my life is 1000x better than I ever could have imagined.

I know that a lot of that is in part because I found someone who is there for me all the time, no matter what, and who proudly calls himself my number one fan. Gotta love that!

But most of it is because of me, and because of the strides I made to pull myself out of that dark place I was in.

The smiling picture you saw at the beginning of this post was a mask… I was smiling to keep from crying as I took that picture in a restroom somewhere along the drive from NYC to FL. But now my smile is bigger than ever, and it’s genuine.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!

How to choose to be happier in our crappy world (VIDEO)

Please subscribe to my newsletter and read more of my writing on my portfolio site, IrinaGonzalez.com. Thank you!

Happiness is something that humans think about a lot. At least I do.

For years now, I have been saying that “happiness is a choice and it’s a choice that I make (almost) every day.” That’s still true, of course, but sometimes that kind of thinking gets away from me.

Look, there’s no two ways about it: The world is currently not a happy place.

There’s untold chaos, which isn’t exactly anything new, but now that chaos is complemented by a particularly hairy situation in the country which I call home: the United States of America.

In case you are living under a rock, our president of just under 100 days is not well liked by people like me… You know, basically anyone with a brain, an appreciation for science, the environment or any kind of diversity. As an American citizen and immigrant, I am not a fan and I truly wish that the American public hadn’t elected this racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic pseudo-tyrant into office. But it is what it is, and I for one certainly plan to spend the next four or so years resisting.

Enough about my politics though… This post is about happiness. About why we seek it and how we find it and, most of all, how we recognize it.

And that’s the key word: How to recognize happiness.

I honestly think that is one of the hardest things about “being happy.” It’s not that we are clueless about what happiness means, but I do think that we have much higher expectations for it than we possibly should. And that’s part of the problem: our expectations.

Recently, a video titled “An Algorithm for Happiness” made the rounds on Facebook. When I watched this fascinating video, something clicked in my brain and reminded me how to be happy.

The truth is, primarily because of what is going on in the world right now and the election of President Orange Cheeto Dumpsterfire (my all-time favorite moniker for #45, since I can’t actually bring myself to say or type his name), I haven’t been my usual happy self.

Sure, I’ve had a lot of happy things going on in my life: I bought a car, celebrated mine and my partner Adam’s 31st birthdays and I’ve had some pretty great successes in my career. But in general, I have been angry and grumpy and sometimes what I jokingly call an “angry feminist.” And those feelings are totally okay, of course, because we must acknowledge and honor our feelings.

But… at the same time, being an unhappy bitch sometimes can be mentally taxing and ultimately harmful to our overall selves.

A week ago, I celebrated my one year anniversary since my last relapse in recovery. You see, I’m an alcoholic. I entered rehab in July of 2015 and I have been working on sobriety ever since. It’s been a mostly successful and occasionally bumpy road, but I am proud of the progress I’ve made.

How does that relate to happiness, you ask?

Well… Although I no longer attend meetings, I don’t remember getting to know many addicts who were happy. Which makes sense, of course, because if you’re happy, why would you need to dull yourself with drugs and alcohol? You don’t, and that’s the point.

As I watched the video talking about the algorithm for happiness, I was reminded of some of the lessons I learned through recovery, primarily the lessons of cognitive behavioral therapy, which strives to teach you how to think differently about your issues.

To be honest, I was never a fan of AA or NA meetings, but I did thoroughly enjoy Smart Recovery – and cognitive behavioral therapy is exactly why. When I went through one-on-one- therapy for my alcohol addiction, it was with a CBT therapist too, and it’s a system that has really worked for me.

The reason that CBT has worked for me in terms of my alcoholism and happiness is because I learned how to reframe my thinking. In this video, the Google executive uses the example of a glass to demonstrate how we think about happiness.

He argues that happiness is looking at the half-full side of the glass and being grateful for it and looking at the half-empty side of the class and asking “Can I do anything about it?” and, if not, “Can I accept it?”

This kind of thinking is absolutely critical to understanding happiness and how it works in your life.

He goes on to explain that happiness isn’t actually about how much water is in the glass, but what you think about how much water is in the glass. LIGHTBULB MOMENT!

When I watched that, I realize just how much my happiness had to do with CBT and recovery and how much it had to do with the current state of the world and my thinking about it.

Adam recently pointed out that I am not the same happy-go-lucky girl that he met almost a year ago. And in a lot of ways, it’s true. Although I reasoned that there’s many, many reasons for it (most of them beginning with the man currently sitting in the White House’s main room), some of it is also my thinking about what is currently going on.

To be honest, it made me feel bad that the world has come to such a dark place and it’s made me feel even worse that I have lost some deep down belief in hope and the goodness of people because of the current situation.

But that’s not fair to the world, and that’s not really fair to all of the people who are doing good work now. I strive to be one of those people and, after watching the video below, I realized that there is more that I could be doing to help make the world a slightly happier place.

The first part starts with me. It starts with reframing how I view the world – even just a little bit – and recognizing that there IS still hope and there IS still good here.

To be honest, it’s a lesson that I expect to have to learn and relearn for the next four years. But you have to start somewhere, right? And I choose to start with being happy today, and happier than I was yesterday.

Want more? Subscribe to my newsletter to get writing news and updates on my memoir (Moscow Chica). Then check out my portfolio site and find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest!