Felicity Ward: when to lean in to your shame spiral

  Digital design: Nina Abrahams

Digital design: Nina Abrahams

Drinking is a deeply ingrained part of Australian culture. So, what happens if you’re feeling like it might not be for you anymore? We asked comedian and mental health advocate, Felicity Ward, how to navigate an alcohol-free world. By Mia Abrahams

I want to stop drinking, but I’m worried about “being boring” or making my not-drinking into a big deal. What are your top tips for surviving social situations sober?

I know I’m a comedian but because these are subjects very close to my heart/nervous system, I’ve decided to give straight answers on the off chance someone struggling might need a little guidance. When you first start going to parties or bars sober it is scary, so this is what I found out:

  • Everyone is boring at the beginning of a party; some just wear loud shirts.
  • There is a chance alcohol never made you more interesting only less inhibited. Do not confuse these for the same thing.
  • Remember, your Muslim friends don’t drink either. You might actually be surprised that some of your friends don’t drink; you just never noticed because you were drinking.
  • Find the host of the party and find “jobs” to do. That way you get to move around the room, have very short conversations with people but get to leave quickly. You also feel useful… and self-esteem will play a big part of early sobriety.
  • If you don’t want to make a big deal about not drinking, some useful phrases are: “I’m on antibiotics”, “I’m on a health kick” “I’m allergic to alcohol” “Alcohol makes me punchy.” Or order Soda and Lime. Tell people it has vodka in it.
  • Mocktails are your friend. When I first started going out I’d drink coke…but I’d drink them like they had vodka in them. Very quickly. So by midnight I’d be off my eyeballs on sugar, drinking my jaw on a diabetic high… So mix it up. Lots of water. Ginger Beers are a favourite. Appletiser has no added sugar.
  • The toilet is a great hiding place – play on your phone, text a mate, check your make up, read an article.
  • When drunk people start telling the same story a second time, leave. It won’t have a different ending.
  • Plus side of not drinking – YOU. WILL. NEVER. HAVE. A HANGOVER. AGAIN.

I embarrassed myself at a party last night. How do I put a halt to my shame spiral?

No way to avoid it; best to lean into it. See if you can drag up some past embarrassments and throw them on the shame fire too. Let it burn! Because shame is a helpful emotion that reminds us actions have consequences. If I didn’t have shame the next day, I would still be drinking today.

What tactics have been helpful for you to combat anxiety? Do you ask for help / meditate / do yoga / stay away from anxiety-inducing situations (or all/none of the above!)

All of the above. I have been to see four therapists over 14 years. (The shortest time for six weeks, the longest time for four months. I’ve tried psychoanalytic therapy, psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy).

I swim three times a week. I meditate about five times a week. I do a dance class occasionally and even more occasionally yoga. I’ve had to cut back my workload substantially despite the fact I am ambitious and love my job. (Ironically this has helped me love my job more). I also have a lots of non-drinking friends.

Some people have tried controlled drinking courses. Some other people go to Alcoholics Anonymous. Some just go cold turkey. Find whatever works for you.

I think my friend might be having a tough time and drinking too much on the weekends. What should I do?

Something that I have found out is that you can’t make anyone stop drinking. You can’t change their drinking or the way they drink; and if you try you will probably drive yourself mad. I’ve found the best way to combat friends’ problematic drinking is to not hang around them when they drink. Be the best friend you can when they’re sober, and if you ever bring it up, only refer to how it impacts you and your friendship. And say it with love. They might already know and feel bad, or they might not know and may be hurt. And remember, anything said more than once is a nag.

Follow Felicity on Twitter, and check out her upcoming shows here.