The Sober Sessions are a series of Q&A with inspirational people who are brave enough to share their own story in order to help others.
The very first Sober Session is with the delightful Sam Wilson, 26-year-old founder of Sober Mates (@sobermates) ‘An Aussie community providing resources & support for those looking to explore their relationship with alcohol’.
Sam is a self-confessed extrovert who suffered from anxiety and panic attacks. She was the social glue for her family and friends, and, like many of us, led the charge when it came to drinking. Over time it was her desire to take care of her mental health that was the catalyst for quitting the booze and now Sam has done a complete backflip.
She’s traded her ‘hanxiety’ for sobriety, loves connecting with her sober Mum over AF champers and, through Sober Mates is discovering and creating her own supportive community to help others like her.
I had the pleasure of chatting to Sam via zoom where she revealed her own struggles with drinking, her decision to quit and the journey she’s been on so far.
Sarah - What prompted your decision to quit drinking? Did you have a point of no return or was it a decision made over time?
Sam – It was a bit of both. As I young child I grew up in a family where alcohol was put on a pedestal. Whilst my Mum doesn’t drink my Dad did and there were lots of parties, with shots and excessive drinking. In my house if there was a party, you drank! I went from this drinking culture into the binge drinking era at Uni, and then Corporate working life with all the afterwork drinks and networking. I am extremely social, so I was always the one up for a drink but as time went on, I started to question the affect it was having on me and my mental health. I initially decided that moderation was the way forward, but it turned out that I couldn’t do that. I learnt firstly that alcohol is a drug that I can’t moderate and secondly that the hangovers were simply too much to bear. And whilst never drinking again did not seem like an option, I was ready to make a change. After a 4-day hangover following my best friends Hen’s night I knew I didn’t ever want to feel like this again, and I haven’t had a drink since.
Sarah - Do you feel that your decision to quit came from a sense of observing yourself from the outside? Seeing the self-destructive behaviour but doing it anyway?
Sam – Yes, I think it’s a question of noticing that repeat behaviour, of seeing yourself doing things you know you shouldn’t, but doing them anyway. You say you’re only going to have a few but by the end of the night you're calling an ex or making other bad decisions. As time went on, I noticed these behaviours became more frequent, the big nights were happening more often, drinking through the week, drinking on my own…it just got worse.
Sarah – What were your biggest fears about quitting?
Sam- The biggest fear was that I was the social one, I was the one organising the parties. So, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be invited to anything anymore because people would think I was boring. And I was afraid of being boring! I also felt like a bit of a hypocrite. I used to be the one encouraging the drinking! I was the one suggesting another shot or trying to get people to drink more. As it turns out I’ve done a complete backflip, I am now THAT person, the one being questioned about why I’m not drinking but I’m handling that. It will be a new challenge once we get back to ‘normal’ as I quit before COVID and haven’t had much of a chance to get out and about sober!
Sarah – How have you overcome these fears?
Sam – At the start I told my inner circle of friends that I was quitting. My best friend was amazing, she even bought alcohol free champagne for me at her wedding. It was my first big event after a month of not drinking and I was afraid of how I’d cope, but it went really well, I even drove all the drunks home! Since then I have had an occasion where someone refers to ‘The old Sam’ as I wasn’t participating like I used to. It did hurt a bit, but I simply told them “I’m the new improved Sam’. I’ve realised it doesn’t really matter what I say, what I’ve learned is I just need to focus on my own resilience. I have beautiful friends who are all on their own journey and I respect that. This is my journey, it’s definitely not easy, but it’s the work I have to do and that comes with getting and staying sober, so I’m committed to that and I’m a better person for it.
Sarah – One of the biggest concerns people express when quitting is what to tell people
about why they don’t drink. What is your approach to this?
Sam –Early on I told the people closest to me that I was quitting for my mental health, and initially that it was for three months. I’m an open book really so I wasn’t afraid to tell people I had anxiety and panic attacks. I think being honest is the best thing because I found out I wasn’t the only person feeling this way. For the wider circle it has been made much easier since I started Sober Mates. Something amazing has come out of my experience. Sober Mates has become my personal fall back and we’ve got an incredible community. I don’t know how I would have got on without it. But first and foremost, I think being honest is the best approach.
Sarah - Did you seek any external support, other than your close friends?
Sam - I’m a massive researcher so my way was to deep dive into the subject, I read books, listened to podcasts and followed social media groups. I didn’t really know that much about what alcohol actually does to you. I mean we know about the hangovers, but we live in a society that says red wine is good for you and we don’t really understand the negatives. Once I became aware of what it was doing to my body it became a lot easier not to put it in me!
Sarah - What would you say was the hardest part of your journey so far?
It was definitely not having a community which is the reason I started Sober Mates. Already I’ve met so many great people. I’m looking forward to finding alternative ways to catch up with and meet like-minded people face to face and I’ll be asking my local bars to start stocking up on alcohol free alternatives too so I can still meet one on one in a wine bar.
(Amen to that - @sober_sommelier)
Sarah - What insights from your own experience can you share with others looking quit or cut back?
Sam- I struggled at first with the idea of quitting forever, it scared me, so I started out with a goal of 90 days. That would be my first recommendation, because in 3 months you really do start to see the benefits but it’s not too scary a goal. Secondly, do your research, find out more about what alcohol does to you. These things worked for me, and I hope it might help others get started too.
Sarah - What are the Upsides of not drinking for you?
Sam - My anxiety has significantly reduced, I’ve been able to stop my medication which is amazing. And knowing I’m never going to have a hangover again, that’s one of the biggest upsides. Overall, I’m a better friend, daughter, colleague, worker, and generally a much better person to myself.
A huge thank you to Sam for her honesty and commitment to helping others. She is an inspiration to all of us, but especially to the growing number of younger people who are asking the important questions about their own future with and without alcohol. It's so great to see this movement gaining momentum here in Australia. Thanks Sam!
You can join Sam’s community @sobermates on Instagram and on her website www.sobermates.com.au and Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SOBER-MATES-113141693733141/