How Long Does it Take?

A comment yesterday from “BetterWithoutBinging” asked the question that sparked today’s post: “How long does it take to get used to a new identity of being the non-drinker?”

How long does it take to get used to a new identity?

My husband proposed in 1988 on a mountain hike in Waterton National Park. It was a lovely moment, but my most vivid memory of that day is how the ring felt on my finger was we hiked out. It’s amazing I didn’t stumble and fall, because I kept holding up my hand to admire that modest but joyous symbol. I still love that ring, which has nested against the matching wedding band for over 25 years. Funny that this same ring I used to be so continually aware of is now often left by the sink after washing dishes. I usually find it the next morning and slip it back on, slightly surprised that I hadn’t realized it was missing. The ring is an extension of myself that I take for granted, beloved object that it is, yet at some point I stopped noticing it constantly.

In fact, many transitions in life feel foreign at first but eventually fit comfortably.

Most young girls feel both delighted and mortified when their breasts start developing, but eventually we all get used to having them (although with varying degrees of appreciation and acceptance). When I started driving I loved carrying my keys in my hand as a symbol of adulthood and independence. And as a young mom I felt silly giving the babysitter instructions when I felt like I barely knew how to get through the day myself. Even now, four months into my new title of “Grandma” I catch myself asking, “Is this okay for a grandma to wear? Should I stop dropping f-bombs now that I am a grandma? Should I start baking cookies now?”

Some people move so effortlessly through life. They don’t seem so self-aware or self-conscious. They manage to care about others without worrying what others think of them – a distinction I have a hard time conceiving of, never mind achieving.

I have a hunch this has something to do with my new friends co-dependency and narcissism. Until recently I believed that both of these labels could NEVER apply to me, but I was way off. Co-dependency boils down to valuing oneself only through others’ perceptions and narcissism can be a type of self-centeredness that assumes everything reflects back one’s worth.  Narcissists usually partner with co-dependent types, and children that grow up in this delightful family dynamic often absorb qualities of both.

Simply put, our childhoods predispose some of us to looking outside of ourselves for a measure of our worth. Since the narcissist/codependent dance usually often involves addiction (hence the incorrect assumption that codependence = spouse of addict), kids who grow up learning these survival patterns may also inherit genetic susceptibility to alcoholism.


My layman’s understanding is that my hyperawareness of what others’ think of me makes it harder for me to easily adopt new identities. Pleasing others makes me feel safe, and to be a person in recovery means I have set new boundaries that might make others unhappy at times. They might judge me, mock me, or reject my new life, and this is very uncomfortable for a person who believes approval is worth.

How long does it take to get used to being the non-drinker?

That is a loaded question. I can’t help but notice the use of “THE non-drinker” instead of “A non-drinker”. To me this suggests a heightened awareness of what others think, and suggests that the question has been asked by someone (like myself) who cares too much what others think and is not asking how to get comfortable with oneself but rather how to adapt to the discomfort of others’ perceptions.

I guess it takes as long as it takes, which will be longer for some than for others. Once I started dealing with my perfectionism, people pleasing, and other outcomes from codependency and narcissism, (around 18 months sober), I began to feel much more comfortable around other people in social settings.


  1. I’m struggling mightily with how to be “the non-drinker.” I’ve been the “heavy drinker” since my teenage years. Now, in my 40’s, I have no clue how to be or who to be without the booze. I feel emotionally naked. (Maybe beer was my emotional clothing?) It’s going to take a while to figure this out.


  2. Me! I am still worried about how others view me, think of me.
    I am hyper aware of myself. It DRIVES me nuts!!!
    Drives my dear husband nuts!
    I would like to learn how to deal with my narcissism.


  3. Sometimes I feel like being an intentional non-drinker is more badass than being a drinker. Think back to the 90’s and how hardcore the straightedge kids were as compared to the party kids. Ever been in a straightedge mosh pit? That shit was insane. Drinkers may think they’re rebellious and cutting-edge, but the real “rebellious” people are the ones who don’t drink at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ‘Once I started dealing with my perfectionism, people pleasing, and other outcomes from codependency and narcissism, (around 18 months sober)’ I’m at 14 months Jean and am wondering how you went about dealing with these issues? This is some work I need to start and any words of wisdom would really help 🙂


    • Well first I had to own it, face it, name it, call myself out, and accept that the things I thought were just “me” were really “my choices” and could be changed. I started to see that my survival strategies were hurting me in the long run. I read everything I can, and do the work suggested. I go to a therapist to propel the process and keep me moving through it. I still habitually fall into old patterns but I can now redirect when it starts to feel uncomfortable. Hope this helps. Let me know if find other good strategies!


      • Thank you Jean 🙂 I’ve read some good books on co-dependency as an adult child of an alcoholic. Are there any good books you can recommend on the overcoming narcissism side of the recovery journey?


        • There are lots of books on narcissism, none of which I have read (thus blowing my statement above that I have read everything I can – or at least clarifying that I prefer articles to books). I will ask my therapist to recommend some. Anyone else have suggestions?


  5. Okay, so 18 months is the magic number?! Just kidding. 🙂

    I cringed when I read the words codependent and narcissism, and I immediately worried if you liked me enough.

    But yes, worrying about what people think about me not drinking, how it effects their moods when we’re together (and they are drinking), what they say about me behind my back, and whether or not they still think I’m the fun, cool girl….has definitely taken up too much brain space, just like alcohol did.

    I always thought “Once I quit drinking, I’ll get more confidence and be more secure.” Thanks for the push to dig deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I REALLY needed to read this today ! Thankyou ! It really helped with a horrible and convoluted situation in my world and threw light on the situation !

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I think noticing the use of ‘the non-drinker’ is observant. A lot of us drinkers got to a point where we mainly socialised with people who drank like us, or nearly like us. We weren’t interested in socialising with normal drinkers, or people who didn’t drink, just because they didn’t drink.

    So we felt we would be very conspicuous. In fact, when I stopped drinking I realised that an awful lot of people didn’t drink, or drank very little and my not drinking went unnoticed.

    Also, if we have surrounded ourselves with drinkers, not because they are real friends, but because they drink, sometimes we do have to find other things to do with different people.

    So I think you are right, there is a lot of unpacking to do of that little word ‘the’.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. I feel like I have been dealing with all those things this year. At almost a year (6 more days)! I truly feel comfortable as a non drinker. All those other issues will take a long time to figure out. But you can only make progress on them if you stop numbing your emotions. Recovery allows for these life enhancing steps!

    Liked by 1 person

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