Book Review: The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober

Although nothing will surpass This Naked Mind for us, this might be our new next favorite “quit lit.”

We knew we were going to have to read this book when we saw the title.

“The Unexpected Joy of Being Sober” perfectly captures the difference between the expectation and the reality of quitting drinking. Sobriety sounds boring, stodgy, and lifeless to most of us, thanks to years of social conditioning (“sober as a judge,” anyone?). The reality is quite the opposite. Drink-free living restores people to who they are, and allows us to better ourselves.

So we love the core idea. The book also makes quick reading, packing powerful ideas into punchy anecdotes. Specifically, we loved:

  1. The section on tips to get through the first 30 days without drinking is excellent. It has wonderful ideas that worked for the author, and a lot of her experience in terms of the challenges of early sobriety (e.g., the misplaced fear of refusing a drink, the need to avoid challenging situations at first, etc.) resonated with us.

  2. It illustrated more clearly than any book we’ve read the gradual nature of the decline into addiction. You don’t wake up one morning in the gutter; you start by waking up somewhere other than your own bed. Or as she puts it, you don’t have the shakes until you do. What’s helpful is that someone who doesn’t have as severe an addiction can still read this book and discover parts that resonate with them at the beginning of the journey. The author also doesn’t flinch from describing the truly terrifying physical addiction symptoms she experienced toward the end; it’d be powerful reading for anyone who’s anywhere along the self-destructive path.

  3. Without proposing any one system, she has a clear understanding of the process of quitting drinking, covering a lot of the consistent elements we’ve seen in other memoirs: attacking the pro-addiction mental voice (the “Wine Witch” in another book; she calls it “Voldemort” - ha!), adopting greater mindfulness, practicing gratitude, and asking for social support. She also has fantastic tips on books, podcasts, Instagram accounts and more that were helpful to her.

  4. We especially liked the social side of her personal revelations in the book. The author goes into how she discovered after going sober that she was actually an introvert who didn’t like clubs and dancing, but instead loved reading and 1:1 conversations. We introverts do tend to use alcohol to loosen up in social settings, and it can be a relief to be ourselves again when we stop drinking. It was nice to see someone articulate that so well.

There are just a couple of pieces we didn’t like as much:

  1. The author’s descriptions of partying during her early career in the magazines seemed, unfortunately, very glamorous. She cites celebrities she met, and despite the grimy details about warm wine or occasional unpleasant surroundings, the tales come off glittery, adventurous and sexy. We wished for some stories that felt equally glamorous from her sober days to balance out the feeling of jealousy we had reading about her early drinking experiences. To be clear, she completely dismantles the glamor later in the book; it just made us uncomfortable early on.

  2. We would have liked to hear more about the author’s experience in AA, which she says she deliberately decided to leave out. It’s understandable that she might have been reluctant to criticize the largest nonprofit organization that helps people quit drinking. Still, we might have benefited from her insight into the process, knowing what else did or didn’t work for her.

All in all, it was a wonderful read and one we would highly recommend to anyone thinking about cutting back or quitting drinking.

We’d also love to help ourselves through our app, Drinker’s Helper. We designed it based on our own experience with quitting drinking, and we hope it will help you, too. It has over 100 motivational exercises based on cognitive behavioral therapy and motivational enhancement therapy, a support group made up of peers with similar drinking histories, and a simple way to track your drinking and urges to drink so you can discover your triggers. Try it free for a week!

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