Adapted from a recent online discussion.
New friends don't need all the details about old transgressions
Q: After several years of really bad behavior (drinking too much, sleeping with several married men, general promiscuity, dabbling in drug use and generally not being a good person), about six months ago, I finally managed to stop all of this cold turkey. I can't make up for what I did, but I plan to spend the rest of my life working to be a better person and making better choices that don't hurt people, one day at a time, of course.
Leaving these old behaviors behind has freed me to form much more healthy (nonromantic) relationships, perhaps for the first time in my life.
The problem is that people who are meeting me now think I am some kind of paragon of virtue. I am hardly holier-than-thou, but it's pretty obvious that I don't drink, "party," date or even curse.
What explanation do I owe my new friends (who are much better for me than my old enablers) regarding my past? I don't want to lie but also don't want to create drama by revealing too much, especially to those I am just getting to know.
A New Leaf
Carolyn: I'd congratulate you on your honesty and your turnaround, but it's clear you've found ample reward, or is it relief, in your new way of life. There are a million ways to pop your new friends' illusions without showing them your party videos. Cliches, for example, are your friend: A well-placed "Been there, done that" can close the subject, for example. You can tame remarks on your virtue with "It's a recent development." Etc.
Another argument against too much information: You don't want to tempt people to tempt you. Sad but true. I'd like to think people will have the good sense not to opine on your values, but I'd also like to think I can get toned and fabulous sitting at a computer eight hours a day, and that's still pending.
Anonymous: I wouldn't say I have the same story, but it resonates with me. A new friend (met through volunteering) has invited me to a party. It's BYOB. I have been sober for about a year, and the thought of being at a party where most others are drinking makes me angry.
I guess I am angry because I can't drink — it's a process for me. Giving up alcohol saved my life, but I still miss it.
Anyway, this is the second invitation I have to turn down because of booze. I feel like I'm taking myself too seriously. I know I can be around alcohol without drinking. Am I being a big baby?
Carolyn: As you said, it's a process — so why not think of each invitation as its own decision, instead of The Way Things Shall Ever Be?
I'm not suggesting you'll be able to drink someday, but instead that your sobriety will sit better with you at some times than at others. Right now it's chafing, and that's fine. The next invitation might seem like a safer one to accept. Wait and see.
For New leaf
Anonymous 2: "I'm a recovering (bad person)."
Carolyn: The truth, in a perfectly measured quantity. Thanks.