(Without ruining the vibe or feeling like a loser.)
At first, one of the hardest things about not drinking was explaining why. Beer was a huge part of my identity, and not drinking it made me feel like I needed to explain myself. Over the years I’ve realized I don’t have to. (But not before I started this blog. Oops!)
If I wasn’t a writer, with activistic urges, I suspect I would have kept my sobriety quiet.
Most people don’t understand Alcohol Use Disorder, and admitting you have/have had an issue moderating the beloved and socially sanctioned, but highly-addictive drug called alcohol, can make you feel exposed and vulnerable.
Especially in certain situations, like new jobs or relationships. Who wants to admit there is something wrong with them?
Well, me, apparently. But only to help end the stigma around talking about these things.
Obviously, telling all isn’t for everyone. Your reasons for getting sober are private, and I absolutely understand the desire to keep them that way.
Which is why I'm here to share some of the tricks I’ve used over the years, and a few I want to try.
Level 1: the normal drinkers
Not tonight, I’m training.
This one’s great because it’s not actually a lie. You are training, to live your life without blackouts and hangovers.
No thanks, I really need to rehydrate!
Oooh yeah, subtly reminding people what drinking is actually for. This one is on the side of the righteous. People with a healthy relationship with alcohol might even join you in having a soft drink.
Not for me, ta, I’m driving.
Even the heartiest drink pushers tend to back off with this one. Though, they might suggest you leave your car/just have one. If so, you could try laughing as if they are telling a joke.
Speaking of which, what do you say to those who don’t seem to hear you the first time?
Level 2: the booze enthused
Some people really really want you to drink. For them, booze means relaxation and conviviality and they want to give that to, to share it with you. Hearing you refuse a drink, they feel you have made a mistake. Perhaps you didn’t understand the question.
Drinking is a problem-free country according to them, and they are desperate for you to visit.
Here are some phrases you can try to deflect their attention, without revealing more than you want to.
Oh no, honestly, I’m happy with my ginger beer. Have you tried it? It’s really delicious. Can I get you one?
Honestly, I’ve never tried this, but I wonder if it could make them realize the oddness of their interest in what’s in your glass.
I’m not drinking tonight, I’ve had my quota this week!
This might get past them, as there is a suggestion that you have over-indulged very recently, which will make them feel a bit more comfortable.
No thanks, I’m on a health kick at the minute, and I’m really enjoying it.
This may trigger a micro-expression that reveals they think you’re a sad weirdo, but they will probably have to accept your inexplicable pleasure at your freaky abstinence nonetheless. Success!
Now, you are getting dangerously close to enjoying your beverage in peace. But before you can relax, you have to fend off the ultimate alcohol pushers.
Level 3: the boozehounds
You know who they are. These are the drinkers who really struggle to take no for an answer. They are probably people you know well, possibly they sired you or asked you to marry them.
Nonetheless, and this is important, you have the ability (and right) to stay within your boundaries and stick to the decisions that work for you.
In my experience, these highly-motivated people usually have an ulterior motive. Not necessarily evil, but some desire to control. Maybe they don’t want to be observed by horribly sober people (that is the worst) or maybe they want their party to get wild and you have helped with that in the past.
Whatever it is they crave, they believe that everyone drinking more is the direct route towards it. In their defense, they might be right.
But, that is their dream, and you are working on your own (REMEMBER?!).
Here are some things you can say to these lovely maniacs.
Seriously, my organs need a holiday.
Invoking thoughts of your looming death might reign in a heavy drinking friend’s pushiness for an hour or two.
Honestly, I need a break or my liver’s going to explode.
Again, this is a language they can understand. Though, they will likely — as with all problems — believe the solution is to drink more.
Really, I don’t need any today. I just want to talk with you — how are you doing?
I admit this is a wild card. It might freak people out and underscore their mistrust of sober people. But maybe you can cut all the bull shit about whose drinking/not drinking and get to the actual point of the social occasion. Connecting.
Back when I was drinking, I only ever wanted other people to drink more so we could cut through the stiffness and repression and get to the good stuff. I craved genuine, human connection.
More than anything, I wanted us to talk deeply, about the things that truly mattered. Maybe we could even dance!
Which brings me to the best deflector in all of England.
I’m okay thanks, I’m here to dance.
After that you simply dance away. Or if you want to torture your person, insist they dance with you and don’t let up.
Because isn’t this the ultimate aim of every night out you have ever been on? To become loose enough that you can dance freely, without self-consciousness, no matter who you are with?
Whether we are drinking or not, most of us want the same things.
Once you quit, you notice the insidious advertising, the subtle (or relentless) peer pressure and the neverending occasions for a drink. It is hard to make the transition to being a non-drinker.
But after a while, all of that booziness feels like an unnecessary distraction. Those that are still dependant on it, in the old way that you recognize, seem a touch more imprisoned, rather than freer.
So stick to your plan and let them stick to theirs.
Oh, and happy Christmas!
If you’re struggling with your drinking, know that you aren’t alone.
If you relate to this, and you’re ready for something different, try my alcohol experiment. Do whatever it takes to stay sober for 30 days: go to your doctor, try Smart or AA or Hip Sobriety or Soberistas. Listen to Recovery Elevator and SHAIR podcasts. Read This Naked Mind. Try Moderation Management.
There is a whole community of people just waiting to help you. Reach out. Something better is waiting for you.
Read more from me at Medium (where I get paid, cough.) <3
Chelsey Flood is a novelist, lecturer and truth-seeker. She writes stories about freedom, wildness and love.