“Thanks, but I don’t drink…”
How this one little phrase almost took me OUT in early sobriety
What started out as a napkin was now a knotted rope of white linen in my lap. I ground my foot into the floor and did my best to ignore the jackhammer in my chest.
Three stops away. Now two. Then it was my turn and a shadow loomed over my shoulder. I tried to swallow and heard a dry click at the back of my throat.
This was it. What I’d been dreading for months had finally arrived. I took a deep breath and plastered on a smile. I stared into the face of my enemy.
“And what can I bring you from the bar, sweetie?”
There’s plenty to worry about and obsess over in early sobriety. Will you be chained to meetings for the rest of your life? Does the smell or sight of booze make you want to dive right back into a bottle?
But believe it or not, what struck the deepest chord of fear in me was how I would tell people that I didn’t drink anymore. What would they think? What would they say?
I gnawed over this nagging concern for months after I quit drinking. It freaked me out so badly, that I decided the best way to tackle my problem was to get rid of it altogether.
Nobody could ask me why I didn’t drink if I never left the house, right?
For almost a year after I got sober, my entire world was the four walls of my home. If I was forced into going out and being social, I made sure it was in alcohol-free zones only. End of story.
I let my fear control me. All because I didn’t know how to “break it” to people that I’d quit drinking. After all, if booze was the focus of every get-together for me, it must be the same for everyone else.
Alcohol was still running the show, even though I was no longer drinking it.
Avoiding places with a bar worked just fine. Until a family member came to visit from another state and insisted on going to a steak house. With a bar.
The entire way there, I ran different response options through my mind…
I could go the funny route: “Why don’t I drink? Well, I’m allergic. Yup, I tend to break out in handcuffs when I’m around alcohol.”
Or maybe try the super-serious method: “I can’t drink, okay? I have an addiction, alright? Do you want me to end up in the freaking hospital?”
There was the healthy living tactic: “Oh, I’m doing a HUGE cleanse!”
Or the socially conscious routine: “Don’t you know that Big Alcohol is just out to make a buck and get us all hooked?”
I stewed and fumed as we waited for our table. I worried and obsessed as we were being seated. I damn-near gave myself a full-blown panic attack as I waited for the server to get around to taking my order (for seltzer and lime).
And then I steeled myself for the inevitable…
“Wait, you don’t drink? Can I ask why not?”
Everyone always wants to know why someone isn’t drinking. Like it’s any of their business. As if it’s open season on personal choices. All because it’s a social setting and they ask politely.
Full disclosure, I’m still floored by this after more than three years without a drink. But I’m so used to it by now, that I just roll with the punches — even though the principle of the thing chaps my ass quite a bit.
Of course, what truly amazed me was my response that first time. In fact, I was downright shocked at what came out when I opened my mouth.
I decided to go with the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth…
“I don’t like the way alcohol makes me feel or behave,” I said with a shrug and a smile. “But enough about me, what’s going on in your life?”
Next thing you know, your nosy friend or relative or co-worker is off to the races, telling you all the latest info about them. Without a lie or a big scene or you even having to break a sweat.
It turns out people are just curious. Nobody really cares if you drink or not, and you can go on living a peaceful existence free of booze and drama, no matter where you choose to have dinner.