The other night, I sat across from a sober friend who was telling a story about a recent outing with coworkers.
“We had to go to a baseball game, and I was the only one that wasn’t drinking. Most of the people didn’t care,” she recalled. “But there were a couple of people that just wouldn’t let it go.”
It made her extremely uncomfortable. “I’m just not in a place where I want to tell people that I’m sober. I’m not comfortable with that.”
Even in 2019, there is still plenty of stigma surrounding alcohol use disorder. My friend didn’t want to have to explain to these people from work that she was sober because she didn’t want it to potentially affect her job. That’s completely valid.
And yet, for some reason, it seems like there will always be someone who just won’t stop asking why you don’t drink.
It happened to me too, about five years ago. I was also at a work event and we went to a wine tasting. Most everyone was fine with the fact that I wasn’t participating but one woman just couldn’t let it go.
What I’ve realized over the past 10 years of sobriety is that, most of the time, people couldn’t care less whether I’m drinking or not.
What I’ve realized over the past 10 years of sobriety is that, most of the time, people couldn’t care less whether I’m drinking or not. They’re too wrapped up in their own experience and that is A-okay with me. When there’s someone who is overly concerned about the fact that I’m not drinking, it’s usually because it has stirred up insecurity within them.
This isn’t always the case. Some people are just naturally nosey, ahem… inquisitive. In any case, sometimes, we just have to deal with these situations, so here are five different ways you can tell people why you don’t drink.
It’s a personal choice.
Sometimes, the answer is as simple as, “It’s just a personal choice I’ve made,” when asked why you don’t drink. This usually suffices for those who are less inquisitive. Still, there will be others who won’t just let it go with this answer.
It never works out well.
I’ve used this one quite a few times. For the person that won’t accept the aforementioned response and is pressing me for more info, sometimes I just say, “It never works out well for me. I have one and I love it and I just end up wanting more. I just don’t want to go down that road tonight.”
People that understand this experience usually accept this answer and go about their business. If it doesn’t work though, not to worry. There are a few more options.
The filtered truth.
Maybe you’re at a work outing or a wedding and the people you’re around are familiar enough to divulge some of the details. Something like, “Drinking is kind of a slippery slope for me and I’m just not willing to take that chance tonight,” could work.
You could also use something like, “When I start drinking, things always go a bit crazy and trust me, you don’t want to be around for that.”
If it makes you more comfortable, say it in a light-hearted way and laugh it off a bit.
The unfiltered truth.
This is personally my favorite at this stage in my sobriety. I’ll be honest with you: For the first eight years of my sobriety, I told no one that I had a problem with alcohol. Most of my family didn’t even know. And then, one day, I felt compelled to write an opinion piece for a national publication, and I put myself out there as an alcoholic.
For me, it felt good. It felt like a weight had been lifted to be able to fully express who I was. The day I decided to out myself as someone who struggled with alcohol dependence was the day I could let go of a veil of guilt and shame that I’d been carrying around for years.
Now, I’m in a position, work-wise and in my personal life, to be able to do this. I realize that’s not the case for everyone and it wasn’t the case for me for several years.
Today, I just say, “Oh, I won’t be drinking because I’m an alcoholic. I got sober 10 years ago.”
Today, I just say, “Oh, I won’t be drinking because I’m an alcoholic. I got sober 10 (or whatever you want to insert here) years ago.” If you don’t identify as an alcoholic— you could say something like, “I used to drink too much and I don’t anymore”
That usually shuts people up pretty quickly, though sometimes it turns into a conversation about what made me realize that I had a problem with alcohol and how I got sober. Today, I’m completely okay with answering those questions.
It’s none of their business.
This is my other favorite answer and that’s because it’s true. It really is no one else’s business why you’re not drinking. “I just don’t want to drink tonight, and honestly, that’s not something I feel like I need to explain.”
It really is that simple, but it isn’t always easy to assert one’s self in this way. Still, if you’re feeling forward and don’t mind if things get a little awkward, go for it. I would.
Being sober in a society that essentially worships alcohol is tough sometimes. We have to have conversations we just might not want to have. We have to answer questions we’re not ready to answer sometimes. No matter which approach you take, though, this is your truth. Your story. And you are in charge.