I will never forget my first sober social outing. I went to dinner with friends and colleagues at a fancy restaurant. It was one of those places that serve five courses and has a wine pairing for each. There were handcrafted cocktails named after different parts of our city. There were European beers on tap.
This would have been just my kind of place when I was drinking — and I was terrified.
I had successfully put off all social interaction for the first few weeks after quitting alcohol but this was an event that I thought couldn’t be canceled or rescheduled. I felt a lot of pressure to attend. But I knew that I was going into the situation totally unprepared; at this point in my journey, I didn’t know how to say no to a drink — let alone an entire social event. I didn’t have the tools to set boundaries that I do today, at almost six years sober. These days, if I feel uncomfortable or “forced” into attending anything, I reevaluate why I wanted to go in the first place.
“These days, if I feel uncomfortable or ‘forced’ into attending anything, I reevaluate why I wanted to go in the first place.”
Unlike my many unsuccessful attempts at sobriety until that point, I’d made some major changes this time around. Mainly, I made sure I was reaching out to friends in recovery to ask for advice before I tried something that would test my sobriety.
Knowing this event was going to be difficult, I sent out a call to my sober community for support. I received so many tips that helped me get through that dinner without a drink, including saving a handful of sober women’s phone numbers in my phone and repeatedly leaving the table to hide in the bathroom and text for advice or kind words. All these years later, my good friend, who attended that dinner with me, remembers how I got up and went to the bathroom about 20 times during that meal.
Most of my heavy drinking was kept very private so, in general, people knew me as a casual, social drinker. However, I always had a drink in my hand at events. I carefully controlled my drinking in public because I was obsessed with trying to seem normal. Most people never would have flagged me as “having a problem.” I was afraid of being found out, exposed as a problem drinker. Back then, I thought if I just said “no,” people would push me and want to know why.
My new sobriety was so fresh that I just wasn’t comfortable sharing it. I felt like I needed an answer at the ready to keep people from pressuring me to try “just a sip” of their cocktail.
In reality, most people don’t actually care if you’re drinking or not. We all think people are hyper-focused on us because we are exposed like a raw, sober nerve. But most people are too focused on themselves to worry about lil ol’ us. Of course, there are those who will push us to explain our non-drinking state but, most of the time, they are struggling with their own issues with alcohol and feel threatened or intrigued by our sobriety. They might even be secretly interested in how we are making the alcohol-free life work for us and are asking questions to figure out if they can do it too.
“My new sobriety was so fresh that I just wasn’t comfortable sharing it. I felt like I needed an answer at the ready to keep people from pressuring me to try ‘just a sip’ of their cocktail.”
Regardless of the reasons, that night I was pressured. Because my lack of a drink was so out of character, my friends began interrogating me. My girlfriend leaned in closely and said, “Oh my god, are you pregnant?” My face turned bright red, which caught the attention of everyone at the table. This was my absolute nightmare. Everyone was staring at me, waiting for an answer. I stumbled over my words, feeling a cold sweat start to gather at my brow.
“Nope, just not drinking tonight.”
There were a few more pressing inquiries and light teasing around the table. I tried to stay calm and laugh along with the jokes, although inside my heart was racing and I was fighting the urge to get up from the table and run out the front door of the restaurant. Eventually, everyone’s attention turned back to their meals and other conversations. The topic of what filled my glass — or didn’t — was forgotten. I drove home from that dinner sober and exhausted.
When I shared the story with some of my friends in recovery, I asked what they said when people asked them if they wanted a drink. Their responses ranged from practical to completely hilarious. I took all of the different responses and put them together in a funny video, which I now try to share with people when they are early in recovery and struggling with this topic. Hopefully, it reminds us how silly it is that we’re pressured at all.
I’m grateful to be reminded that, most of the time, when people ask about what you’re drinking, they’re just trying to be polite.
If you’re at someone’s home, they want to make sure you feel welcome and comfortable by offering a drink. Every sober person I know has been asked this question on multiple occasions, and everyone handles it a little differently.
“I’m grateful to be reminded that, most of the time, when people ask about what you’re drinking, they’re just trying to be polite.”
Here are some of the top responses I’ve heard from sober friends:
- “No, thanks, I already have an (enter name of whatever sparkly non-alcoholic drink) right here!”
- “No drink for me, I’m driving tonight.”
- “Actually, I’m training for a marathon (or some other athletic feat) so I’m off the booze.”
- “No way, I hear that shit is bad for you!”
- “I’m on a new medication that reacts badly with alcohol, so I’m taking a break.”
- “I’m going gluten- and sugar-free, so no alcohol for me right now!”
Although it’s not ideal to fudge the truth to answer the question, I really don’t think it does any harm — especially if it makes you feel more confident. In early sobriety, you might be continually pushed on your decision to skip the booze but you’ll gradually become less afraid to stay firm and speak your truth.
I found that once I said “no, thanks” for the first time, it got easier and easier.
However, it’s always challenging when your “no” is followed by the dreaded question: Why? I think it’s really important to remember that your why is really no one else’s business. Drinking is not a requirement for a happy life and you are allowed to say “no” without an explanation. But if you feel uncomfortable when this question comes up, you might want to have a few answers ready to go so you’ll feel more confident and prepared. These can be as simple as some of the responses I’ve listed above or you may find yourself going into a deep dive, explaining how you decided to go alcohol-free.
“I think it’s really important to remember that your why is really no one else’s business.”
As you grow on your recovery path, you may discover, like I did, that you don’t want to tell any white lies about why you’re sober. After a few months of being alcohol-free, I felt so much better in my body and my mind. I didn’t feel like I had to convince anyone else that my decision was a good one. I knew it was working for me and I didn’t feel any shame or embarrassment about it. I was excited to share my why and I found that most people responded positively. Often, they were really proud of me and wanted to share their own stories. Everyone has been touched in one way or another by alcohol, and I’ve been fortunate to be a part of wonderful conversations because of my openness about my sobriety.
These days, most people know I’m sober and don’t offer me alcohol but, every once in a while, it comes up. Recently, I was at a work retreat and, at the big evening dinner, there was wine on all the tables. More than once people asked if I wanted red or white and I simply said no. In fact, I used my favorite go-to response.
“No, thanks, I don’t drink.”