“If your path is clear then it’s not your path.” Joseph Campbell
I like clear. I like to play it safe and think that I have the power to control the outcome. If I just think about it long enough, come up with all kinds of different scenarios and associate how I feel about them, then obsess enough-I think I can manipulate my life. It doesn’t work like that does it?
When I first stopped drinking I obsessed about how to answer the questions of “would you like a drink?” and “why not?” Depending on the social situation, my relationship with the person, and my mood the answer was always a little different. Sometimes it was a white lie, sometimes it was an intense “No!”, and sometimes it was just a lingering “I’ll get something in a bit.” And almost always, it was awkward.
I had no idea how to approach the situation. It was always met with both enthusiasm to get to tell my story and disappointment that I wasn’t able to fully articulate what I wanted to say. And there’s always an underlying frustration that with every new encounter I have to keep “coming out.” There’s never going to be a time when every single person I meet will just automatically know that I am alcohol free.
But, I think I have finally learned a few tricks that have helped me check my expectations, learn to be okay, and fine tune that “no thank you” so that no one (me) is left feeling awkward.
For starters, no one cares that I don’t drink. I don’t mean that no one cares about me. They do care about me but no one wants to hear about my journey to sobriety ESPECIALLY at a party/bar/setting where everyone is drinking. So it’s best to go ahead and stop romanticizing about this enlightened conversation that will never happen.
Next, because no one cares there is no reason for a weird response. “No thanks” will literally do the trick. But, if you really want to seal the deal make sure to always have a drink in hand. I walk into settings with a coffee, a sparkling water, a tea, anything. That way everyone will assume I already have a drink and won’t ask me if I want one.
Next, understand that someone might want to know why. I know I already said that no one cares but someone might be intrigued. That someone could be the person who is in need of a change and you are the one about to help them make it. You owe no one an explanation and can just say something like “it’s personal.” However, if you get a feeling that this person is kind and genuinely interested feel free to tell your story. Tell it proudly and without hesitation. There is nothing to hide.
Finally, because we associate significant stigma around alcohol use-you can go ahead and assume that some people will think that you are a drunk. They’ll make up some kind of story in their head about how bad things must have been for you through their lens and perspective. I know this because I used to do it all the time. I would think “Poor Sarah, who can no longer drink..Something really bad must have happened to her.” Based on years of conditioning and millions of subliminal ads in our face every single day we have a tendency to put people into two categories-those who can drink and those who can’t.
Maybe you were a drunk, maybe you were a gray area drinker, you’re trying out a new diet, maybe you don’t have a clue what you are but you just don’t drink right now. All of that is ok. Remember that the labels are not necessary. You belong exactly where you are and there is no right or wrong way to stop drinking. Your answer for why you don’t drink is always correct. Every single time. I’ve heard time and time again that alcohol is the only substance that we have to continually justify not using. (Don’t worry, I have a whole post on this subject…..)
These days I can honestly say that the feeling I get when asked if I would like a drink is no different than the feeling I get when someone asks if I would like a frog leg. “No Thanks” I say, as I make my way through the room and enjoy myself throughly.
When I stopped drinking I had no idea where I would end up. I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t know if I would be successful. I didn’t know what people would think. In other words, my path was not clear. But as Joseph Campbell said, it was mine.