You Don't Drink, You Don't Smoke, So What Do You Do Exactly?

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The first time I remember pouring a bottle of wine down the drain, I was about nine years old. I was white-hot furious about what my mom’s drinking was doing to my life, and determined to hinder it in any way that I could.  

Decades later, I am approaching my 40th birthday and have never had a drink of alcohol. Not in celebration, not in despair, not ever. My house (when I am there) is an alcohol-free zone, and when other people host parties on my behalf, there is no drinking at those either.

I am different from many people in our culture in that I don’t think the impacts of alcohol are positive, or even neutral. Most of the worst things that have happened to me in my life were facilitated or at least enabled by the fact that someone I should have been able to count on was intoxicated.

(And no, it’s not just me. Alcohol consumption also kills 3.3 million people a year worldwide.)

Anyway, I talk about a lot of my experiences and perspectives in social media spaces. I’ve cracked myself open to talk about being sexually abused as a child. And I’ve probably let potential employers know that I have two boyfriends.

But if I really want to freak out a bunch of people who can only be described as randos, all I have to do is post anything critical about drinking culture, or positive about sobriety. It is like sending up some kind of Bat Signal. Within an hour, the thread feels like a clown car: I find myself thinking “Where did they all come from? How did they all get in there? Wait, there are MORE of them?”

Here are the top five most common (and most vexing) responses that I get online when I talk about sobriety.

  1. “Oh wow, congratulations”
    I never know how to take this one. I know that for many, sobriety is a fucking hard-won triumph. But for me, not-drinking has never felt like an accomplishment, because its not anything I’ve ever wanted to do. You might as well congratulate me for never having gone curling. Like, here is already enough of that in my family, thank you. (P.S. This is me being bleakly funny, I don’t actually have any negative thoughts about curling. Calm down, Canadian readers!)

  2. “You drink tea. Did you know caffeine is a drug?”
    This was from someone defending the straight edge label from what I can only assume is radical usurpment from Big Leaf. Look, if you think that when Ian MacKaye sang, “I don't smoke I don't drink I don't fuck”, he was talking about tea-drinking-sex-fests, well  . . . please invite me to that party. I’ve never claimed the Straight Edge label for a reason, and that reason is boning.

  3. “Well MY drinking isn’t a problem!”
    Okay well let’s be clear on the fact that I didn’t say it was. I never know how to respond to this one. Do you think your drinking is a problem?

  4. “I hope MY drinking doesn’t bother you!”
    This is a tricky one for me, because I feel like the social script is that I am supposed to say is, “I don’t mind at all, don’t even worry about it.” Anything else, and suddenly I’m coming across as a jerk. So I suggest you file this one under, Don’t Ask a Question If An Honest Answer Is Going To Make You Get Upset And Require Me To Comfort You.

  5. “Even if you don’t drink, you should still appreciate the gift of a bottle of wine.”
    Alcohol is usually seen as a semi-neutral thing to inflict on someone, like mayonnaise or onions. But for a lot of people, having alcohol in the house is a huge problem. For me, even though I don’t drink, coming home to a bottle of wine on the counter is at best a bummer, and at worst really triggering. For others, it might actually contribute to a relapse. I know it is seen as a default host gift, but I’d really love if we could rethink that.

Overall, I know I have it better than most. I have a huge crew of sober friends. I never struggle with the decision not to drink. And I am rarely aggressively pressured to re-evaluate this decision, aside mfrom the occasional friend of a friend beseeching me at a birthday party to at least try listening to the Doors while drinking Coors Light (to which I replied “I am 38 years old.”)

But it would really mean a lot if folks could please stop assuming that everyone they ever meet is down with drinking. You probably don’t even notice that you’re doing it, but it’s so deflating when you squeal, “I’ll be over with champagne!” when I have good news or “I’ll be over with wine” when I have bad news.

And yes. It’s well past exasperating when every single thread about my sobriety turns into having to manage your feelings about it.

 

To read even more things people say to sober people, please also check out writer/actor/comedian Marilla Wex's astonishing run-down of reactions to her sobriety.

 

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