The last time I had a drink, my oldest child had just turned one. He’s nine and a half now, so I’ve been a non-drinker for eight and a half years.
You know who does drink alcohol?
Just. About. Everyone.
From cringe-worthy conversations about sobriety to what I wish more people knew about what “not drinking” feels like, here are five things I have learned in almost nine years of being a non-drinker …
I can’t explain why this is, for sure, but it’s definitely a thing. Sometimes before people get to know that I really am a non-drinker, they cajole me a little. They don’t want to order a drink if I’m not ordering a drink, in the same way you might only order dessert if everyone else is ordering dessert.
There’s that moment when they’re holding the bar menu — the slim leather-bound alcohol-only menu that I naturally just ignore, or put aside if it’s handed to me — and when the server comes over, the person I’m with nods at the bar menu. “You getting a drink?” they’ll ask.
They don’t mean a Diet Coke.
Diet Coke is a drink, not a drink drink.
It’s at this point that I smile and order my Diet Coke, and I hope the person goes ahead and orders whatever they want. Beer, wine, rum, double shot of whiskey — I don’t care! Go for it.
I never, ever want someone to change their order because of me.
Let’s make this very clear: I don’t think “not drinking” makes me better than someone who drinks. It’s no different than how some people are joggers and other people (me) don’t jog. It’s like how I don’t judge people for not sewing even though I, personally, think sewing is totally awesome! Sewing isn’t for everyone, and it’s the same with alcohol.
But, yes, it can be awkward when someone realizes you’re not also going to order a beer or a glass of wine. I’ve had people stumble over an explanation of how they don’t drink very much, they weren’t planning to drink that night, etc.
Honestly, I wish they wouldn’t. They don’t need to explain why they’re drinking any more than I need to explain why I’m not drinking.
I don’t care what they order! I’m not judging them! I’m just hoping the server brings me a Diet Coke — canned, if possible — instead of a cruddy flat Diet Pepsi masquerading as a Diet Coke.
If I look especially serious in this moment, it’s not that I’m judging your order. I’m probably doing mental calculations to see if my caffeinated pop is going to keep me awake too late, and wondering if I should switch to water.
Sometimes people feel judged because of their own worries about their relationship with alcohol. Being about a non-drinker can bring up uncomfortable feelings for them, and sometimes they’ll lash out at the non-drinker (jokingly or otherwise) to deflect those feelings.
I’ve been in situations where I’ve been called a killjoy, a square, a wet blanket, a nerd. I likely am all of those things, dude. I mean, I’m a teetotaling 36-year-old quilter who likes Broadway musicals, YA novels, and going to bed by 9 p.m. But you know what? I’m totally fine with that.
(… but they usually won’t ask.)
I used to always get asked if I wasn’t drinking because I was pregnant, or people would just assume I was pregnant. When you’re in your 20s and 30s, pregnancy is the #1 reason for not drinking. (Well, that or being on antibiotics.)
I dealt with this right up until I was 31, but after having a pretty public hysterectomy that was featured on HuffPo, most people knew I couldn’t possibly be pregnant. Then it was just like … but why?
Thankfully, the conversation is usually casual and quick.
Then there’s a slight pause while they look at me with question marks in their eyes, seeing if I’m going to continue the sentence.
It doesn’t matter if a person isn’t drinking for medical reasons or religious reasons or dietary reasons or health reasons or spiritual reasons or personal reasons. It doesn’t matter if a person isn’t drinking because they don’t like the taste or they don’t like how it makes them act or they don’t like how it makes them feel the next morning. All that matters is they’re not drinking.
But people want to know why.*
It’s a game of social chicken, but I’m a pro at this.
“I don’t drink.” That’s all you need to say.
I do not elaborate, and then we (blessedly) move on from it.
*They also want to know if you’ll be their permanent DD (Designated Driver) and haaaahaaaaaa never heard that one before. 🙄
Socially, it can be especially hard to be a non-drinker. I’m a confident person (well, you know, a confident person with crushing anxiety and depression) and I’m 100% secure in my decision not to drink alcohol, but I’d be lying if I pretend it doesn’t ever bother me in social situations.
I wish I could say I don’t mind being the only person chirping “Diet Coke, please!” to the server when everyone at the table is ordering *real* drinks.
I wish I could say I don’t ever feel a bit silly, like a child who’s been brought up to the grown-up table. Especially when you’re drinking out of a can or bottle (or a plastic cup) that further drives the point home.
I wish I could say there isn’t anyone close to me who, even jokingly, tries to convince me to drink alcohol just about every time I see them.
(You can say it’s all in good fun, and I truly don’t think they mean any harm, but I know that if I ever agreed, their eyes would light up and they’d be thrilled to pour me the drink they’ve been dying to pour. Not drinking, by association, means constantly disappointing the people whose idea of being hospitable revolves around keeping you happily liquored.)
I have skipped parties and social events where I knew everyone would be seriously tanked because, no, it’s not fun to be the only sober person in a room full of people who are drinking heavily. I may like those people very much, but I don’t like feeling out of place. When you’re bright-eyed and dead sober and everyone else is in that loosey-goosey giggly zone, telling the same stories over and over while you nod politely (and sip your Diet Coke), it gets old. Fast.
There are relationships that I know would be stronger if I drank alcohol. Wine is the glue that bonds many friendships — especially mommy friendships. There are the tired old jokes about “Mommy’s sippy cup” and that “this Mommy runs on coffee and wine.” Being pleasantly buzzed, it seems, is just a part of modern parenting, and I’m not a part of that.
When I post about frustrations or just the everyday struggles of being a parent, there will inevitably be “OMG you deserve wine tonight!!!” or “Where’s the wine?” comments, or just emojis of full wine glasses. 🍷 🍷 🍷
I “like” them and might comment back with something cheerful and unrelated to drinking. They don’t know that I don’t drink, and how would they? I don’t advertise it. It’s expected, in 2019, that most moms pour a drink (or several) in the evenings to relax. #NetflixAndWine, you know? Totally fine, but I’d rather #NetflixAndQuilt or #NetflixAndTea.
It’s not just the wine-fuelled “girls’ night out” shenanigans that I miss out on, either. It’s the casual encounters where you show up at a friend’s house with a bottle of wine — “Look what I brought!” — or they invite you over for a glass of wine and you sit around and laugh together.
(I don’t know. Am I making this up? Have I watched too many episodes of Cougar Town?)
I have amazing friends and family members who will make sure to buy Diet Coke for get-togethers especially for me, along with the beer and wine for everyone else.
They don’t make it at all awkward, and they have no problem drinking whatever they want while I drink what I want. I am lucky to have them.
I was recently at a conference with wonderful people, and no one cared that I didn’t drink alcohol. No one minded that I went back to my room (to read and eat chips in my pyjamas) while most of them headed for the bar. Sure, I could have joined them and just stuck to water, but I was hella tired and didn’t feel like it.
Moral of the story: YOU DO YOU.
“Sober October” (or “Ocsober”) and “Dry January” (or “Dryuary”) are ways that some people dip their toes into the non-drinking world, and that’s cool. There are literally thousands of things you can drink that don’t involve alcohol. There are entire “mocktail” movements, which is incredible!
And while Diet Coke is my personal favourite treat beverage, I also love a cold Arnold Palmer in the summer. (It’s iced tea mixed with lemonade, mmm.) I also love Fresca (shoutout to Jim for always promoting it, because it really is frigging delicious as well as being sugar-free and caffeine-free). I love drinking hot tea (orange pekoe with a touch of milk). I’m a big water-drinker, too, of course.
And while alcohol is often touted as something people need to relax at the end of a hard day, there are PLENTY of alcohol-free ways to relax.
Reading a book is my favourite, but I also like watching TV shows (not movies — too long!) or playing card/board games with my husband. I try to go to two Zumba fitness classes a week — it’s an amazing natural high to dance to great music with friends for an hour. I don’t go for enough walks or spend as much time in nature as I should, but I’m working on it.
I’m obviously VERY passionate about my creative hobbies as my mental health lifelines. Painting, sewing, refinishing furniture, pottery, needlework, woodworking, you name it. I don’t think there’s alcohol strong enough to compete with the soothing haze of oil-painting and blending colours together on a palette.
So let’s recap!
If you’re a drinker and you’re hanging out with a non-drinker, there’s no brilliant piece of advice I’m going to offer. Just be chill. Order whatever you want to order, don’t question their order, and focus on having a good time together. It doesn’t matter that they’re not drinking or why they’re not drinking — what matters is they’re there with you.
If you’re a non-drinker in what feels like a world of drinkers, I see you. Yes, it’s awkward sometimes, but you’re cool doing your own thing and people respect that for the most part. Try an Arnold Palmer with carbonated lemonade and call me in the morning — when we’re both completely hangover-free and feeling awesome. 😁