I was recently having brunch with my family. It was a normal meal, like thousands of meals I'd had in public before. The server came to the table to take our drink order, and the exchange with this man in an apron went something like this:
Server: And what can I get you to drink?
Me: An iced tea would be great!
Me: No, no (laughing uncomfortably). Just an iced tea will do.
Server: Come on. How about tequila?
Me: Unless you want to see me fall off the wagon, start a fight with my family and pick this table up and throw it, I'd just love an iced tea.
Server: *Stares blankly at his pad of paper*
I understand that he was making a joke; that's something we humans often do when we're working with strangers — especially in a professional setting — and want to align with them. Humor is an effective ice-breaker, and as a person who spent many years in the service industry, I know the value of being able to laugh with others. It's how we survive sometimes.
But here's the thing: I'm one of hundreds of thousands of people who are somewhere in their never-ending journey of sobriety. We exist; you just may not know we are sitting right next to you. I'm more than ten years sober — this past July marked a decade since I had my last drink (which happened during karaoke at Armida's, of all legendary places to get sloshed in Denver). I've had the great fortune of surviving my addiction — many folks don't — and part of the reason is because I'm surrounded by friends and family who support me and my decision to not drink. Still, being in public and being someone who doesn't consume alcohol can be difficult.
The holiday season brings drinking to the forefront for many. It still does for me, too. I want to have a glass of wine with Thanksgiving dinner (though I never had a glass — I usually had a whole box). I want to take someone up on their offer to try a new Christmas-flavored beer (though for the record, I was always a High Life kind of gal). I want to take shots with everyone else crowded around the island in a friend's tiny kitchen. But I can't and I don't, and that's okay.
So for all of us non-drinkers who may be struggling with not imbibing this time of year, what can we do? How do we keep the party going and avoid that needle scratch into a silence that feels like it goes on forever after politely declining a drink offer for the hundredth time forces us to scream, "I'm an alcoholic!" in the middle of a perfectly good party? For me, it's all about strategy.
First, if you can, find someone at the gathering to back you up. Whether you're a full-blown, self-acknowledged alcoholic in recovery or just someone trying to cut down or not drink at all for a while, tell someone. Ask a family member or friend to be your buddy; they don't have to stop consuming booze, too, they just have to be there for you when you feel like that one family member might be trying to shove a beer down your throat. That safety net can serve as a confidante when you need a time out and want to take a little breather from the shindig. They can also be the referee who steps in when the drink-pusher at the party just won't leave you alone. Someone else stepping into a pressure-drinking situation and just saying, "Hey, she doesn't want to do a shot, okay? Leave her alone" can actually be less awkward than it sounds.
Another little trick I use if I don't want to make the "I'm a recovering alcoholic" announcement at a party is to put cranberry juice or La Croix or even just a Coke with a lime in a glass reserved for alcoholic beverages. When you get offered a drink you can easily say, "I've got one, but thanks!" and toss the glass in the air and offer a toast. It's an easy diversion from a conversation that isn't always necessary. Also, carrying in your own non-alcoholic option — I like to bring a bottle of Martinelli's because it feels like a special holiday drink — can offer others like you at the party a chance to grab a glass and fit right in.
For all of you drinkers who may be hosting events this time of year, I urge you to think about how you are approaching your party-goers about drinking. You are only human, which means you may be unaware of just how much pressure you are putting on others to have a drink. Nobody really likes to drink alone, and it's natural to want to offer guests a plethora of good things to consume, both solid and liquid. Just be aware and really listen when someone says, "No, thank you." No means no: It's that simple.
If you find yourself continually pushing others to have a drink with you, it might be a good time to examine why you're doing it. At the same time, don't take a "no" as a reason to make things awkward. We non-drinkers want to have as much fun as you do, and we can have fun together. I'm around drunk people all the time, and at this point in my career of sobriety, I'm cool with it. I can have a good time in a room full of wasteoids and when I've had enough, I go home. It's that simple.
Finally, I ask you this, dear friend and/or family member who has graciously opened your home up for a holiday celebration: Think of us non-drinkers as you head to the liquor store. When I get to a party and the host has just as many fancy non-alcoholic options as boozy ones, I am elated! If I can have a champagne glass full of San Pellegrino topped off with a squeeze of lime and a fresh raspberry garnish, I am in heaven. It means even more that you would think of me and others like me. Hell, when offering shots, make some non-alcoholic ones with pineapple juice and grenadine. We non-drinkers still want to participate in the celebration, just like everyone else.
Look, we all know this particular holiday season is going to be extra rough for some of us post-election. Talking to family members who may not have voted as we wanted them to could lead to some super-awkward conversations/confrontations. Nobody needs the extra stress that alcohol may place on the situation. We can't make your racist grandma magically un-racist — but we can make sure everyone is having the kind of drink they desire, even if coping with family members means downing an entire bottle of sparkling grape juice.
But beware: A sugar hangover is a real thing.
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